I dont envy the folks who work in hotel marketing who have to come up with brand standards that work just as well in New York City as they do in Beijing, Phuket, Nice and Puerto Rico. Different destinations attract different types of travelers, with varying needs, tastes and, perhaps most importantly, budgets.
It should come as no surprise that Marriott, the worlds largest hotel chain, also has the most distinct brands with a whopping 32 in its portfolio. While its easy to tell the difference between an ultra-luxurious Ritz-Carlton and a more budget-friendly Four Points by Sheraton, some of the distinctions are murky at best.
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Marriott is well known for its portfolio of luxury properties that includes iconic brands such as the Ritz Carlton and St. Regis. After its acquisition of Starwood Hotels, Marriott now owns some of the most aspirational hotels in the world, including a number of all-suite properties in exotic locations such as the Maldives and Bora Bora. Still, there can be a pretty big difference between the brands at the top of this category and those at the bottom.
St. Regis is the pinnacle of old school luxury, and one of the top brands in Marriotts portfolio. These are going to be pricier than other hotels, both with points and cash, but if youre able to afford it they offer an incredible experience and some of the best treatment Marriott elites are going to find.
Related: What is Marriott elite status worth?
The St. Regis brand is known for a few quirky traditions, including the daily Champagne sabering ceremony (where guests are invited to enjoy a glass on the house), and the signature Bloody Mary each property offers, in honor of the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis New York, where the Bloody Mary was first invented. The properties also have a family traditions program, so little ones often receive toys and many properties have kid clubs sometimes ones that are complimentary for guests.
The Ritz-Carlton was easily Marriotts premier brand before the SPG merger, and the air of exclusivity has often translated to limited benefits for elite members (though thats improved slightly under the new Marriott Bonvoy program). Ritz-Carlton properties often feature a much more modern design than St. Regis hotels without compromising any of the five-star luxury. Theyre also well known for their club level experience, which includes an impressive five daily food and beverage servings.
Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties are even more luxurious and exclusive than their standard Ritz counterparts, and are often in remote and secluded resort destinations. Frustratingly, Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties dont participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program, so you cant earn or redeem points for stays at these (very) pricey properties.
Ill admit there are times that Ive felt wildly out of place walking through the sleek or ornate lobby of a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis hotel, which is one reason Im fond of the understated yet undeniably luxurious design of Edition hotels a rapidly expanding collaboration between nightlife-purveyor-turned-corporate-hotelier Ian Schrager and Marriott. At Edition hotels, natural wood, light colors and high ceilings reign. Its a brand that perfectly straddles the line between the eccentric clubby aesthetic found at many W Hotels, and the reserved, mature sophistication of a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis.
The biggest drawback of the Edition brand is its still relatively limited footprint, though the hotels are rapidly proliferating in major cities all over the globe.
The Luxury Collection (a legacy SPG brand) is an incredible grab bag of high-end properties that feel more like independent, boutique hotels than members of a brand with rigid standards. These tend to be relatively expensive and high category hotels. Outside of the well-known luxury brands discussed above, youll find many of Marriotts most aspirational properties falling under The Luxury Collection umbrella, including Al Maha in Dubai and Mystique in Santorini.
W might be the most divisive hotel brand in existence. This brand is full of dark, clubby bars with live DJs that make you feel like youre partying on South Beach no matter where in the world you actually are. However, the brand is turning a page in its brand book and moving toward a balance of nightlife and daytime wellness blessedly with more natural light.
This often resonates with younger travelers, or those who actively seek out nightlife, but plenty of people (including TPG himself) outgrow the brand at a certain point and opt for something a little quieter and more refined.
JW Marriott has the largest footprint of Marriotts luxury brands, with plenty of properties in (relatively) smaller markets such as Hanoi and Tampa Bay. In addition to a number of beachfront resort locations, most JW Marriott properties in a city feel like theyre geared towards high-end business travelers, offering upscale accommodations and great lounges at a relatively affordable cost.
Marriotts 11 premium brands are the bread and butter of its portfolio, with household names like Marriott and Sheraton and a perfect mix of affordably priced luxury.
