The Best Cheap Hotel Chains in the 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 ┬átravel 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.

Also remember that there are lot of excellent chains that are regional. Red Lion Hotels, for instance, is not nationwide, but it has a great reputation with travelers looking for good value on the west coast and in states like Idaho.

Otherwise, the quickest route to the best deals online is usually with Trivago since they pull info from multiple booking sites.

Don’t forget about the opaque booking sites.

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.


  1. Carolina

    I bid on hotel rooms and rental cars ALL THE TIME, and I’m always amazed at how few people use sites like Priceline and Hotwire. When I tell people about it, they look at me like I’m a little crazy. Which is fine — their loss!

    • J

      Disagree. Priceline and Hotwire non-disclosed hotels are disappointing. I’ve bid on Priceline many times over many years after I find a competitive offer. The bid has not won in over a decade …and if it does, you pay a lot more if you need the car an extra day.

      • Tim Leffel

        I haven’t used Priceline for cars, but I’ve used Hotwire for that a lot—and saved a fortune. I only use Priceline for hotels. With both services, you need to be positive about your plans of course, including how many days you’ll need a car/room.

  2. Jodi

    If you don’t use Hotwire for hotels in U.S. cities and you’re paying for it yourself, you’re a sucker. Simple as that. It’s literally half the price much of the time.

  3. lauren

    My favorite budget resorts are Wyndhams

  4. Stacy

    I have to travel alot for my business, mostly in Europe,but often in the states i used to use sites like or Hotwire ,but i quickly found out a better way to find better deals is to go to the second level,those sites like who compare the hundred of different booking sites into one single search. So you not only see trivago or expedia deals but ALL of them in one place. i must’ve saved over 3,000 dollars since i started using them. i agree using the top booking sites is not the best idea.

  5. Aric

    The first time I used an online “guaranteed lowest price big name discount booking service,” I booked a 6 day stay in Portland, Oregon, for my wife and I. We felt good about the whole thing, until I called the motel (Howard Johnson’s) out of curiosity.

    It went like this… We made a booking we thought sounded good pricewise, and then had an emergency requiring rescheduling. So we re-booked with the “big name discount booking service.”

    On final call, a week later (the night before going to Portland), we called the motel directly to be sure we still had our rooms, HoJo management said we had no reservations, that our original booking had been canceled by the “big name discount booking service,” and not re-scheduled. I panicked because we were to be in Portland next day… I asked the manager about openings and rates (without mentioning the booking service quote) and he said he had vacancies, and quoted $8/night cheaper than the “big name discount booking service.”

    I contacted the “big name service” by telephone and email to express my extreme displeasure. They got back to me by e-mail on our 2nd day at the motel, explaining that “they had corrected the reservation problem for us.” CORRECTED? I DON’T THINK SO! I had already made all the corrections, put my own time and energy into saving our crisis. So, I flamed the “booking service” heatedly for not even knowing what had already been resolved by my working with the motel myself, directly…. and I am extremely hesitant about ever using a booking service again.

    I was lied to on several levels, and am quite happy to do my own work from now on, to save money and not have a fear of showing up at some motel hundreds of miles from home only to find my reservations were never set, and seeing the possibility of enjoying a night’s stay in a car or on a park bench.

  6. Nicholas Dube

    I have used a bunch of online hotel aggregate sites and do pretty well. I just used a new site to book a hotel in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving and saved a crap-load. I would never suggest booking a hotel from the hotels actual site. Use the the online aggregate sites and save yourself time and money.

  7. Bob

    Thank you very much :-) It will help me and family a lot :-)
    Did it change since 2012 ?

  8. Shally

    I have been able to find some sweet deals using in the last few months I have booked 3 different hotels with them and found they have a great deals on hotel.

  9. Vikas Dhiman

    All of these chains offer hotels that meet the minimum standards for accommodations and service. They provide clean, safe hotel rooms equipped with comfortable beds, en-suite bathing facilities, television and air conditioning. thanks for sharing this nice article……

  10. Brent

    Most hotels have some less preferred rooms which they are willing to offer at a lower price. For example, there may be a room with a blocked view, one near the elevator or an odd shaped room or which is slightly noisy etc. If you do not mind the small inconvenience, you may be able to strike a bargain.

  11. Felices

    wow thank you for this info, very usefull.
    I’ll use it to decide my future trips

  12. Carleton Watkins

    Great info but I’m late. I had a great trip with my friend in Holidays. We enjoyed a lot. I’ve bookmarked your page and will definitely read it again before planning future trip. In this trip we used different Hotels and Motels but Grand Inn Motels Moorhead was fantastic.

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