Days Inn Review

(From $70.00 Best)

Days Inn has the advantage of solid ratings for most of its locations. Plus, it offers a free breakfast.

Pros: Moderate prices, lots of locations, and a more consistent standard of quality than much of the competition make this long-time player in the economy hotels game a winner, according to reviews of Days Inn. Posts on several sites indicate that guests appreciate the proliferation of properties -- about 1,700 -- which certainly ups the convenience factor. Proximity to airports, downtowns, and other attractions at value rates is mentioned often. On TripAdvisor, for example, many patrons comment about easy access to the wharf in a town along the California coast. Free food in the morning at all locations also appeals, and is an amenity many repeat visitors confess to looking forward to. The chain ranks No. 3 in the economy segment in J.D. Power and Associates' 2016 survey of guest satisfaction, where it earns 4 points out of 5 for overall satisfaction and variables such as check-in/out, guest rooms, services, facilities, and cost, and 5 points for the reservation process.

Cons: For some Days Inn properties, reviews assert that decor and furnishings seem outdated or worn, which may reflect, at least in part, the chain's age. That said, many reviewers don't necessarily consider this a huge drawback. They say rooms are comfortable despite the need for a remodel. What upsets some guests about some properties, however, is a perceived gulf between the advertised condition of a property and the reality, as noted in reviews of a New York City location posted on Yelp.

Amenities: The breakfast spread at all Days Inn locations includes juice, fruit, yogurt, hot and cold cereal, and coffee. The chain provides free Wi-Fi at most sites, and all promote access to a pool, beach, or fitness center. As part of the Wyndham Hotel Group's rewards program, guests with the affiliated Visa card can earn points toward free stays at Wyndham hotels and condos and claim other redemption options, including gift cards for participating restaurants and retailers. Online booking at least seven days in advance means extra points and a 15 percent discount off the best available rate. Guests who stay at least two nights save $10 a night, and AAA members can claim savings of 15 percent.

Takeaway: Primarily good reviews and years of experience make Days Inn a good choice for budget travelers, especially with so many easy-to-find locations. It delivers value for the money so long as expectations about perks are limited to critical essentials.

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Microtel Inn & Suites Review

(From $75.00 Best)

Microtel is a tad pricier than some but garners the most consistently positive reviews and provides a solid pack of free features.

Pros: Microtel is a relative newcomer in the budget lodging segment, but reviews indicate it outshines most of the competition by a long shot. In the 2016 J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study, the chain received the highest rating for budget hotels (as it has in 14 of the past 15 years), earning 5 points out of 5 for overall satisfaction, cost and fees, facilities, services, guest room, and check-in/out. It scored 4 points for the reservation process and 3 for food/beverage. Reviews on Travelocity for a property in upstate New York, for example, assign more than 4 points each for room cleanliness, staff and service, hotel condition, and room comfort. Here and on other review sites we noted that guests seem pleased that their low expectations for economy hotels were repeatedly met and exceeded by the franchise. Many say they would definitely stay again at a Microtel.

Cons: Although some guest reviewers express disappointment with the visit, we discerned no obvious pattern in guests' comments. Customer service is the one factor that seems to prompt occasional griping directed at some properties, including several reviews on TripAdvisor of a hotel in North Carolina reporting blots such as overcharges, unwillingness to accommodate a lost wallet, and failure to respond to complaints about noise. Comments posted on the same site complain about dirty, smelly rooms at an airport location, for example. That said, the vast majority of Microtel properties garner high marks overall.

Amenities: The freebies offered by Microtel help boost its reputation. The chain provides free Wi-Fi, local and long-distance calling, continental breakfast (muffins, bagels, cereal, coffee), and fitness centers or pools at select locations. The loyalty program falls under the Wyndham Rewards umbrella. Multiple stays at Microtels can build points toward a free room at one of its swankier cousins or gift cards to select restaurants and retail outlets. Microtel offers 15 percent discounts for advance online booking, along with extra points and 10 percent rate cuts to auto club members. AARP cardholders qualify for savings of 20 percent.

Takeaway: Still a growing franchise with fewer locations (and mostly in the eastern United States) than the major budget hotel operators, Microtel provides the kind of comfort and service that make a good deal even better.

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Motel 6 Review

(From $60.00 Good)

Motel 6 boasts one of the lowest per-night costs among hotel chains, but the variance in quality can be high.

Pros: Motel 6 reviews confirm what travelers on a tight budget long to hear: There's no reason to resist the draw of its cheap prices. The hotel chain garners high ratings on many travel review sites, but ranks ninth of 11 economy brands in the J.D Power and Associates 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study. With some of the lowest rates around, though, spending extra on fancier digs may be wasteful if a place to sleep is all that's needed. Various properties earn an average of at least 3 stars on TripAdvisor, where reviewers applaud the overall value -- basic comfort for a modest price. Few reviews of these locations say they failed to meet expectations about cleanliness, comfort, or service, and many patrons with low expectations admit to being pleasantly surprised. Posts also note the chain's acceptance of pets and say free coffee in the lobby adds a friendly touch.

Cons: That said, there are plenty of Motel 6 locations that garner less-than-satisfactory assessments, particularly in categories of hygiene and service. It's not uncommon to find reference in reviews on sites such as Travelocity to telltale signs of cigarette use in non-smoking rooms (smells, burn marks) and gripes about rundown facilities, worn sheets, or carpet stains; reports of bug infestations surface here and there. Given the proliferation of Motel 6 locations -- about 1,200 and counting -- if one doesn't hit the mark, there may be another down the road that proves more satisfactory.

Amenities: Such low room rates do come at a price, however: Motel 6 offers few perks. There is no free breakfast or guaranteed free Wi-Fi, so be prepared to pay for the latter at some locations. On the other hand, kids under 17 stay free, as do one or two pets per room. The chain also offers discounts to veterans and active military and members of AARP. A loyalty program, dubbed My6, offers members special deals, faster check-out, and social sign in. An ongoing nationwide renovation is sprucing up dated rooms with flat-screen TVs and other modern touches like simulated wood flooring and sleek, minimalist designs.

Takeaway: Despite the occasional disappointing property, low prices and widespread availability make Motel 6 a decent budget choice for travelers with modest expectations -- which should get a boost as the upgrade rolls out.

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Red Roof Inn Review

(From $65.00 Good)

Red Roof Inn earns generally positive reviews, especially for upgraded properties. Guests say the company deals well with customer feedback.

Pros: Red Roof Inn boasts about its status as a top economy hotel chain. It was the USA Today Readers' Choice in 2014 and also fares well on other review sites. It earned high marks in J.D. Power and Associates' 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study, especially for the reservation process and secondarily for cost, services, and check-in/out. Although a small chain by budget hotel standards -- there are about 450 Red Roof Inn properties, mostly in the eastern part of the country -- amenities and solid performance at most locations earn it recognition. Guests reviews largely affirm the chain-wide surveys, most notably for locations that recently have been refurbished and upgraded and use the moniker Red Roof Plus+, including one on Long Island. Review comments about the high quality of service and the friendly, helpful staff are common.

Cons: For locations that haven't been remodeled, reviews howl about affronts such as bug infestations, broken fixtures, stained sheets, and managers who seem to be MIA when guests try to lodge complaints. One guest at a California beach town location writes on Yelp about hitting the nearest big-box store to buy sheets, towels, and disinfectant.

Amenities: Red Roof Inn offers the usual prized features, including free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Unlike the best economy hotel chains, this one does not guarantee free breakfast, although many properties do offer one. It also supports a rewards program called RediCard (affiliated with Visa) that gives members faster check-in, free bottled water, points toward a free night's stay, exclusive offers, and up to 20 percent off when booking at least two days ahead. The chain also stands out with a free pets-welcome-here policy (one per room), a perk pet-loving travelers laud while others, predictably, condemn.

Takeaway: The still-growing chain seems committed to customer service and comfort, and is investing in a sleeker, more modern aesthetic that should buoy its competitiveness. It's a good choice for travelers seeking economical lodging, especially if one of the updated properties is in sight.

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Knights Inn Review

(From $55.00 Think Twice)

A solid rewards program can't save this chain from scads of low ratings, mostly for old and unkempt facilities and indifferent service.

Pros: Compared with online comments about other budget hotel chains, guest reviews of Knights Inn are noticeably weaker, although some patrons at some properties are satisfied with their stays. Reviews of a Knights Inn in south Florida on Orbitz, for example, average nearly 3 stars out of 5, with strokes for location and overall value. Guests also award decent marks for service and staff but assign a paltry grade for the hotel's overall condition.

Cons: Among the brands included in the 2016 J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study, Knights Inn ranks second from the bottom by a hair in the economy category, earning an overall score of 2 out of 5 points, with the highest mark (3 points) for check-in/out. These results are substantiated by disappointed guests who post reviews about individual Knights Inn properties. Many reviewers acknowledge their low expectations for an inexpensive room but go on to write that even basic needs are barely met. Assessments of various locations posted on sites such as Travelocity grumble about outdated decor and worn furniture, as well as dirty sheets, bugs, and old, uncomfortable mattresses. Adding insult to injury, unhappy patrons cite unfriendly or unhelpful staff, especially when dealing with these latter problems. And while guests appreciate the posted prices, according to reviews, our quick survey of several random locations found that prices on average are equal to, if not slightly higher than, other hotel chains that score higher ratings.

Amenities: Knights Inn takes pride in its no-frills profile, which translates as a place to sleep and shower with no guarantee of a free breakfast (but for coffee and tea) or even the availability of Wi-Fi. As part of the Wyndham Hotel Group, the chain offers a rewards program that includes points towards free nights at other Wyndham properties. Guests who stay two nights or more save $10 a night, and booking at least seven days in advance nets a 15 percent discount. Seniors age 60 and up save 10 percent, as do members of AAA.

Takeaway: Despite its budget prices and a rewards program on par with some of the top brands, it's hard to accept Knights Inn's shortcomings as highlighted in user reviews. Stopping at one of the chain's 400 or so sites may be something of a gamble.

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Buying Guide

The fear of staying somewhere uncomfortable or unclean tempts many frugal travelers to pay up for short-term lodging. But Cheapism's close reading of scores of guest reviews found that the best cheap hotel chains offer adequate comfort and service, with double rooms priced well south of $100 a night. In many spots around the country, properties belonging to several chains are situated right along the same street, and if the prices are the same, it can be hard to choose where to lay your head. Our research can help guide the decision-making process.

Choosing the Best Budget Hotel Chain

The acceptability of a cheap hotel depends on a variety factors, comfort and service being first and foremost. Rooms should be clean (that goes for the bathroom, too) and contain a comfortable bed. Check-in should be simple and speedy, and employees should be friendly and helpful. Amenities may be sparse, but ideally a budget hotel offers free Wi-Fi and sustenance at the start of the day. Loyalty programs that earn free nights and other rewards are sometimes a big draw. And a safe, convenient location goes without saying.

At the end of the day, if the goal is simply finding a place to rest, most locations belonging to the top budget chains meet these basic standards. We researched many of the nation's best-known economy-priced hotel chains, and while all have their ups and downs, Days Inn (starting at about $70) and Microtel Inn & Suites (starting at about $75) stand out as the best options. Both offer more desirable perks than the competition, including guaranteed Wi-Fi and free breakfast, and guest reviews award most locations high marks for value and overall performance.

The two runners-up are Red Roof Inn (starting at about $65) and Motel 6 (starting at about $60). The former garners strong reviews but is a bit stingy with amenities, and the latter slips slightly in ratings and amenities but offers one of the lowest prices for a night's sleep.

Many Knights Inn (starting at about $55) locations should be "drive-bys," guest reviews advise, due to outdated and dirty facilities and generally unaccommodating staff. Another chain, Super 8 (starting at about $75), is usually a safe choice but fails to qualify for this list due to prices that have been climbing and fewer money-saving deals. Other well-known economy chains include Econo Lodge, Travelodge, and Rodeway Inn.

