Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel company, providing travelers with nearly 1.5 million rooms at more than 8,000 properties. However, when I recently set out to find accommodations in Annapolis, Maryland, the hospitality giant led me not to any of its brands—four in Maryland’s capital alone—but to a charming yard with gourmet kitchen, a porch fit for Romeo and Juliet, and a fast-paced crew. To help with major (opening the door) and minor (locating ground coffee) issues.
“Welcome to The Port. Our team is here for you,” read a note from the owners of iTrip Vacations Annapolis, the property management company that oversees the Marriott home. To my relief, they really meant what they wrote.
Over the past few years, hotel chains have entered the short-term rental market, an area that has long been dominated by peer-to-peer platforms populated by individuals working in the hospitality industry. The arrangement is straightforward: the homeowner provides the accommodation, and the hotel or industry partner takes care of the rest, such as handling the reservation, recommending or booking flights, troubleshooting, cleaning during the stay and deep cleaning after check-out. Travelers also get hotel benefits – loyalty program rewards, access to resort facilities – without having to enter the lobby.
For example, travelers who book through Onefinestay, the upscale rental company acquired by AccorHotels in 2016, can earn and redeem points through the Accor Live Limitless programme. In London, renters receive special deals, such as the Pamper Package, and discounted rates at Sofitel London St James, an Accor brand. Comprising a constellation of five-star residences, Relais & Châteaux brings together its home-grown guests with Michelin-starred chefs and restaurants.
“Business travelers as well as many leisure travelers appreciate what Airbnb lacks and what the best hotel brands are: availability (hotels can’t write it off at short notice), professional hospitality, and brand standards,” said Chikitan Dave, a professor at Cornell University. and loyalty program benefits. Nolan School of Hotel Management in Ithaca, New York “This is why most major hotel companies expand their brands into private homes.”
Among a handful of players, Homes & Villas by Marriott International boasts the largest inventory and the widest reach, with nearly 60,000 properties in about 75 countries, a mix of vacation rental companies (France, Mexico, Hawaii) and unusual vacation spots (Qatar, Kazakhstan, Mauritius). (For context, Airbnb claims nearly 6 million listings.) Accor’s Onefinestay comes in second with 4,500 homes, villas, and chalets worldwide. Relais & Châteaux entered the game in April 2021, and has grown its portfolio to 585 chalets, castles, vineyards and other types of boutique habitats on six continents.
Mandarin Oriental Exclusive Homes, which launched in March and includes properties from StayOne, and the Auberge Resorts group have a more limited list, with eight and nine hotels respectively. Graduate Hotels, Aiming at College Towns, Are Latest Arrivals: The company plans to roll out Graduate Homes in Oxford, Miss., this fall, just in time for the Ole Miss football season. So far, four homeowners have signed up. The rental program also recruits dwellings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Knoxville, Tenn.
“We are looking for centrally located single family homes with outdoor space and convenient parking,” said Kevin Osterhaus, president of Graduate Hotels, of the company’s criteria. “It also has to be unique and classy.” The company does not dictate the decor, but will provide linens, toiletries and, if necessary, dishes for dishes. He will also help with housekeeping and concierge services, even providing meals and arranging transportation. The homes, which will be rented for roughly $1,500 to $3,000 per night, may appear at other rental locations, but, Osterhaus said, graduate homes will retain exclusive rights to the properties during major college events, such as graduation and homecoming.
Hotels do not always have a lock on rentals; Many appear elsewhere online. Mandarin Oriental shares its listings with StayOne, which has brought its inventory into the relationship. While researching the Annapolis digs, I came across several Marriott properties on Booking.com, Vrbo and iTrip Vacations Annapolis, which operate homes and apartments in the Annapolis area for the hotel chain. However, with curated combos, you don’t have to go through pages of losers to find aces; Hotels do the hard work for you. “There are a lot — thousands of homes, shared rooms, basements,” said Jennifer Hsieh, vice president of Homes & Villas by Marriott International, referring to the less premium rental locations. “There is no quality filter.”
Hsieh said Marriott has built homes and villas in response to the booming stock economy. “We’ve seen it grow,” she said. A 2017 survey of Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program members was also a motivating factor: Nearly 30% of respondents said they had lost track of booking a private property. The company had hoped to lure them back in with rentals bearing Marriott’s seal of approval, as well as the promise of points.
“Airbnb does not have a loyalty program,” said Madison Blancaflore, editor at Points Guy. “The ability to earn and burn points, as well as customer support and service, are a major benefit.”
Similar to hotel room reservations, Bonvoy-ites can pay for rent with points or a combination of points and cash. They can also earn points and even get enough rewards to fund a future vacation. Scott Meyrowitz, Executive Editor of Points Guy, collected $1,220.75 worth of Bonvoy Points on a five-night apartment rental in Vail, Colorado. He recorded this incredible feat in his March article, “How to Triple and Earn 210,000 Points and Miles on a Great Reservation of Marriott Homes and Villas.”
“Marriott offers a huge rental experience and loyalty program,” Blancaflore said. “But that wouldn’t make sense for every traveler. People need to do the math.”
For my first-time rental, I took advantage of the Marriott due to its wide regional options and lower stratospheric pricing. Her search tool produced 30 options for the Annapolis area, which I’ve shortened to three. Then two years later, having decided that a mid-century farmhouse called Admiral’s Retreat was too far from the water. Then one of the houses disappeared, after my favorite Eastport Easy dates, a country house with an adjoining front porch. When I plugged in the days for the port, the Marriott calendar would only accept at least three nights. After I used to negotiate with Airbnb owners, I clicked the “Contact property manager” button and asked if I could book two nights. An iTrip Vacations representative answered yes.
Before I could commit, I had to complete a simple equation. (To compare apples to apples, I plugged the three-night price quoted by iTrip and Marriott into the calculator.) The iTrip totaled about $300 less than Marriott, but to reap the savings, I had to give up Bonvoy points. As a loyal member, this wasn’t a huge sacrifice: I only have 2,800 points, or $16.80, which would reduce its $1,322 price tag. Plus, I’ll earn 4,318 points, or about $26, on rent, because Marriott only awards points on the base price ($863) and no surcharges ($152 in taxes and a horrific $307 cleaning fee).
I sided with the savings, and booked directly with iTrip. However, I owe it to Marriott for my introduction of the port. The one bedroom apartment was clean and neat. The property management team was attentive and responsive. And the welcome gift of red wine and crab-flavored potato chips was much appreciated, especially after a sunset stroll around the port.
I came home relaxed and enlightened. From now on, I will use my membership number on future stays at Marriott, so one day I can rent a private vacation home from the chain of hotels.