The best trip for your money just landed. For MONEY’s first Best in Travel Awards, we crunched thousands of data points to locate the most value-packed destinations, airlines, hotels, and more on the planet.
First, we chose the best places to go, ranking the 10 best destinations for travel value in the world, including seven domestic destinations and three places outside of the U.S.
Then we considered the best ways to get there, evaluating airlines, car rental chains, cruise lines, travel credit cards, hotel chains, and airline loyalty programs. For each service, we crowned a No. 1 pick (“platinum”) and a No. 2 pick (“gold”) that represent the highest quality-for-cost. Finally, we identified five of the best money-saving travel apps.
Here’s how we did it:
We started with a pool of the 100 most popular travel destinations in the U.S. and the 100 most popular destinations abroad. Popularity was determined based on overlapping measures, including hotel nights booked; plane tickets bought; online searches; and quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants, and attractions in destinations worldwide. We then collected data about the amenities available at each destination and their relative costs. Sources included Onboard Informatics, TripAdvisor, STR, Hopper, Trivago, Numbeo, Hotels.com, Statista, Travelmath, Factual.com, InfoGroup, Walkscore.com, TravBuddy, Travel and Leisure, and the Department of Transportation.
To find the destinations that offer the most value right now, we gave the most weight to year-over-year price changes in average airfares and hotel prices.
We gave the next-most weight to the quality and quantity of amenities at each destination, based on user reviews of hotels, restaurants, museums, parks, activities, and more.
We also gave significant weight to the overall cost of each destination, including the cost-of-living, sales tax, and data from a variety of sources about the average costs of tourism, food and water, transportation, and hotels.
Next, we scored destinations according to our amiability index, a measure of overall “pleasantness” which included crime and weather data.
Finally, we considered the quality of transportation to, from, and at each destination, including walkability, availability of public transit, and flight delays.
We ensured that all of our winners had seen year-over-year declines in either airfare or hotel prices, or both. Only one winner was chosen from each state. Destinations that scored in the bottom 10% in terms of crime or weather were eliminated from consideration. Ranking within the seven winners also considered additional MONEY reporting and research.
For international destinations, we gave the most weight to cost considerations, including exchange rates in 2016, year-over-year price changes, and the price of hotels, food, transportation and more.
We also gave great weight to the the quality and number of amenities, based on user reviews of restaurants, hotels, museums, parks, landmarks, and other activities.
Finally, we considered safety and convenience, taking a close look at crime rates and distance from international airports.
We ensured that all of our winners had seen year-over-year declines in hotel prices. Destinations that scored in the bottom half in terms of crime were eliminated from consideration. Ranking within the three winners also considered additional MONEY reporting and research.
Rankings of travel services were based on overall cost, year-over-year price decreases, and travelers’ satisfaction surveys, with extra emphasis placed on tourists’ perceived value. Here’s how we evaluated each category of products.
Starting with the 71 largest chains, MONEY ranked hotels based on average cost per night this year and last, both internationally and domestically; customer satisfaction with reservation processes; check-in and -out procedures; rooms; food and beverages services; overall facilities; costs and fees; and a measure of value via Travel + Leisure magazine.
Starting with TripAdvisor’s list of the Top 25 All-Inclusive Resorts in the World, MONEY ranked resorts based on average price data, overall user-generated quality ratings, and guest ratings of amenities, room cleanliness, room comfort, hotel staff, location and perceived value. We determined that at least one destination be located within 1,000 miles of the continental United States.
Starting with the eight largest chains, MONEY ranked rental car companies based on overall satisfaction; average lowest rates and average median rates; customer satisfaction with reservation, pick-up, and return processes; and satisfaction with shuttle buses, rental cars, and costs and fees.
Starting with Cruise Critic‘s top 17 cruiselines by popularity, MONEY ranked the lines based on average price; change in price from 2013 to 2014 to 2015; cleanliness; ratings of customer satisfaction with dining options, public rooms, entertainment, services; and perception of value for money.
Starting with cards considered for MONEY’s annual Best Credit Cards franchise, MONEY compared travel cards’ sign-up bonuses, rewards, and fees, then consulted with experts at NerdWallet and ValuePenguin for their calculations.
Starting with the 11 largest domestic airlines, MONEY ranked carriers based on relative good price; average price per mile; average wait time; customer ratings of the value for the money; customer satisfaction with reservations, check-in processes, boarding, deplaning, baggage, aircraft, flight crew, in-flight services, amenities, and cost and fees; baggage fees; and change fees.
Starting with the 27 largest international airlines, MONEY ranked carriers based on relative good price; average price per mile; average wait time; and customer satisfaction with food, drink, entertainment, seat comfort, service, and value for the money.
Frequent Flier Programs
Starting with the 9 largest domestic airlines, MONEY ranked frequent flier programs based on overall satisfaction with the airline; minimum points needed for a free flight; average points needed for a free flight; minimum points needed for elite status; the ease of earning points; program terms about upgrades, award cancellation fees, and preferred seating; and seat availability.
Starting with the 60 top travel apps by downloads, we ranked the apps based on popularity; ratings on Google Play, the iTunes store, and Appcrawlr; and recognition on PC Magazine’s Best Apps list. Once we ranked the apps in a systematic way, we limited the list to apps that can save consumers money in a tangible way and then tested them ourselves for usability and value.