Marriott Adds A 31st Brand, And It Looks “Hideous”

Marriott has acquired the ‘City Express’ hotel brand an “affordable mid-scale” chain with 152 hotels across 75 cities in Mexico.

Best Western, Quality Inn, and Ramada are often considered midscale. But these hotels aren’t just midscale, they are affordable midscale, according to Marriott. One reader writes that the global chain’s 31st brand is “like an urban Fairfield Inn” for small cities in Latin America. One Mile at a Time says,

The City Express properties I’ve looked at online mostly look bland and borderline hideous…Then there’s the logo, which feels like some sort of a strange cross between CarMax and Blockbuster.

Credit: City Express

This deal makes Marriott the largest hotel chain in the broader Caribbean and Latin America region, and should generate $10 million in franchise fees annually. The hotels are cheap, and Marriott’s CEO says they want to do more cheap (“we see significant potential” in this category).

I’ve always wondered about the ‘Express’ nomenclature for limited service, whether for airlines (“United Express”) or hotels (“Holiday Inn Express”). Do you sleep faster at a City Express? Or do you just want to get out of whatever city you’re in faster, if you have to stay in one?

Marriott isn’t converting these to Courtyards, or Moxy hotels. They’re adding a 31st brand on top of the thirty that have little clear differentiation and even less unique identity with customers as it is. When Marriott acquired Starwood, then-CEO Arne Sorenson explained that they don’t need to consolidate brands and they don’t need to invest in marketing unique brand identities because they have their loyalty program and website.

Customers come to them, search for hotels, and book what’s displayed. That’s why owners often refer to Bonvoy members as “leads.” And this is also why Marriott is able to expand its fee-generating footprint, the more brands they have the more hotels they can have even in overlapping areas. It’s all about the fees.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If anyone had any doubts this proves that Marriott no longer cares about quality. This 31st brand is what you expect out of a Wyndham or Choice portfolio. It would be one thing if Marriott was buying the brand and converting them to one of existing brands. It isn’t. This is going to be a 100% franchised low-end brand that is probably the U.S. equivalent of a Red Roof Inn.

  2. These hotels are actually pretty nice by central and South America standards. Many smaller towns I’ve visited in south and Central America. This was the only nice hotel chain available. Of coarse they don’t compete with big city hotels. A bit strange that Marriott would buy this brand. There are a few other brands especially in Mexico that are very similar to this. I would not compare these to dumpy Ramada or best westerns in the states.

  3. Of course it’s all about leads and fees, because those turn into revenue which turns into profit. Marriott is a for-profit corporation.

    It’s also very insensitive culturally to say something in a foreign country looks hideous. A lot of foreign things like foods (actual authentic foods, the kind people eat at home, not in restaurants) are hideous. Because if they were not hideous to you, they would also not be foreign!

  4. They look just fine to me. Not that different than Fairfield Inn, HI express and many Hyatt Places.

  5. I’ve been there. I’d call them equivalent to a nice, clean Motel 6 on the low end of meh candle wood. That said, there are a significant number of markets in Mexico, esp in smaller Pemex markets where they are they are the best, clean hotel in town.

  6. I looked at several properties on TripAdvisor which should theoretically adjust for local expectations. They’re mostly 3.5 to 4 stars, lower than a typical Marriott branded property.

    These hotels remind me of an Ibis or La Quinta, not a Fairfield. So here’s a million dollar idea: bring it to the States and offer it as a soft landing for Courtyards and Fairfield’s that don’t want to do their PIP (like Delta is for Marriott).

    Then they don’t have to lose all their old properties to Choice.

  7. @Peter: Better yet, own it but don’t slap Marriott on it and don’t make it a Bonvoy hotel. I can’t imagine many Americans are going to stay at these hotels.

  8. It’s funny how this is just about making assumptions and not actually stating anything on facts. The author just read the news and saw an opportunity to make it his, not by ever staying at any City Express just by reading Trip Advisor. It could be more misleading.

  9. Kind of reminds me of a Microtel.



  10. Are you sure it’s not brands 31-35?
    The press release lists 5 separate brands in the portfolio (City Express, City Express Plus, City Express Suites, City Express Junior, and City Centro).

  11. On a bit of a side note, I think that the difference between lower and upper scale hotels in the US are shrinking – rapidly. I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels all over the US 2021-2022 and I would rate several newer/newly remodelled Holiday Inn Express rooms as better than many Hiltons/Marriotts and even Renaissances etc. This was certainly not the case 10-20 years ago. The cheaper places have gotten better while the more expensive ones have gotten worse (closed lounges, poorer housekeeping, …).

