Accommodation prices in the USA vary considerably depending on location, season, and quality of service. On one hand, there are inexpensive motels with poor ratings and low standards. On the other hand, there are excellent hotels with high-quality service and steep prices. This article aims to guide you to find something in-between — solid accommodation offering good value for money.
Hotels: Where to Book Accommodation in the USA
I must admit that I typically search for accommodation directly on Booking.com. It provides such a broad selection and offers such competitive prices that it represents the best value in most cases. (I will share some of my Booking.com tricks below.) I used to use Hotels Combined or Hotels.com years ago, but I’ve gradually moved away from them.
Prices for the cheapest hotels in the USA start at about $50 per room per night. The average rate is $95. However, take both these rates with a grain of salt, as the price depends on a multitude of factors.
When choosing a hotel, the two most important parameters for me are location and value for money. Location is crucial, not only in terms of safety but also in terms of time-saving. Hotels in unfavorable locations may be cheaper, but the commute to these places can waste valuable time.
Motels: Inexpensive Accommodation Even in the Countryside
Every small town usually houses at least one operational motel, with available rooms indicated by a glowing “vacancy” sign. The price per night starts from $45.
Rooms are available as single or double. For beds, Queen Bed (152 cm wide) and King Bed (193 cm wide) are used. Each of these can comfortably sleep two people, which means a double room can accommodate up to four people.
Motel amenities are typically basic and include a toilet and bathroom, television, telephone, air conditioning, wi-fi (often with a charge or password protected), and a coffee machine. Sometimes, breakfast is included, which you will find out upon booking.
If you want to secure your accommodation, I recommend booking a motel in advance. Payment is usually due upon arrival at the motel.
Nationwide motel chains include Motel 6, Travelodge, Super 8, America’s Best Value Inn, and Econo Lodge. The price per room largely depends on location, amenities, and season. Single rooms and motels near highways or in less affluent states tend to be cheaper. Hostels in larger cities, on the coast, or near landmarks are typically more expensive.
The drawback of motels near highways is the considerable noise from passing cars, which can disrupt a restful night’s sleep. A simple solution is to request a “quiet room” at check-in.
How to Outsmart Booking.com
✨ Exclusive Genius Deals for Registered Users
If you don’t already have a user account on Booking, I recommend that you create one and use it for the long term. The more you travel, the better discounts you’ll get.
After several trips, you’ll attain Genius member status, granting you exclusive discounts at various hotels. I saved a significant amount during my two-week road trip through Europe, thanks to these discounts.
🔍 My Best Practice for Choosing Accommodation
When selecting accommodation anywhere in the world, I input my travel dates and display all available options. I then set a rating filter above 7/8/9 based on my travel budget and the number of accommodations.
I open 10-20 hotels in separate tabs and eliminate the unsuitable ones. Unsuitable location, unappealing rooms, higher prices compared to others, worse ratings in sub-parameters — I continue this process until only two or three hotels remain. I choose my accommodation from these final options.
📈 How to Interpret Reviews on Booking
In my experience, I avoid accommodations with a rating below 6.5, as it generally signifies problems and dissatisfaction. A rating between 6.5-7.5 implies decent accommodation, suitable for an overnight stay. 7.5-8.9 suggests a very good standard where I don’t expect complications. Accommodations rated above 9 have always provided memorable experiences.
If the number of ratings on Booking is below 100, the rating is likely to decrease in the future.
What to Look Out for When Booking a Hotel in the USA
🧾 Taxes and Other Fees May Not Be Included
Some booking sites may not list the final price for your stay, so take a close look at the details of the offer. For instance, in New York City, there is a 14.75% tax on each room, plus a fee of up to $3.50 per night.
In the extreme case of Las Vegas, nearly every hotel on the Strip charges a “resort fee” ranging from $33 to $50 per room per night. This fee can be obscured by other terms such as “destination charge”, “amenity charge”, or “experience fee”. For this mandatory fee, guests receive access to the internet, pool, DVD player, printing facilities, and other services.
