Best Cheap Hotel Chains

Price Range

$50 - $100


$100 - $250


$250 and up

High End

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As you travel the byways and highways of our fair land, do you worry that a good cheap hotel is impossible to find? Budget travel sometimes seems harder than it is, with the fear of staying somewhere uncomfortable or unclean leading many to pay up for short-term lodging. But Cheapism found that the best cheap hotel chains offer more than adequate comfort and service with double rooms priced well south of $100 a night. In many spots around the country you'll find several budget hotels situated right across the street from one another, and if the prices are the same, it can be hard to choose where to lay your head.

Cheap Hotels Buying Guide

We researched many of the nation's best-known economy-priced hotel chains, and while all have their ups and downs, Days Inn (double room starting at about $70 a night) and Microtel (double room starting at about $80 a night) stand out as the best options. Both offer more desirable amenities and benefits than the competition, including guaranteed Wi-Fi and free breakfast, and also receive high marks from guests for performance in most locations. Two second-best cheap hotel chains are Red Roof Inn (double room starting at about $70 a night), which boasts strong reviews but is a bit stingy with amenities, and Motel 6 (double room starting at about $55 a night), which slips slightly in performance ratings but offers one of the lowest prices for a night's sleep. Many Knights Inn (double room starting at about $65 a night) locations should be "drive-bys," reviewers advise, due to outdated and dirty facilities and generally unaccommodating staff. Another chain, Super 8 (double room starting at about $75) is often a safe choice but failed to qualify as a best cheap hotel due to prices that have been climbing, fewer money-saving deals, and relatively more mixed reviews.

This guide to cheap hotel chains offers tips on what to look for when perusing reviews posted by previous guests and the benefits and amenities that even frugal travelers can expect in the better-performing chains. Although much of what makes a hotel acceptable is service and comfort, several other factors are worth considering when making travel arrangements. If you're a smartphone user and/or always carry a laptop, look for places with free Wi-Fi; if you're a frequent traveler, a loyalty program might earn you free nights or even miles to trade for airline tickets. Some sustenance at the start of the day may be high on your list of priorities; ditto for a location near downtown, the airport, a beach, but far from neighborhoods that seem sketchy.

At the end of the day, though, if you're just looking for a place to rest, most locations belonging to the best of the cheap hotel chains will meet your standards. The room will be clean (that goes for the bathroom, too) and contain a comfortable bed; check-in will be simple and speedy; and employees will be friendly and helpful. Our research indicates that business travelers often care more about friendly service and a relaxing room while leisure travelers seem more interested in amenities, like breakfast and a pool, especially when traveling with children.

It is important to note that within all price categories, budget and otherwise, there is lots of variation in room rates, physical facilities, amenities, and service. Price differences typically reflect location. If you're in a metropolitan area like New York City or Chicago, say, hotel prices across the board are higher, although the chains on our list likely will be among the cheapest. The day of the week and time of year also affect rates. Weekdays tend to be more expensive than weekends, for example, and holidays and in-seasons (e.g., leaf-peeping in October in New England) usually correlate with higher prices.

Additionally, many national hotel chains are operated as franchises, and those we researched follow this model. This means that despite the best efforts of corporate headquarters, there's only so much uniformity in facilities, features, and service. Some mass surveys, by J.D. Power and Consumer Reports for example, compile meta data that refer to the chains as a whole. Guest reviews posted online of specific locations, meanwhile, may deviate wildly from the survey norms. So when choosing a cheap hotel chain for your next trip, use our assessment of performance and features as a starting point but make sure to check out the particular properties you'll be visiting.

Cheap Hotels Review

Hotel chain reviews show that visitors typically know not to expect many frills or luxury amenities at budget lodgings, but they do want a clean, relatively up-to-date room and friendly staff -- all standards that the better economy operations generally meet, as evidenced in online reviews and ratings. When a particular property earns a lower rating, it's usually due to poor performance in one or more of these areas, but sometimes reflects a bad location or irritants like noise in the hallway that prevents the visitor from getting an adequate night's sleep. The phrase "you get what you pay for" pops up often in cheap hotel reviews -- for better or worse -- and seems to signal some guests' acceptance of conditions given the savings they're enjoying.

Hotel Chains Cleanliness.

The architecture may be stunning and the staff all courteous smiles, but the cleanliness factor can make or break the perception of a particular hotel. The franchise/decentralized business model often means that conditions vary from location to location within a chain, and a bad experience in one can put travelers off the entire brand, as happened with a traveler from Australia who landed at a Knights Inn.

Cleanliness is mentioned in nearly every cheap hotel review we read. Even in the budget category, where travelers knowingly forego silk sheets and cushy easy chairs, a dirty/smelly room and/or facility are cardinal sins. Travelers' online posts often describe rooms at Red Roof Inn as "quiet and clean" while Knights Inn often loses points in hotel chain reviews at sites like Orbitz specifically for unkempt and grimy rooms, lobbies, and hallways. Motel 6 is the target of complaints about cleanliness at some properties, with the issue arising more often in metropolitan areas such as Washington D.C. Assessments of cleanliness at Super 8 locations are both critical and favorable, sometimes for the same facility, but overall skew positive.

Hotel chain reviews that rail about the lack of cleanliness most often cite faults such as dirty/stained/ragged sheets, soiled bathrooms (sometimes with rusty fixtures), an unmade room upon arrival, and foul odors; a less-than-pristine lobby might be tolerated, but only grudgingly.

Hotel Chains Comfort.

