Value travel: Where to go stateside in 2012 and why

Piggy bank on the beach

Traveling on a budget will be trickier this year. According to FareCompare.com, travel costs are inflating: hotel rates are up 4% this year; gas prices are steadily rising and are anticipated to reach their pinnacle in mid-summer; plus cruise lines, which usually offer a reasonable price point, are limiting their number of last-minute deal offerings. The 2012 January Travel Price Index also indicates a 1.8 percent increase year over year in airfare prices. While these statistics might put a dismal spin on your 2012 vacation plans, a little digging reveals a plethora of domestic destinations that actually offer some budgetary relief.

For those in the Northeastern portion of the country, Lonely Planet recommends exploring the major cities in that region: New York, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC. While the publication notes that these destinations may not be the cheapest to stay in, there are many low cost bus companies that provide transportation to them. Megabus and BoltBus, for instance, offer fares as low as $1 each way; the seats are roomy and there is even free WiFi onboard. Just avoiding the cost of airfare alone will save you big bucks.

West coasters also have the same myriad of options at their disposal. Another Lonely Planet pick in their “Top 10 best value destinations for 2012,” San Francisco offers boutique hotels in the prime Union Square location for as little as $100 a night. The BART public transit system is inexpensive and allows visitors to explore the city sans car. Lastly, Lonely Planet recommends a handful of free attractions and cheap food. About 500 miles south, Budget Travel selects San Diego as a top budget destination stating that the city’s “ongoing construction boom” means low hotel prices (average of $128 a night) and rental car rates 3% lower than 2010.

There are also plenty of value locales in between the coasts: two other Budget Travel picks include Kansas City and San Antonio. The former is transforming into a “hotbed of high culture,” but hotel and rental car rates haven’t caught up yet, which means highbrow experiences for slim wallets. San Francisco is boasting hotel rates down 5% from 2011 with the average daily room quoted at just $100 a night. Additionally, the Tourism Board is running its S.A.V.E. (San Antonio Vacation Experience) initiative, which provides additional discounts at hotels and attractions all year.

If those destinations don’t appeal to your tastes or location, check out Hotwire’s “Travel Value Index,” for more variety. Every year the travel discount site ranks the Travel Industry Association of America’s 75 most-visited places to determine Top 10 United States cities for value travel. Each city is given a score on a 100-point scale in three categories: low rates on air, rental car and hotel; discounts on air, rental car and hotel; and affordable entertainment. This year, with a perfect score, Dallas-Forth Worth tops the list.  The other cities in the top include: Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, Phoenix, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and the previously highlighted San Diego. Hotwire also offers tips for free or cheap attractions in each of these cities to assist in trip planning.

Lastly, if traveling to a big city is not on your bucket list, Trip Advisor, the best reviewed site for traveler reviews in our Travel Sites report, offers a list of the top 25 bargain hotels across the United States.  Interestingly, the hotels on the list are located in lesser-known destinations scattered throughout the nation: Leland, North Carolina; Norfolk, Nebraska; Lincoln, New Hampshire; and Brookings, Oregon, to name a few.

Stay tuned next week for our international roundup of value destinations for travel in 2012.

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