Best American Chain Motels for Money

When you drive across the United States, you’ll encounter clusters of chain hotels off most major highway exits. This has been prevalent in the USA since the 1950’s, when the interstate highway system was implemented by President Eisenhower. Ramada and Holiday Inn were the first two hotel chains to capitalize following the expansion of the interstate highway system. Today there are far more American chain motels offering varying quality and prices. Here are some comparisons along with finding the best prices!

palm trees on the beach at sunset at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Tips to Save Money on American Chain Motels

On our recent road trip from Boston to Ohio, while touring Pennsylvania, we drove 2,000 miles (3,400 km). While we typically prefer to stay at independently run hotels, many highway exit stops only offer chain motels. During our recent road trip we stayed at Hampton Inn, Clarion and Comfort Inn and found the quality to be similar, but at different prices.

The exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater with the fall foliage and waterfalls

As Alex in particularly is a hopeless maximizer, we want to break down the difference for those seeking a comfortable stay at the best price. So what’s the best American road side chain motel for your money?

First, here’s some tips for getting the best rate if you’re flexible. While on road trips we don’t book motels ahead of time, instead we drive until we feel like stopping and then stop at the front desk of hotels and ask to see a room and what the rate is. We ask if they can do better on the rate and usually they’re able to knock around $10 off on average.

Online Rates are Often Cheaper

It’s worth checking online travel sites like booking.com and hotels.com from your phone. Typically, online rates are cheaper at American chain motels compared to asking at the front desk. When they are, book online and then go back to the front desk if you want to stay at that hotel. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, go across the street to another hotel or drive to another highway exit. Sometimes the very next highway exit can have a major difference in price and quality.

If there’s a major event taking place in an area, hotels will have inflated rates as they aren’t desperate to unload a few remaining rooms. In that case, drive to the next highway exit if you don’t need to stay in that area. Also, check rest stops for hotel coupon books. We found a historic gem of a hotel in Williamsport, PA called the Genetti Hotel. It was by far the best value of our trip at $70 per night including a hot breakfast. They even upgraded us to an executive king suite simply because they had lots of rooms available.

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton

Hampton Inn 

Hampton Inn hotels are everywhere off northeast interstate highways. We happened to stay at one in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Hampton Inn falls under the Hilton umbrella of hotels and their lobby is very comparable to a Hilton Garden, which we sometimes stay at on work trips.

This was the most expensive of the chain motels we stayed at on our road trip. Even with a negotiated discount, we paid $126 per night with tax, which is more than we typically like to spend. But that night happened to fall on our 10 year wedding anniversary so we certainly didn’t want to stay at a Motel 6.

The rooms were comfortable (as you’d expect at a higher price). The complimentary breakfast was higher quality compared to Comfort Inn’s product. But aside from a slightly better breakfast, we don’t believe Hampton’s Inn’s are generally worth the extra money over chains like Comfort Inn.

Clarion

Clarion markets itself as a budget hotel for business travelers and is owned by Choice hotels. And indeed the Clarion we stayed at in Du Bois (just outside of famed Punxsutawney) for $89 per night was a comfortable room.

The aspect we liked least about Clarion compared to Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn was that there was no refrigerator in the room. The room itself was of similar quality, with a comfortable mattress and multiple pillows to choose from. This covers soft or firm pillow preferences. While breakfast was not included, the rate was significantly cheaper than what we’d paid at Hampton Inn. As we were in Amish country, we stopped at a wonderfully run Amish bakery and restaurant. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at a great price there.

Having breakfast included is convenient. But there’s perks to having it not included when you’re on vacation. This can offer variety and unique experiences. For the price, we definitely preferred Clarion over Hampton Inn. Instead of watching cable news at breakfast, we watched Amish women in bonnets and traditional dress serve higher quality food compared to Hampton Inn’s breakfast. Clarion is also typically much cheaper compared to Hampton Inn.

The real Punxsutawney Phil. The world's most famous weather predicting rodent!
The real Punxsutawney Phil. The world’s most famous weather predicting rodent lives at the library!

Comfort Inn Often Offers the Best Bang for Buck

We stayed at a Comfort Inn in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, owned by Choice Hotels. We visited historic Gettysburg, where the tide of the American Civil War changed. It’s where the Union pushed the Confederates back for the final time in 1863.

Alex and Bell at dusk on the Gettysburg battlefield

Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania and unless an event is going on, American state capitals and mid sized towns can offer great value for your money because there’s a lot of competition with area hotels. Hershey, is another nearby highlight offering fun for the family at attractions like Chocolate World. Hershey and Harrisburg are great for a family weekend getaway.

We found the cheapest rate for comparable rooms to Hampton Inn and Clarion for less at Comfort Inn. Hot breakfast and amenities like a refrigerator are in rooms. Breakfast wasn’t quite as good as Hampton Inn’s breakfast. But if you like waffles, Comfort Inn features waffle presses to make yourself a tasty fresh waffle. If you don’t want sugary syrup on your waffles, try it with honey!

Comfort Inn is a better value than Hampton Inn and Clarion. Rooms feature similar quality and amenities like coffee makers and satellite TV in the rooms. We enjoyed the comfortable king sized mattress with lots of choice in pillows.

Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, is a lovely town and can offer a great chain value stay on weekends.
Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, is a lovely town and can offer a great value stay on weekends.

Best Value American Chain Motels Recap

Prices can vary and Comfort Inn’s rates can be considerably higher. So if you’re a flexible maximizer, check multiple highway exit stops when you’re just looking for a comfortable night’s sleep for the best price. When breakfast isn’t included, it’s a great excuse to pop into a cute diner. Chances are you’ll eat a better meal that way. If the price is $50 a night cheaper, it’s worth missing “complimentary” breakfast. Need more tips on saving money during your travels? Read our article on travel hacks that save us thousands each year!

Author

  • Alex Kallimanis

    Alex Kallimanis is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner who has visited 67+ different countries, including all 27 European Union countries across all continents except Antarctica. He has resided around the world, living in countries like Australia, the Netherlands and Ireland for over 7 years combined. Currently residing in the Tampa, Florida, area with his wife Bell, he still spends much of his time in Europe as a dual Greek citizen. Alex is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor of arts degree in history, and was the president of Phi Alpha Theta (Honors History Society) during his senior year there. Alex is an avid enthusiast of sports, spas, delicious food, the outdoors, craft beverages, history and culture.

3 thoughts on “Best American Chain Motels for Money

  1. This is a great post, even if I don’t usually like Motels, I prefer BnBs or hostels. Also, glad to know I’m not the only one with the “just show up and hope for a discount strategy.” I’ve gotten better deals doing that than booking online 🙂

    1. Thanks for the compliment and comment! Yeah we feel ya on supporting smaller businesses and the very best deal we found on our recent road trip was a family run establishment. And almost all the very best deals we’ve ever encountered have been non-chain establishments. Unfortunately, there’s so many highway stops in the USA that don’t have a family run option. If a family run place looks well kept, it’s definitely worth asking to see a room! Many times we’ve struck gold going that route 🙂

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