Within all price categories, budget and otherwise, there is lots of variation in room rates, physical facilities, amenities, and service both within and between hotel chains. Many hotel chain properties are operated as franchises, and the six chains discussed in detail here follow this model. (Depending on the brand, a hefty percentage of locations may remain company owned and operated.) This means that despite the best efforts of corporate headquarters, there's only so much uniformity in facilities, features, and service across locations. Accordingly, our overall assessment of performance and features is only a starting point. Be sure to check out the particular property before handing over a credit card.

Price differences in large part reflect location. In a metropolitan area like New York City or Chicago, lodging costs across the board are higher, although the chains on our list are typically among the cheapest. The day of the week and time of year also affect rates. Weekdays tend to be more expensive than weekends, and holidays and high seasons (e.g., leaf-peeping in October in New England) usually correlate with higher prices.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

Hotel Reviews: What We Considered

To get an overall impression of the most popular budget hotel chains, we consulted mass surveys conducted by organizations such as J.D. Power and Associates and Consumer Reports, which compile meta data that reflect on the chains as a whole. We also combed through scores of guest reviews and found that assessments of specific locations posted on sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and TripAdvisor can deviate wildly from the survey norms.

Our research indicates that business travelers often care more about friendly service and a relaxing room while leisure travelers seem more interested in amenities such as breakfast and a pool, especially with children in tow. Reviews indicate that guests of low-priced hotel chains generally know not to expect frills or luxury amenities. What they want is a clean, relatively up-to-date room and friendly staff -- all standards that the better economy operations generally meet, as evidenced in online comments and ratings. When a particular property earns a lower rating, it's usually due to poor performance in one or both of these dimensions but sometimes reflects a bad location or irritants like late-night noise in the hallway or next door. The phrase "you get what you pay for" pops up often in reviews of budget hotels -- for better or worse -- and seems to signal acceptance of conditions given the savings.

Locations.

The value of a hotel chain lies in plentiful and easily accessible locations. Availability promises travelers convenience, reassurance, familiarity, and often an opportunity to earn reward points. On the downside, a large number of chain-affiliated properties may mean more variability in quality.

Among the national chains we researched, Super 8 is the runaway leader with about 2,500 sites bearing its logo. Next in line are Days Inn with about 1,700 properties and Motel 6 with about 1,200. Red Roof Inn, Microtel, and Knights Inn are substantially smaller operations, each claiming approximately 400 locations; the first two are concentrated primarily in the eastern half of the United States. In general, economy hotels are clustered around cities large and small, in commercial areas, and along major highways. Some, such as Super 8, also pop up in more rural spots.

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. Cleanliness is mentioned in nearly every hotel review we read. Even in the budget category, where travelers knowingly forego silk sheets and cushy easy chairs, a dirty/smelly room, lobby, or hallway is a cardinal sin. Irate patrons often post images in their reviews as evidence of deplorable conditions and others rail about misleading advertising that artificially pumps up the quality and physical condition of a property (or states policies that management ignores).

The franchise/decentralized business model often means that conditions vary from location to location within a chain. Online ratings of a particular brand may range from 4-star averages on some sites to 1- or 2-star averages on others. Travelers' reviews often describe rooms at Red Roof Inn as quiet and clean, while Knights Inn often loses points on sites like Orbitz and Yelp 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. Assessments of cleanliness at Super 8 locations are both critical and favorable, sometimes for the same facility, but skew positive overall.

Comfort.

Travelers who stay at budget hotels often write a perfunctory "comfortable" if the room is sufficient or "uncomfortable" when it fails to meet even the most basic standard. That said, reviews indicate that guests are far more likely to stay with a particular brand if sleep was restful and the room pleasant on a previous visit. For budget hotels, that mostly means providing lump-free mattresses, relatively contemporary decor, and sufficient space to store belongings.

Reviews of Microtel often mention comfort but usually only in general terms, while assessments of Red Roof Inns on Orbitz note the comfort of the beds. The company has been updating furnishings and adding in-room amenities, so the investment seems to be paying off. Many Days Inn guests also make a point of noting how relaxing the beds and pillows seem. Judgments about Motel 6 are more of a mixed bag, and darts thrown at Super 8 primarily focus on the dated and plain decor, which likewise is undergoing a full-scale refresh.

Free Wi-Fi.

