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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.

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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.

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 photo by SCOTT MAYEROWITZ/THE POINTS GUY

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
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.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • 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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees