By Clem Bason
Published March 07, 2013
Discovery Cove1Orlando, Fla.
iStock9St. Louis, Mo.
It’s that time of year. The weather is getting warmer, folks are itching to plan their spring and summer trips, and we at Hotwire are taking a thorough look at the most popular domestic destinations to come up with the top 10 places where folks can get the best overall value. Every year, we perform this analysis – we call it the Travel Value Index – in order to steer travelers toward the cities where they can get the most out of their travel budgets. We evaluate the top U.S. leisure markets, scoring them across three individual categories — discounts on air, hotel and car, low prices on air, hotel and car, and affordable entertainment options. Think of the this list as your guide to the best travel values, and keep the money you save in the bank, or use it to have even more fun at your destination.
1Orlando, Fla.Discovery Cove
Why it made the list: With its low prices (Low Price Rating: 89) and amazing entertainment options (Entertainment Rating: 85), it’s easy to see why this city comes in at number one for the second year in a row – tied with Atlanta – and is so popular with tourists.
What to do: Beyond just the family-friendly theme parks, which can cost you a pretty penny, the city plays host to myriad of much more affordable activities for people of all ages. Folks visiting The City Beautiful can head to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, cruise into Old Town for live music and classic car viewing, or take a short trip to lounge Daytona Beach and maybe get a guided tour of the famous Daytona Speedway.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $63 a night
Why it made the list: Like Orlando, Atlanta has been a top value spot for the past few years and because of its hotel room growth, prices have remained low. However, Atlanta is not only home to some of the best travel discounts (Discount Rating: 91), but also some of the country’s largest cultural institutions.
What to do: Visitors can enjoy a number of classic museums and tours including the World of Coca-Cola, the CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park (home to the 1996 Olympic Games). For baseball fans, Turner Field will be re-opening this spring for the beginning of the MLB season, so travelers can watch the Atlanta Braves say “batter up!” right from their home stadium.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $62 a night
Why it made the list: Tampa is a red-hot destination, especially for those seeking great travel deals (Low Price Rating: 85). With its unique blend of urban excitement and beautiful natural surroundings, it’s not surprising to see Tampa’s ranked as the 5th best outdoor city by Forbes.
What to do: There are a variety of fun activities for folks to enjoy once they arrive, like shopping at Hyde Park Village, visiting the Florida Aquarium or checking out Busch Gardens of Tampa Bay for an African twist on theme parks—it is one of the largest zoological establishments and has rides like Edge of Africa, Rhino Rally and Congo River Rapids.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $81 a night
Why it made the list: Over the past few years, Dallas has consistently shown a lot of value in its discounts (Discount Rating: 100), specifically on a wide variety of hotels and entertainment (Entertainment Rating: 65).
What to do: I always encourage travelers to ask the locals for their hidden gem restaurant recommendations, particularly for barbeque, but this city has so much more to offer than just its mouthwatering eateries. Folks can explore Dallas’ history at the Hall of State and Heritage Village, or take in the outdoors at the Texas Discovery Gardens and Cedar Ridge Preserve.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $61 a night
Why it made the list: With low prices on world-class hotels and resorts (Low Price Rating: 73) and fantastic entertainment (Entertainment Rating: 82) Phoenix scores high marks on our list again this year.
What to do: There is also no shortage of outdoor activities for visitors to Phoenix – biking, hiking, horseback riding, walking, golfing, swimming and off-roading – making it an outdoorsman’s dream. Visiting cowboys or country-music lovers can check out Greasewood Flat for an afternoon of drinks, music and dancing.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $99 a night
Why it made the list: The City of Oaks has had many new hotel rooms open up resulting in great travel deals (Low Price Rating: 100), which has made it a competitive travel destination.
What to do: Raleigh has so much to offer and is home to a variety of different world-class museums such as the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural Sciences, both of which have free admission. Folks can also enjoy diverse eateries from around the world in Downtown Raleigh, or go shopping at the Crabtree Mall or Cameron Village.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $50 a night
Why it made the list: Southern charm and cosmopolitan character are just part of what helped put Charlotte on this list. This growing financial center is also a hit for travelers looking for bargains (Discount Rating: 81).
What to do: Charlotte is home to the famous Metalmorphosis Head and the Historic Rosedale Plantation, and has been a hit for folks looking for fantastic savings. From the Reed Gold Mine to Freedom Park to the city’s Farm Fresh market, there’s no shortage of exciting (and free) activities in this city. Tandem Charlotte with Raleigh to really get a feel for what the great state of North Carolina has to offer.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $78 a night
Why it made the list: The fourth largest city in the U.S. is also a great value spot, offering incredible discounts (Discount Rating: 94). And its sunny year-round weather makes it an easy outdoor destination to love.
What to do: Travelers can head to the Museum District, home to the Houston Zoo among other family-friendly museums, catch a performance at the Miller Outdoor Theater or simply take a walk in the downtown area and check out the many boutique and antique stores.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $67 a night
9St. Louis, Mo.iStock
Why it made the list: We’ve had our eye on St. Louis for a while because there’s so much value in this city, particularly because it’s a hub for affordable airlines and has a number of remodeled 4-star hotels (see my article on the Top Sleeper Cities of 2013). Ranked highly for its discounts (Discount Rating: 86) and low prices (Low Price Rating: 71), this city is not only affordable to get to, but it also offers many attractions that won’t leave you emptying your pockets.
What to do: In fact, visitors can head to the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Science Center or the World Bird Sanctuary for free. Additionally, sports fans are in luck—the city is home to a variety of teams like the world-famous St. Louis Cardinals, Blues and Rams.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $58 a night
Why it made the list: Sacramento, the capital of California, has great deals on travel (Discount Rating: 94) and plenty of culture, history and entertainment, at reasonable prices (Entertainment Rating: 70), to keep vacationers happy.
What to do: In Sac Town (as the locals call it), folks can float on the river, shop down the cobblestone streets of Old and Midtown Sacramento, learn about California’s history at the California State Capitol Building or enjoy an evening of live music. Couples interested in a romantic dinner on the water can look no further than the historic Delta King Riverboat, which has two restaurants on board that serve the perfect date night meal.
Average Hotel Price on Hotwire for March: $48 a night
For more information, visit Hotwire. Above average hotel rates are based on Hotwire bookings made on between 2/1/13-3/1/13 for stays in March.
Clem Bason is the president of the Hotwire Group. Every month he provides FoxNews.com readers travel information, tips and advice to help them plan a fun, affordable trip.