There are three things you should keep in mind about this list. No. 1: You can find cheaper hotels in Austin than these. But the picks here keep you in the heart of things while keeping your bill at $250 or under per night. No. 2: Hotel rates go up around the Austin City Limit Music Festival and F1 weekend in the fall, and during the South by Southwest festivals and conferences in March. If you're visiting for one of those events, be prepared to pay more—or venture farther out from Central Austin for an affordable room—and to book early. No. 3: Knowing what's important to you in a hotel helps you get the best deal for you. The Austin Motel, for example, has an unbeatable South Congress Avenue location and lots of Austin personality. You can stay there for as little as $95 per night. The tradeoff, though, is that it's an older property and you don't get perks like an on-site fitness center.
The Austin Motel's retro sign (which some find, ahem, anatomically evocative) is a local icon. Each room has its own look, and there's a nice pool. Parking is free, but you may not need your car much: It's an easy walk to Austin favorites such as the Continental Club, and the Snack Bar café is on site.
Verde Camp is a complex of six charmingly renovated houses in the South Congress area, with two additional houses in the Clarksville area west of downtown. They're an especially great deal for group trips: Mexia House, for example, sleeps six for $250 a night. Rates get cheaper if you stay for a week or more.
AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
As you'd expect, the AT&T Center gets plenty of business travelers, but it's also good for visitors who'll be spending time at the University of Texas. You'll be right in the middle of campus life, in a well-decorated business hotel with a pool and fitness center. I found rates from around $150-$200 for a standard guest room.
Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Austin
The lowest rates at this all-suite hotel hover just over $200, which is pushing the criteria for this list. But for that price you get a larger room with a kitchen and a fridge, and a prime location near UT and downtown attractions such as the Capitol, as well as an on-demand shuttle service to nearby spots.
Aloft Austin at the Domain
I'm a big fan of Starwood's modern, hip and reasonably priced Aloft chain. This branch is at the Domain, a newer shopping and dining area about 11 miles from downtown Austin. I found rates from around $120-$180 for the hotel, which has a pool, fitness center, and a nice bar/lounge area.