Whether it's a weekend getaway or a journey far from home, an overnight stay often means balancing comfort and cost. Drastic variation from one budget hotel to the next -- both between and within brands -- mars the category's reputation. Don't be put off. Cheapism.com's research found that the best cheap hotels fill the bill in many ways. They may be short on amenities, but there's plenty of value if the location is right and the room is clean. Most offer free Wi-Fi, and many lay out enough of a breakfast spread in the morning to get the day off to a good start. They also offer loyalty programs that award points toward free lodging and/or other perks, such as speedy check-in and exclusive money-saving deals. Seniors, military personnel, and AAA members usually qualify for savings, and advance booking and longer stays may yield discounts as well.
Related: 50 Budget-Friendly Boutique Hotels Across the Country
RUNNER UP: MOTEL 6
On the whole, Motel 6 (double room starting at about $60 a night) garners positive reviews from travelers looking for a cheap place to sleep and little more. Many properties reviewed on TripAdvisor earn a minimum of 3 stars out of 5 and sometimes evoke pleasant surprise from travelers at the unexpected value for the money. This hotel chain with about 1,200 or so properties doesn't offer much in the way of amenities -- forget about free breakfast or guaranteed free Wi-Fi -- but it welcomes up to two pets per room at no cost. Motel 6 is in the midst of a nationwide refurbishing, and more and more guest rooms boast a revamped modern aesthetic.
RUNNER UP: RED ROOF INN
Properties in this relatively small economy chain are undergoing an upgrade (with a name change to Red Roof Plus+), but some are still dated. Regardless, guests generally are satisfied by the combination of low price, relative comfort, and good service. Red Roof Inn (double room starting at about $65 a night) provides free Wi-Fi at all locations and free breakfast at many. A big draw for pet-loving guests is free accommodation for traveling animal friends (one per room). A company-specific rewards program pays off through points toward free lodging, exclusive offers, faster check-in, and more.
A tad pricier than other good economy hotels, Microtel (double room starting at about $75 a night) may be worth the splurge. It consistently wins top honors in J.D. Power and Associates' annual North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Survey, and reviews of individual properties on travel sites affirm that designation. Patrons appreciate the attention to detail; the free breakfast and Wi-Fi; and the cleanliness, comfort, and overall quality of the rooms. A relatively new hotel chain with far fewer locations than others, Microtel is also part of the Wyndham Hotel Group.
BEST: DAYS INN
With north of 1,700 locations to choose from, convenience is a key factor setting this brand above others in the budget hotel category. Reviewers often say that knowing they can find a Days Inn at a good rate (double room starting at about $70 a night) makes the choice of lodging easy. The chain also earns high marks in the cleanliness and comfort categories. Free breakfast throughout the chain, free Wi-Fi at most properties, and a pool or fitness center at many are welcome perks. The rewards program is linked with the chain's corporate parent, Wyndham Hotel Group. Advance planning and longer stays yield other savings.
ANOTHER OPTION: SUPER 8
Spacious rooms, friendly service, and attractive amenities, including free Wi-Fi and continental breakfast, account for this brand's appeal. Prices are inching higher at many locations, which may reflect the renovations currently underway throughout the system. Yet another budget chain in the Wyndham Hotel Group, Super 8 (double room starting at about $75 a night) is affiliated with the corporate rewards program and extends many of the same discounts to seniors, military, and auto club members. Advance booking and longer stays also have their rewards.