⚖️ Read Reviews from Previous Guests
I always read user reviews before booking any accommodation. These reviews provide a good idea of what to expect from the hotel. I focus mainly on negative reviews. However, a negative comment or a low rating doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem—some users may be overly critical or troublesome.
🗺️ Location is the Most Important Parameter
A poorly chosen location could lead to extensive time spent on public transport, a lower sense of security, or just a less enjoyable experience of the area. Whenever possible, I select hotels with a location rating of 9 or higher on Booking.
Google Streetview can also give you a good impression of your accommodation’s surroundings.
📅 During High Season, Accommodation Prices Are Higher
The high season in the USA runs from June to the end of August, during which accommodation prices rise and hotel availability decreases. Depending on the location, demand may also increase during New Year’s Eve, weekends, and spring break.
Early booking is especially recommended during these periods.
Hostels in the USA: Cheap Accommodation with Minimum Privacy
Hostels are one of the most affordable ways to stay in the USA. If you don’t book your own room (a private room), you’ll be sleeping in a dorm with other guests. The more people in the room, the lower the price per night.
Due to the low cost, hostels are mainly populated by young people. Some hostels have separate rooms for men and women – if you’re traveling as a couple, keep this in mind.
Private rooms tend to be 2-4 times more expensive than dorms. Toilet facilities are either private or shared. Each hostel has a common room, a laundry room for washing clothes, and a kitchenette. I’ve stayed in dozens of hostels worldwide and whenever one had a rating of 9 or higher on Booking, it remains memorable to this day.
Airbnb: When You’re Looking for Privacy and Unusual Places
On Airbnb, individuals offer their accommodations. My first Airbnb stay was in San Francisco in 2013. At that time, hosts were mostly enthusiasts with a spare room; now they’re mostly entrepreneurs. The advantage of Airbnb is the opportunity to stay privately without strangers and often in unique places.
After 2020, I gradually stopped using Airbnb. Prices at times have risen above hotel levels and the magic of experiencing different cultures has worn off. Nevertheless, it remains a viable alternative.
Campsites: The Cheapest Lodging in USA National Parks
Camping is very popular in the USA, and it is the most economical accommodation option. Particularly, USA national parks boast hundreds of well-equipped campsites, often situated in places where an overnight stay is an experience in itself.
The price per night and per campsite typically ranges between $10.00 and $30. Up to three tents can fit on one pitch, and some campsites charge nothing at all.
Some campsites require advance reservations, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. At these, it’s beneficial to arrive in the morning when other campers are leaving. You can reserve a campsite through the government’s Recreation.gov or ReserveAmerica.com. The maximum length of stay at a campground is usually limited to 7 to 14 days.
Reservation with Free Cancellation
In most cases, it is beneficial to book many months in advance when most hotels are still vacant. However, sometimes a better deal with a lower price emerges at the last minute.
Hotels with a free cancellation option are insurance for such cases. Booking.com has many of these offers, all of which clearly state the deadline for cancellation. This allows you to keep looking with the peace of mind that you’ll have somewhere to stay.
If you find a cheaper alternative in the future, you can cancel the original booking. I record the free cancellation expiration date on my Google calendar with an email notification a few days in advance.
The price of rooms with free cancellation is typically slightly higher than those of offers paid outright.
A Room for Two Can Sleep Up to Four People
Prices in accommodations are always per room – not per person. So, you can save money by booking four people in a room for two and sharing beds. The beds in America are wide, so this typically doesn’t cause much discomfort.
Ask the Motel For a Better Rate
Let me share the simplest trick to get a discount anywhere in the world: Just ask for it. This surprisingly often works with hotels as well.
The method that has worked best for me is to show up at the hotel without a reservation and show the front desk the cheaper competitor’s room. They are quite likely to match it or offer you an otherwise better deal.