For its second annual Best in Travel awards, MONEY analyzed thousands of data points to determine which destinations, airlines, hotels, cruise lines, travel credit cards, rental cars, and other service providers deliver the best experience at the best price.
First, we chose the best places to go, ranking the 17 best destinations for travel value in the world—including 10 domestic destinations and seven places outside of the U.S.
Then we considered the best ways to get away. We evaluated domestic and international airlines, car rental chains, cruise lines, travel credit cards, hotel chains, and domestic airports. For domestic and international airlines, domestic airports, and car rental services we crowned a No. 1 pick (“platinum”), a No. 2 (“gold”), and a No. 3 (“silver”), representing the highest quality for cost. For hotel chains, we chose a platinum and gold winner each for luxury, mid-range and budget-friendly brands. We did the same for different sizes of cruise lines. For credit cards, we selected the top general travel card, top loyalty airline credit card, and best hotel card.
Here’s how we did it:
We started with a pool of the 120 most popular travel destinations in the U.S. and the 230 most popular destinations abroad, with popularity determined based on overlapping measures: hotel nights booked, plane tickets bought, and online searches.
Additional sources used by WitLytic include: Synergos Technology, The Council For Community and Economic Research, InfoGroup, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Brewers Association, USAcampgroundsinfo.com, American Alliance of Museums, League of American Orchestras, The Whitebook of Ski Areas, Mountain Vertical, American Winery Guide, POI Factory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Data.gov.
- U.S. Destinations
To find the destinations that offer the best value, we gave the most weight to overall cost, including expenses such as average round trip airfare, hotel prices, meals and beverages, and rental car and public transportation use. We also included each spot’s cost-of-living.
We gave the next greatest weight to year-over-year price changes in average airfares and hotel prices, to ensure our picks reflected places that are truly a good value right now.
Next we scored places on the quantity of amenities at each destination, including the number of hotels, restaurants, museums, parks, attractions, bars and more. We also factored in “pleasantness” measures, such as weather, crime, and flight delays.
Only one winner was chosen from each state.
- International Destinations
For international destinations, we again gave the most weight to cost considerations, including exchange rates, and the price of hotels, round trip airfare, meals and beverages, and transportation.
The next biggest factor was year-over year changes in hotel prices, roundtrip airfare, and exchange rates.
We also considered the number of amenities such as restaurants, hotels, museums, parks, landmarks, and activities each place had to offer. Finally, we ranked each spot on its safety.
Only one international winner was chosen per global region.
For travel services, MONEY worked with a number of data partners including J.D. Power and fellow Time Inc. publication Travel + Leisure. For each category (hotels, airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines, and credit cards), MONEY ranked the providers on overall costs, year-over-year price reductions when available, and customer satisfaction, with extra emphasis given to travelers’ perceived value.
MONEY surveyed 75 national and international hotel chains in three categories: budget-friendly, mid-range and luxury. The brands were ranked based on average cost per night and year-over-year changes in price—data that MONEY pulled from third-quarter company financial statements, where available, and from company representatives. Consumers’ experiences were also evaluated using customer service ratings from J.D. Power and American Consumer Satisfaction Index, as well as reader reviews from Travel + Leisure.
MONEY ranked the 23 most popular cruise lines in the mega, large, and river cruise class. Factors included average cost per person as calculated by CruiseCompete, year-over-year change in pricing, cleanliness and sanitation scores from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and customer-satisfaction ratings for dining, public rooms, cabins, entertainment, service, and overall value, with data from Cruiseline.com, Cruise Critic and Travel + Leisure.
- U.S. Airlines
Money ranked the 11 largest domestic airlines based on average fare price according to Hopper, year-over-year ticket pricing changes, and the cost per kilometer for passengers calculated by Rome2rio. We factored in average delay time and number of on-time arrivals, using Department of Transportation and FlightStat data. We also took into account baggage and change fees, as well as customer-satisfaction ratings for reservations, check-in, boarding, aircraft, flight crews, in-flight service, food and drink, entertainment, seat comfort, amenities, fees, and overall value, using data from J.D. Power, SkyTrax and Travel + Leisure.
- International Airlines
MONEY ranked the 70 most popular international carriers based on average fare costs provided by Hopper, cost per kilometer for passengers calculated by Rome2rio, number of on-time arrivals according to FlightStat, and customer-satisfaction ratings for seat comfort, food and drink, entertainment, service, amenities, and overall value, using data from J.D. Power, SkyTrax and Travel + Leisure.
- U.S. Airports
MONEY surveyed 31 of the nation’s largest airports, comparing customer experience as calculated by J.D. Power, on-time rate of departures from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the number of airlines and flights available at each, from WitLytic.
- Car Rentals
MONEY analyzed the 11 largest rental car chains based on average daily rates for budget or compact cars. MONEY retrieved rental costs from CarRentals.com in late January using price quotes for rentals in the five most populous cities in the U.S. over the course of four separate weekends throughout 2017. The ranking gave equal consideration to customer satisfaction ratings from providers like J.D. Power, the Temkin Group, BestCompany.com and Travel + Leisure.
- Credit Cards