With over 600 hotels in the namesake Marriott brand, youll find a wide range of properties and not much in the way of a unifying brand identity. Plenty of locations, including the Marriott Marquis Chicago, are recently renovated and have been updated for the 21st-century traveler. On the flip side, there are plenty of Marriott locations, especially airport hotels, that have seen better days.
Westin hotels run the gamut from business destinations to resort getaways, with a focus on wellness (including healthy menus and quality fitness centers). The signature Westin Heavenly bedding has been very well received by travelers, to the point that Delta has partnered with Westin to provide Heavenly bedding in its Delta One business class, and Westin even launched a popular gear-lending program at all its properties around the world.
Sheraton became a significant part of the SPG portfolio after it was acquired in 1997. It also has a more premium subdivision, Sheraton Grand, to parallel the Marriott Marquis brand. With nearly 500 properties around the world, youll find a huge variation in the quality of Sheraton hotels, which is why earlier this year Marriott announced a much needed brand refresh to keep Sheraton competitive in the next decade and beyond.
I often think of Autograph Collection as a slightly more affordable version of the Luxury Collection: distinct properties with a heavy emphasis on local design elements and quirky touches (like the automated robot butlers at the Hotel EMC2 Chicago that delivered my room service).
Youll find a large percentage of these relatively affordable luxury properties in Europe, with historic building features often incorporated into the design. Because theres less in the way of overarching brand standards here, Ive heard some people complain about their Autograph Collection stays (at least relative to the price they paid), but this brand has always delivered for me on four continents now.
Born in the 17th Arrondissement of Paris, the Le Mridien brand has morphed into a great sweet spot for Marriott travelers looking for upscale hotels on a budget especially if you have elite status that entitles you to lounge access.
TPG contributor Dia Adams notes that Le Mridiens often fall in the same price range as the namesake Marriott brand, but offer much more distinctive designs, without going over the top like W Hotels sometimes does.
SPG launched Tribute Portfolio in 2015, just before it was acquired by Marriott, to bring together a few dozen formerly independent hotels. The brand has grown a bit since then, though more than half of all Tribute Portfolio hotels are still located within the U.S. New York got its first Tribute Portfolio property last year, when the W New York, the first W Hotel in the brand, rebranded as the Maxwell Hotel.
Design Hotels is a relatively small brand, with fewer than 100 properties globally, most of which are in Europe. The brand ranges from big city hotels with some incredible flair, like the Mira Moon Hong Kong (one of my all-time favorite properties), to historic buildings and exotic locales like the eight-room Macalister Mansion in Penang, Malaysia (the only hotel Ive ever seen where you have to specifically book room No. 2 or room No. 4), or the stilted Ion Adventure Hotel, located about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavk, Iceland.
While legacy SPG brands are generally known for the exceptional way they take care of elite members, Design Hotels are an important exception. Expect fewer upgrades (these properties tend to have fewer suites to begin with) and dont get your hopes up about free breakfast either.
Renaissance Hotels are an attractively-priced brand for guests, especially business travelers, who want more personality than youd find at your garden variety Marriott or Sheraton. Each hotel has a Navigator to help you find what the guidebooks wont tell you, and the portfolio has been undergoing significant design renovations.
Once independent, Delta Hotels have been part of the Marriott family since 2015. The chain currently has over 70 hotels, primarily located in Canada and northern U.S. states like Illinois and Minnesota. The upscale properties cater primarily to business travelers.
If you often travel with a large group, youll want to become familiar with this brand. Marriott Vacation Club is Marriotts portfolio of vacation ownership (timeshare) properties, located primarily in leisure destinations like Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Many Marriott Vacation Club properties include multibedroom units you can book with points, so theyre ideal for families. Be aware that availability isnt guaranteed like at other Marriott brands; youll need to do a bit of digging and have flexibility to find dates that work for you.
