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Marriott Albany [In-Depth Hotel Review]

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Michael Y. Park
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Michael Y. Park

Editor

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Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and que...
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Albany!

If the mere mention of the state capital of New York doesn’t send a shiver of excitement down your spine, then, well, congratulations, you’re a perfectly normal human being.

Despite its storied history, central location, and obvious political importance to the state, Albany hasn’t really excited anyone since the mid-19th century. Even locals struggle to name what makes “Smallbany” special. Its identity is a hodgepodge of elements swiped from other cities it nominally administers, like a slice of New York City’s Dutch colonial past and a smidge of Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester’s competitive hot dog obsessions. (But strangely not Rochester’s Garbage Plate — if you don’t know, don’t ask.) Albany’s lack of a definable personality is even the butt of a beloved joke on “The Simpsons” (the “steamed hams” bit).

Have I mentioned that Albany is the state capital of New York?

In other words, unless you’re a college student, the parent of a college student, a politician, a lobbyist, on your way to Montréal, or have friends or family in the area, the first word people will ask you when you tell them you’re going to Albany will invariably be: “Why?”

So before you ask, I have friends in Albany I was visiting in late December 2023 with my family. As the newest family member is a physically active 5-year-old, we decided to make it an overnight trip to a hotel with a pool.

Location

Though Albany isn’t on most people’s lists of destinations for pleasure travel, a lot of people do fly through here for business. Albany has plenty of chain hotels, most of them on Wolf Road near the university and medical center and close to the airport. The Marriott Albany is about 5 minutes away by car from the airport.

We drove up from New York City via Interstate 87, but Albany International Airport (ALB) is serviced by Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United. I’ve flown into ALB from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) before for a wedding, and it’s a small but serviceable airport. I stayed at a chain hotel on Wolf Road back then, too.

Have I mentioned that the world’s largest Walmart Supercenter is in Albany? This is actually something you can find listed on local tourism websites as a reason to go to Albany.

Hot Tip:

Need a way to get to the hotel from the airport? The Marriott Albany offers an airport shuttle. Call 518-458-8444 to arrange a pickup.

The hotel’s so close to the airport that you could also just walk there, at least theoretically, in under an hour. The area’s not really designed with pedestrians in mind, however, so it’d be safer and more convenient to take a car or shuttle bus.

Booking

I have Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy but not a ton of Marriott Bonvoy points. I do have a good-sized purse of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and the Marriott Albany is bookable with points via Chase Travel, but I found it to be a poor redemption.

Here was my thinking: It would’ve been an acceptable value if I could’ve booked with Marriott Bonvoy points at 27,000 points per night for a $238.26 stay (a 0.88 cents-per-point value compared to our valuation of Marriott Bonvoy points of 0.7 cents per point). But, in this case, to get that rate, I would’ve had to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 ratio.

We value Chase points at 2 cents per point, so the 0.88 cents-per-point redemption clearly wasn’t up to snuff. If I’d taken the Chase Travel route and booked the room directly with Chase points, it would’ve cost me about 16,000 points, for a value of about 1.5 cents per point (a benefit of my Chase Sapphire Reserve®). Better, but still not good enough to justify spending Chase points on it.

Instead, I decided it was better to use the opportunity to top up my Chase Ultimate Rewards piggybank and use the points on something splashier down the line. So I paid for our single night at the hotel with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, booking it on the Chase Travel portal to earn 10 points per dollar spent. Since the cash price was $238.26, Chase credited me 2,382 points.

Marriott Albany 2023 booking
Ultimately, it was better to gain Chase points than use them on this booking. Image Credit: Chase Travel

Marriott Bonvoy Elite Benefits

Should I have booked directly with Marriott, I would have been entitled to certain elite benefits. As a member of Marriott Bonvoy‘s second-to-bottom tier, Gold Elite, my elite benefits would have been pedestrian: a 2 p.m. late checkout, a possible room upgrade, and a 25% bonus on Marriott Bonvoy points earned.

I would have earned 12.5 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent on this stay, or just under 3,000 points. Since I value building my Chase Ultimate Rewards balance over my Marriott Bonvoy balance, especially because of Chase’s airline and hotel transfer partners, it was easy to forgo the elite benefits on this stay.

Check-In

We arrived in Albany just after dusk, checked in quickly and without issue, and were assigned a fifth-floor, 2-queen room. The front desk attendant who took care of us was folksy and amiable, treating us more like neighborhood acquaintances than complete strangers or clients. She handed over 2 key cards and wished us a comfortable stay.

Marriott Albany check in
The L-O-B-B-Y (12 points!) was quiet.

The lobby was clean, if business-like, and not itself particularly warm or welcoming besides the cold, fruit-infused water in a clear jar with a spigot. The lobby fed directly into the bar, which was deserted except for 2 men quietly watching sports on TV as the bartender cleaned glasses and did her side work.

