Best Cheap Hotel Chains
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.
Our Top Pick
Days Inn Review
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Cons: For some Days Inn properties, reviews assert that decor and furnishings seem outdated or worn, which may reflect, at least in part, the chain's age.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.
Microtel Inn & Suites Review
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.
Red Roof Inn Review
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.
Motel 6 Review
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.
Knights Inn Review
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.