Browsing Posts tagged Cheap Travel USA

Consumer Reports checks out the cheap hotel and motel chains most glossy travel mags ignore.

Hampton Inn Downtown Miami

Usually when Consumer Reports magazine gets detailed feedback from its subscribers, it’s concerning physical items like cars, washing machines, and TVs. They do look at service industries as well though, including hospitality, and in a recent issue they took a close look at results on hotels.

What I liked about this one was the depth. They didn’t just focus on the big business and luxury chains like most travel magazines do. They ran through four classes of hotels, down to humble names like Econolodge and Motel 6. After all, in the real world that the 99% inhabit, these chains often have a higher occupancy than the big boys, especially on weekends when the biz travelers have gone home. (Despite the impression you may get from the print  travel press, the average nightly room rate in the United States is generally around $100.)

So who came out on top? I’ll skip the top tier (Ritz-Carlton) and the second tier (Harrah’s and Walt Disney Resorts). In the Moderate category, here’s who got the highest ratings from readers:

1) Wingate by Wyndham
2) Drury Inn & Suites (Slogan: “Where the extras aren’t extra.”)
3) Hampton Inn & Suites

At the bottom were Quality Inn, Clarion, and Ramada.

In the Budget category, there were seven entries. Here are the top three:

1) Microtel (also owned by Wyndham)
2) Red Roof Inn
3) Super 8 (also owned by Wyndham)

In order, the others were Day’s Inn, Motel 6, Econolodge, and America’s Best Value (which apparently isn’t).

The ones that ranked the highest usually got a top score in the “comfort” category and “check-in” was a big factor as well.

Keep this list in mind if you’re booking online or perusing a coupon book you pick up at a rest stop—something I strongly advise on road trips where you want to stay flexible. Remember though that the individual hotels are usually franchises or independently owned in some other fashion. There’s a business arrangement there, but the brand you see on the sign doesn’t mean the Super 8 in Long Beach is the same as the Super 8 in Topeka. For budget motels, newer is generally better, all else being equal. These are not places built to still look good 200 years from now. Or even 25.

Don’t forget about the opaque booking sites.

Hotwire: 4-Star Hotels at 2 Star Prices; Save 50%Interestingly though, Consumer Reports basically said you should throw all this out the window if you want a great deal instead of just a good one: their advice was to book through Hotwire or Priceline whenever your plans are secure. They tried their best to top the deal they got through Hotwire through every means possible—including calling the front desk to request a discount—but couldn’t come close. They paid $133 for a high-end Chicago hotel in the location they wanted. The best price they could get on the same hotel, same night booking it any other way? $230.

As I’ve said before, if you’re not using sites like this, you’re paying far more than you need to—and far more than that cheerful couple in the room next door if that gets your competitive juices flowing. You don’t have to go in blind either. Use message board sites like BetterBidding, BiddingForTravel, and BidLessTravel to figure out what you’ll probably get in each star category. See links to these and more on null here.


It’s time for the new issue of Perceptive Travel, home to the best travel stories from wandering book authors.

This month we’ve got another eclectic batch from multiple continents, plus some reviews of travel books and world music.

Jillian Dickens makes her debut with a tale about her own olive tree in Italy. Becky Garrison contrasts two sides of the Jordan River in Israel and Jordan. And I travel to Las Vegas to find out if a cheapskate from the 99 percent can still find joy in a place increasingly marketing to the remaining 1 percent. (Hint, it helps if you surf for Vegas discounts, go mid-week, and gamble downtown instead of on the strip.)

Susan Griffith returns to highlight two new and noteworthy travel books and one to be avoided. Laurence Michell is back to spin some new world music worth checking out.

This month our gear giveaway is a pair of Ecco hiking boots with Gore-tex, retailing for over $200. The only way to get a shot at them is to be a newsletter subscriber or a follower on Facebook. See how to do both, and see a picture of the boots, on the Perceptive Travel home page.

Have you seen our new blog design over there? It’s a pretty snazzy new suit we’ve put on in celebration of the blog’s 4th anniversary. Go check it out: Perceptive Travel Blog.

It’s not even Spring yet, but you have to set your clock forward an hour on Sunday if you live in most of the USA. This early start (and late finish in Autumn) is a remnant from the G.W. Bush era. It was pushed as an energy saver (hasn’t worked), but was almost surely lobbied through by the golf and tourism industries. To the detriment of parents with school-aged kids everywhere…

But this post is not a rant. Just a collection of useful and entertaining stuff to read over the weekend in case it’s not warm enough to be outside enjoying life where you live.

If you want to get somewhere else on the cheap, Budget Travel has a great rundown on the six best budget bus lines in the United States. These serve a defined area of population centers, so think New York to Boston, not Kansas City to Boise.

Here’s another reason to be annoyed with cruise ships: not one of the lines thought of as American companies pays a cent in U.S. corporate taxes.