It was so quiet and empty that, if we’d dropped a pin, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it made the front page of the Times Union. But it wasn’t totally unexpected: We were here on New Year’s Eve.

Later, in a conference room in a wing of the hotel on the far side of our room, I stumbled upon hundreds of people feverishly sticking their hands into bags, slapping down tiles, and arguing over words like “aa” (a dry form of lava) and “oe” (a violent whirlwind off the Faroe Islands). Yes, we had come during a regional Scrabble tournament, though you wouldn’t have known there were more than a dozen people in the whole hotel from the scene in the lobby.

Amenities

Fitness Center

The fitness center sat off the indoor pool and included the standard circuit of exercise machines, standing bikes, and a few light dumbbells. There was a single woman working out near the TV when I visited. A couple of sad, aging pieces of fruit sat on a table by the carafe of water near the door.

Marriott Albany gym
I do not take pictures of people working out if possible for the sake of their own privacy, but just imagine someone in sweats on one of these machines on New Year’s Eve.

The men’s locker room and bathroom were clean. You had to supply your own lock.

Marriott Albany mens bathroom
The men’s bathroom and locker room for the pool. It had all the requisite drains and plumbing.

The fitness center is open daily from 6 to 9:30 a.m., 12 to 3:30 p.m., and 5 to 8:30 p.m.

Indoor Pool

The heated indoor pool was small and didn’t have a lifeguard, but it was clean, well-maintained, and had a stack of clean bath towels. It was deep and long enough for our boy to happily practice laps, holding his breath, and touching the bottom, but obviously not deep enough for safe dives. Pool mission accomplished!

Marriott Albany indoor pool
Even a small pool is fun for a 5-year-old.

The indoor pool is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Outdoor Pool and Courtyard

The outdoor pool was covered — this was, after all, late December and early January in upstate New York. During its seasonal schedule, it is typically heated and open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Marriott Albany outdoor pool
Outdoor pool, closed for the season.

The courtyard and its gas-fed fire pit were deserted.

Marriott Albany courtyard
Fire pit, no takers.

Business Center

Back inside, in the hallway off the lobby and heading to elevators to the guest rooms, was a small business center with a narrow desk and printer, which seemed like it got scant use.

The Room

Our room was a square sea of various shades of gray, with 2 extra-large ice-cream sandwiches of fluffy queen beds floating in the middle. Along the wall were a bar stand and a flat-screen TV, which was, as expected, tuned to the hotel information channel.

Marriott Albany bedroom right
There were 2 beds, as promised, so 1 point to the Marriott Albany.

The beds were comfortable, if a bit soft, and our child actually slept in an extra 15 minutes the next morning, which is a feat.

The TV hovered over a narrow desk and office chair, which were just about the right size for me to repeatedly lose the room key cards on but not really big enough for me to tap away at a laptop comfortably for a full day of work.

Marriott Albany bedroom left
There was also the now-standard wall-mounted TV, which we didn’t use.

The bar stand had the usual ice bucket (with liner) and 2 glasses. The petite coffee maker oddly only came with 1 wrapped coffee cup, though.

Marriott Albany coffee machine and glasses and ice bucket
Tiny coffee machine and wrapped disposable cup? Check. Exactly 2 glasses and an ice bucket with plastic liners? Check.

The minifridge was empty.

Marriott Albany minifridge
Empty minifridge in lieu of a minibar with a $15 bag of peanuts? Check.

The shared nightstand had USB-A ports and electrical outlets on both sides. I didn’t run a speed test of the free hotel Wi-Fi, but it worked plenty fine for the 2 or 3 minutes total I used it for our stay.

Marriott Albany nightstand
Landline phone a guest uses once every 2 years? Check. His-and-her power outlets and USB-A charging ports? A pleasant surprise, and check.

The closest thing the room had to art was a panel over the headboards of the beds. In various shades of gray, it displayed a highway map of the greater Albany area set over a silhouette of the skyline, as if to drag guests over, point frantically at itself, and proclaim that, yes, this is a real city! And it’s in New York! And it continues to exist outside of throwaway jokes on “The Simpsons”!

Marriott Albany headboard decor
The most distinctive decorative element of our room (and the hotel) may have been the map on the wall above the headboards, which screamed, “We’re Albany! We’re a … location!”

Our view was of the parking lots and nearby office buildings. We couldn’t see the airport from our window, but other guests have said they could catch glimpses of it from higher floors in certain rooms.

Marriott Albany view
Our view of the side parking lot. You can apparently see Albany’s airport from some rooms.

Bathroom

The bathroom forked off from the entry and followed the now-standard layout of closet-sink-shower-toilet. I’m pretty sure I could navigate a generic hotel room like this in the pitch dark by now, as long as I knew beforehand whether it was the mirrored version or not.

Marriott Albany bathroom sink
If this exact bathroom layout isn’t totally familiar to you, you may not have been to a hotel in the last 30 years.