It's hard to be without an Internet connection these days, especially when traveling. In its absence, guests may get grumpy. According to J.D. Power's annual surveys, free hotel Wi-Fi is one of three top factors affecting guest satisfaction. (The other two are breakfast and parking; many miffed reviewers indeed grouse about limited parking at certain sites and express outrage when forced to pay.)

Even budget hotel operators seem to recognize the value of this amenity. Microtel, Super 8, Red Roof Inn, and most Days Inn locations guarantee free connectivity. Fees may apply at Motel 6 sites, and Knights Inn properties with Wi-Fi almost always charge users.

Free Breakfast.

Free food in the morning is a staple at some budget hotels and absent at others. While guest reviews of the hotels' breakfast offerings are mixed even when the meal is free, most consider this amenity both a money saver and a stress reducer: Few travelers want to begin the day foraging far and wide. Reviews indicate that frugal guests are more than satisfied with the free continental 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 this is an important amenity, check before reserving a room. Motel 6 guarantees complimentary coffee at every location but no breakfast. Only participating Knights Inns offer a complimentary morning repast.

Other Amenities.

Freebies can induce budget-minded travelers to book a room at a particular hotel. Red Roof Inn and Motel 6 allow pets at no charge, and kids younger than 17 stay free at Motel 6 when sharing a room with parents. Attractions such as pools and gyms depend on the property; many Days Inn and Microtel locations have pools. Useful items such as hairdryers, irons, mini fridges, microwaves, and electric coffeemakers show up often. Free toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body lotion) are common, but not universal.

Discounts and Loyalty Programs.

Increasingly common in the economy bracket, hotel loyalty programs help travelers earn free nights and other perks, such as exclusive offers. 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-ins at Days Inn, Microtel, Knights Inn, and Super 8 eventually earn a free night in one of the network's hotels or condos, including upmarket properties such as Ramada, or a gift card from select retailers and restaurants. Red Roof Inn's RediCard applies only at that brand's hotels but offers perks such as express check-in and discounts for early booking, in addition to free nights.

Some hotel chains eschew traditional loyalty programs for other types of deals. At Motel 6, a new program called My6 offers members special savings on room rates and speedy online booking. Many chains also extend discounts to members of the military and AAA, and/or to seniors and government employees.

Additional Products We Considered

Super 8 Review

Pros: A solid list of amenities and a reputation for being one of the cheaper budget hotel chains help earn Super 8 decent reviews. Whether a stay with Super 8 proves to be a good value, however, often comes down to the individual property, as is the case with economy hotels in general. On TripAdvisor, for example, guests at an Arizona location commend the staff, the spacious and clean rooms -- which include microwave ovens and mini fridges, Wi-Fi, and multiple outlets -- and the value for the money. Travelers heartily recommend a Super 8 in Kentucky, commenting on Orbitz about the in-room amenities, the pool, and the service. Similar themes echo throughout guest reviews of this brand, which lands a fourth-place spot in the 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study by J.D. Power and Associates, earning its highest marks (4 points out of 5) for guest rooms and service. With about 2,500 locations, Super 8 is easy to find on the fly.

Cons: Our research found that prices are climbing more toward the middle of the pack, and some posts quibble about the rates in rural areas, saying they aren't particularly cheap given the location. Others complain about the scruffy condition of a particular property, meager breakfasts and thin towels, and cigarette odors in nonsmoking rooms. One gripe directed at multiple locations in older reviews concerned worn furniture and decor and the general "plainness" of the facilities. That issue is being addressed through renovations currently underway throughout the chain.

Amenities: Super 8 provides the usual array of amenities for a budget brand, including free cold breakfast, coffee, and Wi-Fi. Children under 17 stay free and discounts are available for AARP members (20 percent), seniors (age 60 and up), military (15 percent), and AAA members (10 percent). Advance booking also nets a 15 percent rate cut, and staying two nights or more saves $10 a night. As part of the Wyndham Hotel Group, Super 8 allows guests to participate in the corporate rewards program and earn points toward free nights at other Wyndham properties.

Takeaway: Many frugal travelers continue rewarding Super 8 with their business even though prices are creeping up. Check reviews for the specific location on your planned itinerary -- some may be worth the price, others not so much.

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