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America's Most Expensive Cities
Top-tier hotels, luxury shopping, and $15 mojitos sure add
up in the priciest towns in the U.S.
Here’s a way to save money when visiting Miami: buy whole
bottles of booze.
That’s what Rob Mackey, a life
coach and author of Happiness from the Inside Out,
learned when he moved to the Florida city from Philadelphia a few years ago. While many things are
more expensive in Miami, cocktails—easily $12 to $15
these days—changed the way he treats a night out. “Stick to places that have
happy hour specials,” he says, “and if you go to a club with a group, a
bottle—even at $300 apiece—is actually cheaper than drinks, if you do the
“Doing the math” may take some
of the fun out of traveling, but these days, many people can’t help it. In the
latest America’s Favorite Cities survey, Travel + Leisure readers ranked 30 U.S. cities on such qualities as their hotels, restaurants, shopping—and just how affordable the place
is. Miami, home of the $15 mojito, rolls in at No. 5, while Philadelphia,
perhaps more of an ale-drinking town, came in at No. 19.
Indeed, a city’s culture, its personality, and its basic
real estate all dictate where it falls on the price spectrum. Los Angeles,
for instance, ranks third most expensive in the AFC survey, and it also ranks
third for its luxury retail. Perhaps as a result, it also
comes in fourth for the most attractive and stylish locals.
Other cities can get away with charging top dollar for both
tangible and intangible offerings. Honolulu is the
second most expensive city in America—and a lot of that may come from the fact
that much of what you consume on the islands has been brought in by plane or
boat (gas usually tops $3.50 these days). But people are also more than happy
to pay for everything that comes with those prices. The Hawaiian capital wins
the AFC survey for being the most romantic and relaxing vacation.
Some good news, too: even the most expensive cities are
getting a bit cheaper. According to a recent Hotels.com survey, the
average price for a U.S. hotel room has gone down since 2008—anywhere from 10
percent in Atlanta to a whopping 24 percent in NYC.
A room in Honolulu now averages $160/night—down 12 percent from 2008.
Hotels, of course, are only one element in a city getaway,
and the other stuff can add up fast. In San Francisco—which
came in at No. 4 among the most expensive cities—renting a Mazda for the week
can top $400. In Kansas City, which came in at No. 29, that same car rental
goes for only $260.
Travelers can sniff out the best bets by taking tips from
the locals—like buying that bottle of booze, or straying from the tourist path.
“If you love theater, there are so many less expensive
options in NYC than Broadway,” says Bryan Herb, the chief marketing officer for
tour operator Zoom Vacations, who lives in New York but used to live in Houston. “Some off-Broadway shows can even be found for under $10 a ticket, which is tough
to come by in a city like Houston. Every city has its inexpensive and even free
gems. You just have to look for them.”