  12. Stayed in one by SCL. Significantly nicer than I anticipated, very close to the airport for a short night before flying out. Cheap and I’d be happy to stay again.

  13. @Bill: In Marriott’s world, everything revolves around the United States. The entire Bonvoy loyalty program is American-centric down to elite status spending thresholds for qualification, guaranteed benefit compensation, and certain elite status benefits all being based in U.S. dollars.

  14. @Lukas: Outside resorts, very few owners are building new full-service hotels in the United States anymore. Limited-service brands like Holiday Inn Express, Courtyard, Hyatt Place and AC are as profitable or more profitable than Holiday Inn, Marriott, Westin, Hyatt Regency, etc. This was true before the pandemic and it’s even more true post-pandemic, when staffing is an issue.

    It is very difficult to staff a full-service hotel and provide proper 4-star or 5-star service and amenities. Just look at the Nordic countries. There are very few genuine 4-star or 5-star hotels in countries like Sweden or Norway because it is too expensive.

    I fully anticipate we will see kiosks for guests to check themselves into a hotel replacing front desks at limited service properties in the next couple of years. Just like Delta is replacing agents at Sky Clubs with kiosks. In the Nordic countries, automated gates replaced security checkpoints, airline lounge front desks, and boarding gate agents several years ago. Marriott has already experimented with wine machines to replace bartenders. And then there was that pilot Fairfield vending machine concept to replace the pantry and complimentary breakfast buffet every morning.

  15. Given what we all know about Marriott, is it really worth anyone’s time to comment about anything Marriott does?

  16. More brands (not one) to further confuse Bonvoy members about benefits and points. The acquired company, Hoteles City Express, is itself composed of multiple brands (City Express, City Express Plus, City Express Suites, City Express Junior, and City Centro). There is no indication in the announcement as to how each sub brand differs or if each one will be treated the same under Bonvoy. Marriott is also acquiring the City Express loyalty program, which I assume will be dovetailed into Bonvoy in some way.

    The unidentified hotel (or hotels) in the video, seems like an Aloft (lite) or Element hotel. Adding City express might benefit some people looking for inexpensive Marriott nights and devalued Marriott points, if similar Marriott options aren’t already available in the locations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and Chile where the new hotels are located.

  17. @john: Marriott made it clear that CityExpress would be one brand, the 31st brand, in their portfolio. They didn’t, however, say whether CityExpress would join Bonvoy. It’s entirely possible that this will not be a Bonvoy-participating brand or group of sub-brands. Looking at the CityExpress website, it appears their loyalty program is quite unique in that they (1) give points to secretaries who book the hotel reservations of their bosses, (2) award a flat number of points per night based on their brand regardless of the price of the room or any status, and (3) don’t offer free breakfast as a benefit. I presume breakfast is free for all guests at their hotels.

  18. FNT Delta Diamond, It is not so clear that these new properties will, or should, be one brand. Marriott said it is acquiring Hoteles City Express’ “brand portfolio”. Presumably Hoteles City Express created different brands to reflect differences in how the brands operate and how they are treated under its loyalty program. At least one of the City Express brands is for extended stays. Marriott treats extended stay properties differently (points accumulation and nights accumulation for Marriott Executive Apartments) from other hotels under Bonvoy.

    If City Express’ brands are not part of Bonvoy — who cares if it is being acquired by Marriott.

  19. @John – Here is the first paragraph of the Marriott press release:

    “Marriott International (NASDAQ: MAR) announced today that it has reached an agreement with Hoteles City Express, S.A.B. de C.V. (BMV: HCITY) to acquire the highly regarded City Express brand portfolio, marking Marriott’s entry into the affordable midscale segment with its 31st brand.”

    Here is the second paragraph: “The portfolio is currently comprised of 152 hotels, including 17,356 rooms across 75 cities in Mexico and three additional countries in Latin America. Upon closing of the transaction, the brand and hotel portfolio will become part of Marriott’s franchise system. ”

    Marriott is for now treating City Express as one brand.

    What’s notable is Marriott does not say these hotels are joining Bonvoy. In fact, Marriott says in its press release that it is buying “the City Premios loyalty program.” So, perhaps they operate this group of hotels separate for the foreseeable future.

    If I remember correctly, it was quite a while before Delta was fully integrated into Marriott after Marriott bought the Canadian hotel brand.

  20. @FNT, Right now, City Express has five different brands. I read the release. Questions remain. I need more information about how this acquisition is actually supposed to work. Or I could just make assumptions — not a good idea.

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