The lavatory continued the room’s easy-to-clean, corporate-friendly palette of gradients of gray, interrupted only by an off-center wooden wall decoration that looked like 2 leaves blowing in the bitter upstate wind. The leaves were, not surprisingly, my favorite part of the whole room.

Marriott Albany toilet
The 2 oddly placed leaves right over the toilet were off-center but at least broke up the room’s theme of various shades of gray.

There was no bathtub, but the glassed-in shower was not too big, not too small, and the water pressure was good. The bath gel, shampoo, and conditioner came in wall dispensers and were from the brand This Works, which is common to Marriott hotels. You can even buy This Works shampoo on the Marriott shop site. They worked.

Marriott Albany shower amenities
I swear I was wearing all my clothes when I took this photo.

Food and Beverage

We had dinner plans with our friends the night we arrived, so our only experience with the hotel restaurant was for breakfast the next day. It was New Year’s Day, so we didn’t expect much beyond groggy servers and cursory, reheated eggs, but our waitress was a wonderful woman who chatted with us for several minutes as and after she filled our coffee cups.

Marriott Albany dining room
The place to get E-G-G-S after a Scrabble tournament.

Just like with the front desk agent the night before, it was the kind of folksy, friendly conversation you have a someone you know from town, not strangers just passing through, and we learned all about her life, her work at the hotel, and how she prevailed over a recent house fire.

The breakfast buffet, however, was by the numbers: yogurts, various kinds of milk, and fruit salad over ice.

Marriott Albany breakfast fruits
Does breakfast on ice make it twice as nice?

Hot foods included chafing dishes of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage.

Marriott Albany chafing dishes
If I asked you to guess what was under those lids for a Marriott hotel breakfast, you’d probably get them all right.

I also spotted those clear, plastic boxes of breads and danishes that would also be great for storing board game pieces.

Marriott Albany breads
The place to go for loading up on carbs.

The room was half-filled with intensely whispering, Russian-speaking businesspeople and bleary-eyed competitors from the Scrabble tournament, ruefully trading stories about the bingos that could have been the night before.

Marriott Albany bar
A colorful but quiet hotel bar.

There was nothing remarkable about the meal, which had “basic business-hotel buffet” written all over it: The eggs had obviously been sitting in the chafing dish a while, the bacon was limp and greasy, and the bagels were the tacky, rubbery, mass-market kind that come in plastic freezer bags and made me wish Albany had tried a lot harder to try to steal New York City’s bagel culture. But the coffee came with caffeine in it, so that almost canceled out the fact that it tasted kind of like the bark water you get at a Tim Horton’s.

The Scrabble players all carried vouchers for a free breakfast, but we had none. As a lowly Marriott Gold Elite member, I get zilch for free breakfasts, so we paid up the full amount, which ended up being a little over $50, with taxes and tip, for 2 buffet breakfasts. They didn’t charge for our 5-year-old.

Around the corner from the bar was a grab-and-go food counter with snacks and beverages.

Marriott Albany grab and go
The destination for dining and dashing.

Service

I may rag on Albany a lot, but the people are easy to get along with, and the staff at the Marriott was clearly the selling point of an otherwise off-the-rack midrange hotel. Chatting with hotel employees who treated us like members of the community was the highlight of our stay, and we departed in good moods, full of hope for humanity, and armed with the knowledge of which contractor in Albany County to call if we ever have a house fire.

Hot Tip:

Traveling to or through Albany with your fur baby? Pick another hotel: The Marriott Albany doesn’t allow dogs. (Service animals are excepted.)

Final Thoughts

The Marriott Albany is a paint-by-numbers midrange hotel catering to transiting tradesmen and small-potato lobbyists, and it was a perfect clone of so many hotels that I — and, I’m guessing, you — have been to for a single night. But the warm, neighborly staff was a change of pace from the brusque service at most cookie-cutter hotels, and they might be enough to convince me to return to the Marriott the next time I’m in Albany instead of rolling my dice with yet another Wolf Road chain hotel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Marriott Albany part of a points and miles program?

Yes, you can book the Marriott Albany with Marriott Bonvoy points or with Chase Ultimate Rewards points via the Chase Travel portal.

Is the Marriott Albany close to the airport?

Marriott Albany is about 5 minutes by car from Albany International Airport (ALB).

Is there a restaurant in the Marriott Albany?

The Marriott Albany has a restaurant, a bar, and a grab-and-go snack bar.

Are "aa" and "oe" legal words in tournament Scrabble?

For acceptable words in official Scrabble tournaments, consult the NASPA Word List, which has been the official Scrabble word reference for tournaments in North America since 2019. (Rest easy: The classic laddering words “aa” and “oe” are still valid in official Scrabble tournaments.)

What's the capital of New York state?

Albany!

Where's the largest Walmart Supercenter in the world?

Albany!

Michael Y. Park's image

About Michael Y. Park

Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and queen of Malaysia, tramped around organic farms in Cuba, ridden the world’s longest train through the Sahara, and choked down gasoline clams in North Korea.

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