I’ve written before about the dangers of being cheap to the point of ridiculous when traveling and BootsnAll generated a hot debate on the subject with this article on cheap vs. budget travel. I like the elegant follow-up on the Vagabonding blog though, from a long-term traveler who gets by on $10 a day by going slower and integrating more with the locals.

Barbara at Hole in the Doughnut has a good rundown on Cusco, Peru at different budget levels, including a $10 a night hotel and two vegetarian restaurants. More importantly, there’s current information on Machu Picchu and Peru Rail that’s probably more reliable than what most guidebooks have in them right now. There have been some changes at both in how/why you get advance tickets.

Want to know what it’s like to climb a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia? You can see the story and photos on the Vagabonding Life blog by following that link. I actually did this hike many years ago and it’s not a very hard one—so a good place to do your first one to see if you like the experience.

Here’s an article I did for ExpertFlyer on places where the dollar exchange rate is constant.

Should a cough drop be lecturing you to suck it up and quit your whining just because you’re sick? Halls apparently thinks so with the motivational text on their wrappers.

[Photo from the Vagabonding Life blog]

If you saw the photo above without the headline, you’d naturally think it was taken in Thailand, right?

If someone told you this next one was from the same place, you might be willing to bet some money on it.

Thai temple

Not so fast. That’s not the Mekong River or Chao Phraya River past the trees. It’s the Hillsborough River in Florida. If you hopped on a boat and floated downstream, you’d soon end up in Tampa Bay.

Last year I wrote a post called Stuck at home? Go exploring there. It was about how even when you’re not traveling because of work or budget reasons, you can still get a dose of the exotic via ethnic neighborhoods or restaurants in your home town.

Four  months from now my family and I will be taking a very long series of flights to end up in Thailand. This trip to Wat Tampa (really called Wat Mongkolratanaram) took just 20 minutes in a car. This Buddhist temple is the real deal, with Thai writing all over the place, shoes off before entering, and lots of gold-covered statues everywhere. This congregation doesn’t keep to itself though. Every Sunday they have a massive Thai brunch where hundreds of outsiders come to chow down on a wide variety of dishes.

  

Some are familiar things you’re used to seeing in restaurants: green curry, Pad Thai, basil chicken, etc. Here though you can get a heaping mound of rice and two dishes for just $5 though. Spring rolls are a buck, sticky rice desserts are $1.50. You can get big bowls of Thai soup, chicken satay, herby Thai pork sausages, and other goodies.

As you can see from the photos, presentation is not the top concern here. This is an operation meant to feed a very large number of people, so you go in expecting something like you would get on the streets of Bangkok or in a Chiang Mai market, not pretty plates with carved fruit pieces and flower garnishes. (You can buy orchids in the small market here though, along with Thai cooking ingredients like fresh ginger and lemongrass.)

That was fine with me since I love Thai street food and can’t wait to plow my way through the sois again. And while the prices at Wat Tampa can’t compare to those in Thailand itself, the three of us chowed down to the point of being stuffed for under $25. And we had leftovers to bring home.

Is there something like this in your city? Probably so if you look around. Maybe a Greek festival, an Indian Hindu temple, a Hmong street market, or just a hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurant serving workers, not Zagat-wielding restaurant hoppers. Go exploring the world without hopping on a plane.

If you’re going to be in Tampa and are looking for something different to do, this is one offbeat Florida destination that has nothing to do with alligators, theme parks, beaches, or kitsch. For more info go to Wat Tampa’s English site.

Kansas City’s historic train station

I like this article from Travel & Leisure on the best cities in the USA for affordable getaways. OK, so they quoted me in it a few times, so of course I’m inclined to like it, but I think many of their recommendations (taken from reader input) are solid.

I especially like that they noticed how pedestrian-friendliness and hotels that don’t charge for Wi-Fi make  a big difference in price perception. Goodbye Dallas sprawl, hello compact Portland—both Portlands actually.

Kansas City came in at #1, which I won’t argue with; I profiled it on this blog many years ago in a post on Middle America bargains. It’s a Southwest market, so flights are usually reasonable, and hotels average $100 a night. Plus their downtown has gone from dead to hopping in less than a decade.

Salt Lake City came in at #2 and it is a bargain 50 weeks a year. Hotel prices are a different story though when the Outdoor Retailer convention comes to town.

My former home of Nashville came in at #3, which I was happy to see. Prices are reasonable and you can walk everywhere if you stay downtown—including to the football and hockey stadiums. The Saints took the next two spots: San Juan and San Antonio.

You can follow that link at the top to go through the slideshow. Or see the rest of the list here, plotted on a map and broken down by factors like shopping and romance.

There are some great ones I think are missing, but like any survey, it’s only as good as the people voting. That’s why you still get a city like L.A. in there—the readers know it well. Most T&L readers have never set foot in some of the best bargains because they’re not big enough or talked about enough in glossy magazines: places like Lexington, Asheville, Chattanooga, Charlottesville, Boise, Ashland, or Madison. That’s okay though—you can have those bargains to yourself, no diamond-encrusted socialites in sight.