In recent trips, I've stayed at several hotels, all in the general class of Marriotts, and only one a class or two above (The St. Regis in New York City). The two Marriotts included among the stays were clearly at the botom of the set in terms of quality: the Marriott in downtown Vancouver and the Marriott at the Newark airport. One ordinarily doesn't expect much at airport hotels, but the one in the Waterfront area of Vancouver was thoroughly disappointing. In both cases, though a Platinum member and supposedly upgraded to the best available non-suite room, I was assigned rooms that one might expect at a Motel 6. Complaints to the front desk, again in both cases, produced upgrades to adequate spaces, done gracefully and courteously by the desk personnel. (But, since the new spaces were available at the time of my checking in, why weren't the stated rules followed?). Aside from that treatment, the hotels in general were on the shabby side. Since quality characteristics or niceties vary over the properties of all hotel chains and the managing company or franchise grantor shares responsibility with owners, and thus has limited control, it would be highly desirable if Marriott labeled Marriott-named properties (as opposed to Courtyards, Fairfield Inns, etc.) to reflect quality differences in the manner of Hyatt. (The latter has a scale going from Hyatt to Hyatt Regency to Grand Hyatt to Park Hyatt.) Marriott does it to a very limited extent to indicate the equivalent of the Park Hyatt with the letters JW. (As an aside, I stayed at the JW in Lima, Peru a short while ago, and it was indeed first-rate.) At the bottom in expectation of niceties, might be sraight Marriotts, such as straight Hyatts or as Four Point by Sheraton (although I stayed at a very nice Four Points in Sydney and the Four Points at BWI is a superior airport hotel, to indicate that the system is not perfect). But, that sort of classification does provide guidance in making choices, and minimizes disappointments on encountering hotels such as the one in Vancouver. With the lowest-level label, I would not have expected much.
Being a native, I've never stayed at the St. Regis but love to go there for dinner or a cocktail. Off Fifth Avenue and around the corner from the highly prestigious University Club, the St. Regis is - as you observe - unmatched.
Several Marriott properties across the brands are becoming 'shabby' and in need of refurbishment. Doing so would require planning and design along with financing that is unlikely to happen soon. Marriott is planning to report on their Q1 earnings. Let's see what future portends.
TO TJC NewYork:
One other thing to consider in terms of the St. Regis is its afternoon tea. My wife and I enjoyed it thoroughly. We are fans of Alain Ducasse (we've dined at his restaurants in Paris and at the Essex House when it was there), but his restaurant at the St. Regis was closed during the week we were in NYC. We dined instead at his bistro, called Benoit which I recommend for your consideration. My wife is so fond of the St. Regis that she will consider no alternative during our visits to NY. As an aside of relevance to Platinum members, during two trips to the St. Regis in the past several years, we were on both occasions upgraded to suites. That is the policy among Starwood properties where I have been a Platinum member for many years. Contrast that with the room assignments (think Motel 6) I received at the two Marriots reported above - again as a Platinum member.
The afternoon tea at St. Regis is a wonderful tradition shared by the many clubs within blocks of each other including but not limited to the University Club, the Harvard Club, and the Columbia Princeton Club. While in NY do check out the Campbell Apartment at Grand Central on the Vanderbilt side. The other must try is Keen's Steak House on W36th.