Friday, March 22, 2013

Which US Cities Offer the Most Bang for the Buck? A Hotwire Study (Purportedly) Has the Answer

Hotwire's annual "Value Travel Index" is out and its first pick is a surprise, at least to me.

Before I get into why, let's look at how the rankings were created. Hotwire partnered with an outside firm to look, statistically, at the costs of airfare, hotel rooms and rental cars (these three elements accounted for 50% of the score) in 50 top destinations. It added to that calculation the amount of discounting done in the destination (for 25% of the value); and entertainment costs (another 25%). After all those factors were taken into account, it came up with the following list of value destinations, in this order (Orlando and Atlanta tied for first place):
  1. Orlando
  2. Atlanta
  3. Tampa
  4. Dallas-Fort Worth
  5. Phoenix
  6. Raleigh
  7. Charleston
  8. Houston
  9. St. Louis 
  10. Sacramento
So why do I disagree with this list? I feel it doesn't take into account the way people actually travel, at least in the case of the winner, Orlando. (And I'm wondering if Hotwire and its statisticians counted Kissimmee separately than Orlando, a mistake as that's where the major theme parks actually are.)

Here's why: though you certainly can find VERY cheap eats, hotels and entertainment in Orlando (especially if you're a fan of mini golf and arcades), the majority of people who come to the area head to DisneyWorld and Universal Studios, two pricey entertainment options. Now, if you weigh those two as two entertainment options among the many, Orlando will look like a very affordable place to go. But as anyone who's taken a family on a Disney vacation, well, costs can add up quickly. In order to reflect the realities on the ground, those two destinations, along with Sea World, have to be given extra weight statistically.

As for the rest of the list: it seems like a helpful tool for deciding where to go next, if budget is your first criterion.

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