While most convention centers have plenty of hotel capacity nearby, Gaylord Hotels are designed to be a self-contained ecosystem for larger conferences with plenty of hotel rooms and hundreds of thousands of square feet of meeting and convention space. The hotels feature beautiful glass atriums with high ceilings and great restaurants and shops, so you never have to leave the property. They also often become very fun resorts for families looking for an all-in-one long weekend getaway with seasonal fun including winter ice attractions.
Reviews: Gaylord Texan
While we often like to focus on aspirational hotel redemptions, there are some people whod prefer to stretch their Marriott points by staying at budget (select) properties. There are also some destinations that simply cant support a luxury hotel like a JW Marriott, let alone a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis.
This is where Marriotts select brands come in. While youll find them in expensive cities like New York and London, youll also see them in smaller markets, such as Ocala, Florida, where there arent as many hotel options to pick from.
Courtyard is Marriotts largest brand, with over 1,000 locations ranging from airport hotels to resort properties in Kauai or Bali. Courtyard might also be the brand with the biggest variation in quality: Many properties in the U.S. are downright decrepit and in need of a complete overhaul and others are much nicer.
But in Asia, Ive been consistently blown away by Courtyard hotels with marble-clad lobbies, spacious and luxurious rooms and even signature fragrances. If you swapped the signs on the door, these newer properties could easily pass for a Westin and fool most travelers. Courtyards are designed for travelers on the go, often featuring an in-house Starbucks and a grab-and-go snack station (complimentary for some elite members) making them perfect for road warriors.
Four Points by Sheraton was SPGs answer to the Courtyard brand long before rumors about a Marriott and SPG merger began percolating. Similar to Courtyard, the quality of the properties in the U.S. is a complete toss up, while newly-built hotels Asia are much more impressive. When I visited Beijing Daxing International (PKX) I stayed at a Four Points about 25 minutes south, and for only about $80 a night I was able to book a 1,100-square-foot suite and enjoy a sit-down breakfast in the hotels restaurant, thanks to my elite status.
Four Points will always have a bit of a special place in my heart. I earned hotel elite status for the first time on a Platinum challenge with SPG while racking up 20 to 30 nights a year at a Four Points in Houston. While the property itself wasnt especially impressive, the rates were competitive, the location was great and the free daily breakfast was more than I wouldve gotten at a Courtyard.
SpringHill Suites is a great choice for larger families or groups traveling together who dont want to book multiple rooms. Every room at every property is a suite, and most of the hotels fall between Categories 1 and 3, meaning theyre quite affordable whether you choose to pay with cash or points.
Related: SpringHill Suites Jackson Hole
Fairfield Inn & Suites offers a similar all-suite setup, providing a decent amount of space at a very reasonable price. Youre not going to find anything fancy here, but frequent flyers will appreciate the consistency from hotel to hotel, no matter what city you find yourself in.
AC Hotels originated in Spain, and the brand gets its name from Antonio Catalan, the businessman who partnered with Marriott to launch the brand. While its since expanded around the globe, it prides itself on maintaining a European vibe, from the menu to the design of the rooms. AC Hotels can be a great value for budget travelers as theyre often low-category properties but still a very decent quality.
While Courtyardby Marriott and Four Pointsby Sheraton makes perfect sense, most people dont realize that Aloft Hotels is actually a subsidiary of the W brand that is, until they walk through the door. Aloft Hotels retain the W party vibe, but in a much more subdued and relatively predictable way.
The check-in counter is a circular desk in the middle of the lobby, which is sometimes awkward as youre not sure which side to approach from. Youll also find a grab-and-go food station in the lobby, making it easy to check out and pick up breakfast at the same time, often while waiting for the airport shuttle to pull up. When I need a cheap hotel near an airport for an overnight layover, Aloft has become my go-to brand from London to Montreal and New York City.
Moxy Hotels is what happens when a hotel executive has a fever dream about how best to appeal to millennial travelers. The first line on the Moxy website says it all: At Moxy Hotels, we dont take ourselves too seriously.
Travelers should expect to stay at a W on a budget loud and bright, with space at a premium. At Moxy, there might be a backlit slab of glass instead of a nightstand. And dont get your hopes up about a desk in your room either.
