Best U.S. Cities for Affordable Getaways 2012
Bill Grant / Alamy
One of Laura Martone’s favorite New Orleans jazz clubs is the Spotted Cat, which offers cachet—it’s been featured on the HBO show Treme—without high prices. “Despite the awesome music, patrons are almost never charged a cover,” says the author of the American Nomad travel blog. “And the one-drink minimum is totally reasonable.”
That kind of easy-on-the-wallet atmosphere helped New Orleans place in the top 10 of America’s Most Affordable City Getaways, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, travelers ranked 35 cities for qualities that span the price spectrum: from fine dining to street food, from luxury shopping to flea markets.
Finding deals is a priority for plenty of travelers who wish to trade in staycations for a real vacation again. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand from people who have been working more hours and taking less time off,” says Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.
So what makes a city a great value? Reasonably priced hotels and restaurants, certainly, as well as enticements such as budget-friendly theater tickets, free museums, or low gas prices. The survey’s winner, Kansas City, has an average nightly hotel rate of about $100 and also won the T+L survey for cheap, mouthwatering barbecue.
Kansas City’s airport offers relatively low airfares, too, as does another top-five city: Puerto Rico’s San Juan. To offset the high prices of poolside cocktails, the island city offers the nation’s top-ranked street food and walkable streets in Old San Juan.
The ability to explore a city by foot also boosts its affordability. That may explain why sprawling Dallas/Fort Worth—which has reasonably priced hotels, but ranked as the least pedestrian-friendly city in the survey—scored poorly for overall affordability.
Small costs—a taxi ride here, a club cover charge there—add up over the course of a trip and can turn off a traveler to a particular city or venue. Leffel agrees with a recent survey that revealed how much travelers dislike one particular fee: paying for Wi-Fi at a hotel. “Charging for Wi-Fi is as silly as charging for hot water,” says Leffel. “Even millionaire entrepreneurs will skip a hotel that charges for Wi-Fi, just on principle.”