To find the destinations that offer the best value now, MONEY analyzed more than 32,000 data points for almost 750 of the most popular spots: roughly 300 in the U.S. and 450 internationally.
To rank each place, we gave the most weight to overall cost—including roundtrip flight prices, which were provided by Hopper and Kayak; hotel prices, largely from Hotels.com, along with Booking.com, Hipmunk, and Trip by Skyscanner; and U.S. vacation rental costs from HomeAway. We also calculated what travelers should expect to spend on meals, beverages, and local transport, with pricing from Numbeo. For U.S. destinations, with the help of Hipmunk, we factored in rental car prices from the nearest airport.
To ensure that our picks are a good value right now, we weighed year-over-year price changes in average airfares and hotel prices. For international destinations, we used XE.com to analyze exchange rate fluctuations over the past year.
And we factored in the number of amenities each place offered—museums, parks, campgrounds, orchestras, historic landmarks and attractions, beaches, restaurants, bars, hotels and more—as well as “pleasantness” measures, such as weather, crime, and walkability.
In the U.S., we selected only one destination per state. Internationally we limited the list both by country and by region.
Additional sources include: WitLytic, TripAdvisor, Walkscore.com, STR, ValuePenguin, EarthEnv, Synergos Technology Inc., The Council For Community and Economic Research, Infogroup, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Brewers Association, UScampgrounds.info, American Alliance of Museums, League of American Orchestras, The White Book of Ski Areas, Mountain Vertical, American Winery Guide, POI Factory, Datafiniti, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Data.gov, FBI, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Infogroup’s human-verified business database consisting of over 16 million records across the U.S. was utilized in Money.com’s evaluation of the volume and quality of resources available to travelers. Infogroup’s data consists of rich attributes such as business profiles, openings, closings, images, social URLs, lat/longs and much more.
In evaluating travel services, MONEY worked with a number of data partners including J.D. Power and fellow Meredith publication Travel + Leisure. For each category, MONEY ranked the providers on overall costs, year-over-year price reductions, when available, and customer satisfaction.
- Hotels: Pool included 95 national and international hotel chains in three price/service classes. Criteria included customer service ratings; average cost per night; year-over-year changes in price; and reader reviews. Data providers included Hipmunk, Hotels.com, J.D. Power, and Travel + Leisure.
- U.S. Airlines: Pool included the nine largest domestic airlines. Criteria included average fare price, year-over-year ticket pricing changes, and the cost per kilometer for passengers; average departure and arrival delay time, number of on-time arrivals, number of canceled flights, and amount of denied boardings; baggage and change fees; and customer satisfaction ratings for reservations, check-in, boarding, aircraft, flight crews, in-flight service, food and drink, entertainment, seat comfort, amenities, fees, loyalty program, and overall value. Data providers included Airfarewatchdog, FlightStats, J.D. Power, Rome2rio, SkyTrax, Travel + Leisure, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- International Airlines: Pool included 70 of the largest international carriers. Criteria included average fare costs, year-over-year ticket pricing changes, and cost per kilometer for passengers; number of on-time arrivals; and customer satisfaction ratings for seat comfort, food and drink, entertainment, service, amenities, and overall value. Data providers included FlightStats, J.D. Power, Rome2rio, SkyTrax, and Travel + Leisure. MONEY ranked the top 30 carriers overall, but also highlighted the best in each region.
- U.S. Airports: Pool included 80 commercial U.S. airports. Criteria included customer experience; customer reviews; security delays and on-time rate of departures; the number of airlines serving each airport; and the number of restaurants and shops inside the airport. Data providers included J.D. Power, Travel + Leisure, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- Credit Cards: Pool included a dozen travel credit cards that were not tied to a specific brand or platform. Criteria included annual fees, signup bonuses, rewards earning rate, card acceptance, additional perks, value of points earned, platform ease of use, and APR.