Best Cheap Hotel Chains
$50 - $100Cheapism
$100 - $250Mid-Range
$250 and upHigh End
Published on By Lee Stevens
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.
Days Inn Review
Days Inn has the advantage of solid ratings for most of its locations, of which there are many, making it a chain to count on. Plus, it offers a free breakfast, which many frequent visitors look forward to.
Microtel Inn Review
Microtel is only slightly more expensive than some of the hotels on this list but garners the most consistently positive reviews and provides a solid pack of free features, including Internet, long-distance calling, and breakfast.
Motel 6 Review
Motel 6 boasts one of the lowest per-night costs of all North American hotel chains without sacrificing much in the way of performance or features. With more than 1,100 locations, an outpost is easy to find; the variance in quality can be high, though.
Red Roof Inn Review
Red Roof Inn earns positive reviews from guests, especially for the breakfast (when it's offered), but maintains fewer locations than some other hotel chains. Guests often report that the company deals well with customer feedback.
Knights Inn Review
Free breakfast and a rewards program can't save this chain from scores of low ratings and reviews, mostly for old and unkempt facilities and indifferent service. The slight reduction in cost compared with our top picks isn't worth the gamble.
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.