The Benefits of Booking a Vacation Rental With the World’s Largest Hotel Company
Three years after launching, Homes and Villas by Marriott International has evolved into a large, well-curated collection of homes across the world that are perfectly suited for gatherings.
Sometime during 2021, my mother and I realized that the stars might align for a celebration of my father’s 80th birthday this year. My brother and his family were planning to travel to California, where my parents and I live, from his home in Romania in August 2022—my father’s birth month. We knew we had to seize the opportunity: We would all be together for the first time in three years, and just in time to toast “Opa,” the name my kids and my brothers’ kids have affectionately given their Romanian grandfather.
Of course, large family gatherings are complicated by the numerous work and school schedules at play, and this one was no exception. My father’s birthday landed on a weekend, thankfully, but at the end of August when my son, Niko, was already back in school. Then there was the geography puzzle: We live in Northern California and my parents live in Southern California. How could we make a quick but meaningful weekend reunion happen that didn’t require too much driving or flying?
“What if we meet in the middle?” I asked my mom in the lead-up to the event. We all love California’s Central Coast, so somewhere in Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo seemed like an obvious fit, but that location presented another challenge. What would the venue be? My kids are still young (ages three and six) and my parents (understandably) are not big fans of going out to eat with them, which is necessary when staying at most hotels. The ideal situation would be a vacation rental with a kitchen for cooking communal meals and a pool to keep the kids entertained and out of trouble.
Even though vacation rentals have been the backbone of so many trips with my immediate family over the years, it’s a whole new level of pressure to find a well-managed home for a special celebration that can accommodate multiple families and a wide range of age groups. Suddenly, finding the right vacation rental was about making sure everyone in the group would be happy, from the 3 year old to the 80 year old.
And while I’ve stayed at plenty of Airbnb and Vrbo homes, they can be a bit harder to size up at times beyond scouring the reviews. The listings might tout that the home is “deeply cleaned,” but how can you be sure? One recent vacation home experience stood out to me, however, and it wasn’t from a traditional home rental outfit at all—it was from the world’s largest hotel company.
What is Homes & Villas by Marriott International?
During the pandemic, as my family and I looked for ways to safely travel while remaining socially distanced, we discovered Homes & Villas by Marriott International, a vacation rental platform launched by Marriott in 2019. In the summer of 2020, we stayed at a Homes & Villas by Marriott International farmhouse in Sonoma County, California, and we loved the added assurance of cleanliness and corporate oversight that Marriott promises, allowing us to get away, to a home that was professionally cleaned, while remaining in our little family pod.
As we planned Opa’s 80th birthday weekend, Homes & Villas by Marriott International seemed like an ideal way to marry our need for the space and creature comforts of a vacation rental with professional management that could provide an added sense of trust and security in terms of the way the properties are vetted, cleaned, and operated.
Initially a portfolio of about 2,000 vacation rental homes in 100 destinations throughout the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America, the collection has grown to more than 76,000 upscale and luxury abodes in more than 700 destinations, and it has added properties in Canada, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific—making it an excellent Airbnb alternative. For the most part, the domestic locations of Homes & Villas by Marriott International are not markets where Marriott has a major hotel presence; they were selected to complement the company’s massive hotel portfolio and give guests access to more spaces and places.
Similar to other vacation rental booking platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo, you can search by your destination and dates. But if you’re looking for some inspiration to help drive your decision, Homes & Villas by Marriott International also has a series of “Curated Collections,” retreats that are organized into categories such as “Homes with Pools,” “Room to Reconnect,” which are larger properties ideal for gatherings, and “Cozy Cabins.”
The homes have an average nightly rate of about $500, but they range from urban and beach condos for as low as $150/night all the way up to sprawling English manors and Caribbean villas that go for $20,000/night.
Working with well-established vacation rental management companies
From the minute you land on the platform’s homepage, it’s clear that this well-curated collection of residences nails that enviable balance of character, design, and polish. That is the result of Marriott having partnered with experienced home management companies (all of which Marriott audits and reviews), such as Vacasa, which was the management company for our vacation rental in Paso Robles and as of May 2021, the main provider of Marriott’s vacation homes. Other property management companies that partner with Marriott include Loyd & Townsend Rose, which specializes in castles (yes, castles) in the U.K. and Ireland; Tripwix (villas in Barbados, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey); and Veeve, which are “handpicked homes for city stays.”
After Opa’s very successful 80th birthday weekend at a Homes & Villas vineyard estate in Paso Robles, I can attest that the house hit all the right notes for everyone—toddlers, teens, tired parents, and retired grans alike.
As we walked into the home, it was clear the property had been professionally cleaned. I never had that “icky-ness” feeling you sometimes get in vacation rentals (if you know, you know). Other guarantees include Wi-Fi, in-home washers, and premium bed linens and towels—the beds and bedding in the Paso Robles home were divine (the entire family got great sleep). Toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, and soaps are also always provided.
Assured that the place was clean and that we were in good hands, we were able to focus on what really matters. For the kids, that meant spending endless hours in the pool, spraying each other with water guns, and playing on pool floaties. For us parents and grandparents, we loved that we could sit around and chat between meals while the kids entertained themselves. It’s all those in-between moments of connection that make staying in a vacation rental so special. There was the morning chat with one of the teenagers who woke up before the rest of his family; the late-night fireside talks between a father and son who don’t live near one another; the grandkids’ evening performance of karaoke songs for their grandparents.
The location among the vineyards of Paso Robles offered just the right mix of beautiful rolling hills and vines with access to appealing family-friendly wineries, coffee shops, and takeout venues—we ordered my father’s celebration dinner from Catch Seafood Bar & Grill in downtown Paso Robles and brought it back to the house so we wouldn’t have to worry about small kids wreaking havoc in a restaurant.
All homes come with 24/7 support, which came in handy when it was time to check out on Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t figure out how to lock the door and store the key. A quick phone call and I was able to get the assistance I needed to lock up. There also wasn’t a hefty chore list upon checking out—we weren’t asked to do anything other than start the dishwasher if it contained any remaining dirty dishes. We could leave all the bedding on the beds, and we weren’t asked to take the trash out.
Use (or combine) Marriott Bonvoy points to book a vacation rental
While you could technically book the homes directly with one of the management companies mentioned above, Marriott Bonvoy loyalty members benefit by earning and redeeming points when reserving through Homes & Villas by Marriott. And in November 2021, Marriott started letting travelers book homes with a combination of points and cash. More than 90 percent of bookings currently come from Marriott Bonvoy members and this year, nearly half of Homes & Villas guests used Marriott Bonvoy points as a form of payment, whether as a full redemption or a mix of cash and points. Clearly, Marriott loyalists have found—and seized on—vacation rentals. And I consider myself a convert, too.