Travelers who stay at budget hotels acknowledge in online comments that they don't expect the Ritz and often write a perfunctory "comfortable" if the room is sufficient or "uncomfortable" when it fails to meet even the most basic standard. That said, hotel chains reviews indicate travelers are far more likely to stay at a brand of hotel again if on a previous visit they enjoyed a good night's rest. Not surprisingly, this is a dimension in which even the cheapest hotels strive to succeed. For the most part that means providing mattresses that are free of lumps, relatively contemporary decor, and sufficient space to store belongings.

Posts about Microtel, a relatively new chain with furniture and fixtures that have yet to show their age, often mention comfort but usually only in general terms. Cheap hotel reviews of Red Roof Inns posted at Orbitz, meanwhile, approvingly note the comfort of the beds; indeed, the company has been updating furnishings, so the investment seems to be paying off. Many guests at Days Inn also make a deal in reviews on Trip Advisor about the comfort of the beds and pillows. Judgments about comfort at Motel 6 are more of a mixed bag; for many locations travelers say the beds are fine or comfortable while for others we read gripes about beds not being comfortable enough. The dig at Super 8s primarily focuses on the dated and plain decor.

Free Hotel Breakfast and Wi-Fi

Hotel Chain Wi-Fi.

It's hard to be without an Internet connection these days, especially when traveling, and hotel operators seem to recognize the value of this amenity. Hotel Chatter reports that 64% of hotels now offer free Wi-Fi. In its absence, guests may get grumpy. In its annual surveys, J.D. Power and Associates has found that free hotel Wi-Fi is a major factor in guest satisfaction, with lower scores awarded by guests for locations that put a price on the service.

Even the budget chains are part of the trend, with many providing free hotel Wi-Fi or charging a small fee. Microtel, Days Inn, and Red Roof Inn all guarantee free connectivity (whether Wi-Fi or Ethernet depends on location), while availability and fees at Super 8, Motel 6, and Knights Inn vary by property. Of course, connection speed is always affected by the number of users logged on as well as by the geographic location. In most cases, though, travelers needn't worry that checking into an economy hotel means forfeiting a link to the outside world.

Free Hotel Breakfast.

Free breakfast is a staple at some budget hotels and absent at others. A morning spread can give the impression of money saved, but if limited in quantity and of dubious quality, travelers might need to look elsewhere for sustenance.

Guests' reviews of the hotel breakfast offerings are mixed, even when free. Days Inn boasts about the breakfasts in its marketing materials but some reviewers express disappointment at the very basic, carb-rich/protein-lacking selection; others, meanwhile, consider it perfectly adequate and give a shout-out to the waffle machine. Reviews indicate that frugal travelers are more than satisfied with the free continental hotel breakfast at Microtel, Days Inn, and Super 8, all chains whose corporate headquarters require this amenity be offered. Franchise owners of Red Roof Inns have the option of providing breakfast, so if it's important to you, check the location before reserving a room. Motel 6 guarantees complimentary coffee at every location, but no breakfast; only participating Knights Inns offer a complimentary morning repast.

Hotel Chain Discounts and Loyalty Programs.

Though something of a rarity in the economy bracket, hotel loyalty programs help travelers earn free nights, amenities, and even airline miles. Several of the chains on our list belong to the Wyndham Hotel Group, which maintains an umbrella rewards program (associated with a Visa credit card) that covers stays at any hotel in the group. Thus, frequent check-in at Days Inn, Microtel, Super 8, and Knights Inn (all in the Wyndham orbit) can eventually earn you a free night in one of the more upmarket hotels in the network, like Ramada, or some benefit from select retailers and restaurants. Red Roof Inn's RediCard only applies at Red Roof Inn hotels but offers express check-in, free bottled water, and points that add up to free nights (with the caveat that they expire if you don't stay at a Red Roof Inn for 14 months).

Some hotel chains eschew loyalty programs but extend other types of discounts. With Motel 6, for example, room rates are reduced by reserving online or in advance, which at some locations saves you up to $30 a night. Some chains offer discounts to members of the military and AAA, and/or to seniors and government employees.

Hotel Chain Locations.

A hotel is no good if you can't find it. Microtel, which has been building its brand in recent years, is still far from being as ubiquitous as Motel 6. Still, having more locations raises the odds of finding your favorite chain whenever you're in need of a place to stay, which can set off a ripple effect by increasing the earned rewards attached to loyalty programs supported by some chains. On the downside, a large number of properties can lead to more variability in quality.

Among the chains we researched, Super 8 is the runaway leader with more than 2,100 sites bearing its logo, followed by Days Inn with more than 1,800 and Motel 6 with more than 1,100 -- all spread across the country. Red Roof Inn, Microtel, and Knights Inn are substantially smaller operations, each claiming less than 400 locations; the first two chains are concentrated primarily in the eastern half of the U.S. In general, economy hotels are clustered around cities large and small, in commercial areas, and along major highways; some, like Super 8, also show up in more rural spots.

Hotel Chain Extras.

Extra amenities and special offers can induce travelers to book a room. Red Roof Inn and Motel 6 allow pets, and kids younger than 17 stay free at Super 8 and at some Knights Inns. Other attractions like pools and gyms depend on the property, although Red Roof Inn, Days Inn, and Super 8 all advertise pools as being available at many sites. You may also find useful items likes hairdryers, irons, minifridges, microwaves, and electric coffeemakers in rooms, not to mention bathroom freebies (shampoo, lotion, conditioner). Just remember to check the location's site for specifics.

Lee Stevens

Lee Stevens is a video producer and writer. She has created videos for the American Museum of Natural History and the video blog CreatureCast, in addition to Cheapism. From coupon shopping for necessary items to packing lunch every day instead of buying it, every chance to save money in the expensive city is a fun challenge to her.

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