I normally don’t think of, or consult, banking institutions when deciding where to embark upon a travel sojourn. However, a recent email I received from the folks at GOBankingRates.com piqued my interest with the title “The Best and Worst Cities for Cheap Vacations in 2015: GOBankingRates Study Finds the Best Vacation Spots in the U.S. for Frugal Travelers.”
In retrospect, I’m not sure if it was the words “best” and “worst” or “frugal” that first caught my eye, but I checked into it and saw that the information has a lot to offer, in that it really wasn’t about “best” and “worst,” but rather the “most” and “least” affordable.
To create their respective results, GOBankingRates curated a list of 50 of the most popular U.S. vacation destinations, ranking each on the basis of information from a variety of reliable industry sources, using the variables most important to today’s travelers: airfare costs (30 percent), ground transportation costs (10 percent), hotel prices (45 percent) and food and drink expenses (15 percent). The results were enlightening and, in some cases, downright surprising.
According to Casey Bond, editor-in-chief of GOBankingRates, “You don’t have to drive to the middle of nowhere to find a cheap summer vacation. In fact, some of the least expensive destinations on our list are also the most popular … Still, it’s important to remember that saving money on vacation doesn’t end with finding a cheap flight or inexpensive hotel room … You can have more fun, spend less money and get a more authentic experience at some of the cheapest cities in the country.”
Following are their destination findings, coupled with just a snippet, in GOBankingRates’ words, of how it earned that ranking.
Ten best cities for cheap vacations
No. 1. Las Vegas
Anyone who’s come back from a Sin City vacation with significantly lighter pockets have only themselves to blame … The place is just crawling with deals, such as inexpensive buffets, hotel and show packages and more. … And the average cost of a round-trip flight to Vegas was the lowest of any city featured on this list. … The key to surviving this city on a budget is to keep your gambling in check.
No. 2. Jacksonville
From stand-up paddle boarding to fishing excursions, many head to Jacksonville to hit the sand and sea. Jacksonville scored well in all categories, but … had the lowest overall hotel prices out of any of the destinations on our list.
No. 3. Orlando
Orlando is, of course, famous for its theme parks … What many don’t know is visitors also have access to a wealth of golf courses, shopping venues and restaurants.
No. 4. Kansas City
Even if you aren’t a barbecue fan, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Kansas City, Mo. The city is home to a thriving arts scene, an eclectic mix of music and some seriously die-hard sports fans.
No. 5. Detroit
(The) Motor City might be an unlikely vacation spot, but the area actually has a number of attractions that make this destination a standout. … Detroit also boasts extremely low hotel, food, drink and transportation costs.
No. 6. Albuquerque
In addition to the vibrant local art scene, vacationers can enjoy the city’s many popular museums, such as the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
No. 7. Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids, Mich., landed seventh on our list … because of its inexpensive hotel and transportation costs. Visitors to Grand Rapids enjoy the fresh water beaches, vibrant nightlife, historic sites and numerous outdoor activities
No. 8. Salt Lake City
Sleepy Salt Lake City might not seem like a likely candidate for one of the best vacation cities … but travelers to this city enjoy touring the local national and state parks, skiing, visiting museums or catching a Utah Jazz game.
No. 9. Memphis
Memphis, Tenn., is famous for its food, and you’ll be able to enjoy the local fare at a bargain … Visitors enjoy the city’s vibrant blues, jazz and country scene … and Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion is a top attraction.
No. 10. Denver
Denver scored the No. 10 spot … because of the city’s relatively inexpensive airfares and affordable food and drink options. From hitting the local ski slopes to catching a live show at the city’s famous Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, Denver has attractions the entire family will enjoy.
Ten least affordable vacation cities
No. 1. New York
New York City is … the most expensive city to visit. Transportation costs in New York are actually below average, but the food and drink prices are total budget-busters and the average hotel rate is $200 … Still, there’s a lot to see and do … if you can afford it.
No. 2. Santa Barbara
Many of the attractions in Santa Barbara, Calif., scream “luxury” for a reason, as it’s one of the most expensive vacation destinations in the U.S. Hotel rooms are pricey, but airfare to Santa Barbara will be the biggest cost.
No. 3. San Francisco
Its food and drink costs are the highest of any in this study, and the hotel and airfare prices aren’t much better. It’s pretty cheap to get around … but that won’t save you enough to justify the other expenses.
No. 4. Jersey City
High food, drink and airfare costs landed Jersey City in the No. 4 spot … hotel prices are also higher than average. It might be just a stone’s throw from all the attractions New York City has to offer, but you aren’t really going to save that much more by staying (here) instead.
No. 5. Honolulu
The price of paradise is high … Although flight prices are below average, high hotel rates, expensive transportation costs and pricey food and drink options make this one of the most expensive cities to vacation in.
No. 6. Charleston
Charleston, S.C., has fairly average airfare and transportation costs, but the higher hotel, food and drink prices put this historic city at No. 6.
No. 7. Boston
Despite its high prices, Boston is still a popular U.S. travel destination. The city is home to historical landmarks, beautiful architecture and a vibrant nightlife … but be prepared for high hotel, food and drink costs.
No. 8. Los Angeles
There’s no shortage of things to do. Unfortunately, it just happens to be an expensive place to do all those things. Hotels, food and drink prices are actually fairly reasonable, but getting there and then getting around will cost you.
No. 9. Miami
Transportation and airfare to Miami isn’t so bad—it’s the hotel, food and drink that will put a major dent in your budget. The good news is that people watching is free, and there is no shortage of that.
No. 10. Houston
Houston actually has decent hotel prices, but airfare costs are well above average. This city also has expensive food, drink and transportation costs.
No matter where each of these cities landed on their respective lists, they still offer plenty of wonderful things for your traveling pleasure. To learn more, check out GOBankingRates study results at www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/10-worst-best-vacation-cities.
Lysa Allman Baldwin is a freelance writer and the Publisher and Editor of Amazing Escapades: Adventures for the mind, bod and belly (www.amazingescapades.com).