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I once hated this Marriott boutique brand — here’s why I now like it

June 20, 2020
9 min read
a seating area in a hotel lobby
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Frequent travelers love to share stories from the road.

One of my favorite tales involves a work trip consisting of nine domestic flights in a week and stays in four different hotels. Waking up Friday morning, I couldn’t tell what city I was in but I knew that I was in a Hilton.

That was nearly a decade ago.

More "boutique" hotel options

Today, hotel brands are offering more and more choices that don’t feel so cookie cutter.

Marriott has its Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio and partnership with Design Hotels. Hilton has Curio and Tapestry while Hyatt has the Unbound Collection.

These independent hotels have their own feel, story and design while still hitting certain standards that we’ve come to expect from the big chains. Plus you can earn and burn points at the hotels and get recognized for your elite status.

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Marriott's Autograph Collection has its own book, highlighting each of the properties. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
Marriott's Autograph Collection has its own book, highlighting each of the properties. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

At first, I was very skeptical about how these properties would fit into the larger chains -- I mean Marriott has 30 different brands -- and what the quality would be as the hotel companies scrambled to sign on as many locations as possible.

And not to single out any one property, but there were some rough additions initially.

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But in the past year -- before the pandemic -- I found myself staying at more of these “soft brands” and eyeing others for future trips.

Marriott launched Autograph Collection in 2010. There were just seven properties at the start. It would take another six years for Autograph to hit the 100-property milestone and today there are more than 180 hotels in 30-plus countries and territories.

This was going to be a big year for hotel openings. Especially for Autograph, with more than 35 hotels slated to join the collection before the global pandemic, including the Mesm Tokyo and the brand’s first hotel in Finland. There were also to be new properties in Greece, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.

(More recently, Marriott jumped into the home rental market popularized by Airbnb. As my family looked at new vacation ideas for the summer, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, home rentals suddenly seemed appealing and Marriott had some decent offerings with a very flexible cancellation policy. Plus you earn elite-qualifying nights and Bonvoy points.)

As I think about returning to my pre-pandemic travel patterns, the independent-felling hotels that are part of the big chains will probably be on the top of my list.

And this isn’t just with Marriott.

The Madison Beach Hotel in Connecticut, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
The Madison Beach Hotel in Connecticut, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The Madison Beach Hotel, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, is a great option along the Connecticut coast. Hyatt’s partnership with Small Luxury Hotels has opened up some great options, like the Topping Rose House in New York’s Hamptons and it’s Unbound Collection has some gems like the Holston House in Nashville.

As the world’s largest hotel chain, Marriott has the benefit of using that heft to build up the largest of these soft brands.

So here are four properties that won me over to the Autograph Collection.

The Press Hotel, Portland, Maine

I've spent more than two decades as a journalist, starting my career in at a New England newspaper whose offices looked very much like this hotel.

That's right. The Press Hotel is the former home of the Portland Press Herald. While I'm sad to see that the newspaper can no longer fill such a large building, the hotel won me over.

My wife and I escaped there in August of 2017 to celebrate a milestone birthday. (Well, it was the first of several trips.)

I used points to book the room during the expensive summer season and we got free breakfast each morning thanks to my Marriott elite status.

And that was the end of the connection with Marriott. Everything else felt local and unique. Plus, I really enjoyed the little touches like the newspaper-inspired artwork inside.

The Notary Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This hotel shows how design can dramatically alter a stay.

The Notary used to be an annex for Philadelphia's City Hall, right across the street.

The Notary Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used to be an annex to City Hall. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
The Notary Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used to be an annex to City Hall. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

It recently re-opened under this new name and the Autograph Collection but days before checking in, I realized I had actually stayed at this property when it was first converted into a hotel about 15 years ago.

Back then, it was a Marriott Courtyard. I was impressed with the lobby and the building but, back then, the rooms left little to the imagination.

When I stayed at The Notary in January, it was a completely different hotel. (The bathroom still had the old Courtyard layout but I was probably the only guest to realize that.) The rooms felt modern, there were nice local touches and there was an energy to the building that didn't exist when it was a Courtyard.

The location between City Hall and the convention center is ideal for most travelers. And if you still want a chain feel, stay at the Marriott or the Residence Inn by Marriott on either side of the hotel. But don't.

The Notary Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used to be an annex to City Hall. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
The Notary Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used to be an annex to City Hall. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona, Spain

This is really the hotel that won me over to Autograph Collection.

The Cotton House Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
The Cotton House Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The Cotton House Hotel is the former headquarters of the Cotton Textile Foundation. It takes over a spectacular 19th-century, neoclassical building that is now a landmark. But nothing feels old about it.

This TPG review of the Cotton House raves about how great it is. I couldn't agree more.

The breakfast was spectacular, the rooms were comfortable and unique and the location was central to everything but just far enough removed that I didn't feel like a tourist in one of the world's most over-touristed cities. It's also made our list of reader favorite points hotels that, well, don't feel like point hotels.

The Cotton House Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
The Cotton House Hotel, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas, Nevada

Ok, so this is a giant hotel on the Vegas Strip. Calling it "boutique" isn't fair.

But The Cosmopolitan isn't your normal Vegas hotel. The rooms are bigger, the vibe is different and Marriott elite members are treated like semi-VIPs.

My favorite perk is that Bonvoy Gold members, and above, get access to the "Invited Guest Line" for check in and check out. And anybody who has ever been to a Vegas casino knows how priceless this can be. The full benefits can be found here.

Image courtesy of the Cosmopolitan
Image courtesy of the Cosmopolitan

Bottom Line

Big chain hotels still feel like big chains. But they are getting better at it. Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott have each made great improvements in the past decade.

I used to laugh at these properties that couldn't find the right balance between their own independence and the standards of the parent company. But these days I find myself booking more and more of these hotels to give myself a sense of place when spending a night -- or a week -- at a hotel.

It will take hotels a few years to recover from the pandemic and the related recession. I'm confident that as they return more and more properties will try to break out of the mold and provide travelers what they really want: a sense that you haven't been here before.

Featured image by SCOTT MAYEROWITZ/THE POINTS GUY

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023