Protea Hotels is an interesting niche, operating only in Africa. Previously independent, Marriott acquired the brand in 2014. The hotels are generally midrange, but because of the markets they operate in, some Protea Hotels are relatively upmarket and still available at a great value.
Reviews: Protea Hotel North Wharf
If you need a hotel for a longer period of time (think: youre moving somewhere new or are a business traveler on a longer assignment) Marriott has you covered with five brands devoted to extended-stay travelers.
Residence Inn is a similar brand to Springhill Suites and Fairfield Inn & Suites, with affordable all-suite properties in many locations around the world. Many suites include kitchenettes, which can help your suite feel and function more like an apartment during those longer trips.
TownePlace Suites is Marriotts fourth all-suite brand, targeting families or business travelers who are staying for five nights or longer. They really excel with their kitchen setups, including a stove, refrigerator and microwave to help you settle in and feel at home.
Element Hotels is a more affordable subsidiary of Westin focused on longer stays. It shares Westins emphasis on health and wellness and sustainability, which is why each hotel has its own bike sharing program. If you dont need the space of a suite or a kitchen in your room but are on the road for a while, Element can be an affordable and comfortable option.
Review: Element Lexington
Marriott Executive Apartments are geared at business travelers outside of the U.S. With laundry facilities and weekly housekeeping (on top of standard hotel amenities such as a fitness center), these properties are perfect for travelers seeking a hybrid between the independence of a short-term apartment rental and the service of staying in a hotel.
Hotel companies have been feeling pressure from alternative travel options like Airbnb, and Marriotts response comes in the form of Homes & Villas by Marriott. While you cant yet redeem Marriott points for these properties, you can book entire villas in tropical Caribbean destinations, castles in Europe and countless other unique accommodations.
Earning Marriott points
There are two main ways for travelers to earn Marriott points: staying at Marriott properties, and applying for Marriott Bonvoy credit cards. All guests who book directly with Marriott and stay at a Marriott hotel will earn 10x points per dollar spent, in addition to the following elite bonuses:
- Silver: 10% bonus (11 points per dollar total)
- Gold: 25% bonus (12.5 points per dollar total)
- Platinum: 50% bonus (15 points per dollar total)
- Titanium: 75% bonus (17.5 points per dollar total)
- Ambassador: 75% bonus (17.5 points per dollar total)
TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, meaning Marriotts top-tier elites are essentially earning a 14% return on all their cash stays.
Since completing its acquisition of SPG, Marriott offers cobranded credit cards issued by both Chase and American Express. Be sure to check out our post on how to figure out if youre eligible for a Marriott Bonvoy card before you consider applying.
Heres a quick overview of the different options and their current welcome bonuses, including increased offers on two cards:
|CREDIT CARD||BONUS||ANNUAL FEE||Annual free night certificate|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card||Earn 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in purchases the first three months. Terms apply.||$450 (see rates and fees)||Annual free night on your cardholder anniversary worth up to 50,000 points|
|Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card||Earn 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first three months. Terms apply.||$125 (see rates and fees)||Annual free night on your cardholder anniversary worth up to 35,000 points. Earn a second free night worth up to 35,000 points by spending $60,000 in a calendar year on your card|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card||Limited time offer: Earn 100,000 Marriott points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months||$95||Annual free night on your cardholder anniversary worth up to 35,000 points|
|Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card||Limited time offer: Earn 50,000 Marriott points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months||N/A||N/A|
|Marriott Bonvoy Amex||N/A (closed to new applicants)||$95||Annual free night worth up to 35,000 points|
|Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Visa Signature Card||N/A (closed to new applicants)||$99||Annual free night worth up to 35,000 points. Earn a second free night worth up to 35,000 points by spending $60,000 in a calendar year on your card|
Not only does Marriott have the most hotels in its global portfolio of any major hotel company, it also has the most brands. The differences between some like Aloft and Moxy or Courtyard and Four Points are fairly minor, and in many cases you might be better off focusing on which category (luxury, premium, select) youre booking.
Featured photo courtesy of Shutterstock.