Budget Travel

The 2018 Budget Travel Awards

The Budget Travel editors honor the best value brands and destinations across the U.S. and beyond.

At Budget Travel, we're committed to inspiring and empowering our audience to see more for less. In that spirit, we've traveled across the U.S. and beyond and polled our staff and regular contributors—writers, photographers, and videographers—to curate our first annual Budget Travel Awards, honoring those travel brands and destinations that truly go above and beyond to deliver exceptional value and customer service.

Consider our list of 17 Budget Travel Award winners your latest dose of wanderlust: Where will you go next?

BEST AIRLINE: SOUTHWEST

We love Southwest’s commitment to fare transparency, exceptional customer service from booking through the flight experience (not to mention graciously handled missed connections), two no-fee checked bags per passenger, and how flight attendants consistently make us smile with their “stand-up” routines. (southwest.com)

HOTEL CHAIN: AIRBNB

Yes, we know full well that Airbnb is not a hotel chain. But the more we delved into what travelers want in a lodging experience, the more we realized that Airbnb, a vacation-rental company, has rewritten some of the rules in recent years, bringing about a paradigm shift in the industry. Its user-friendly interface and worldwide properties have transformed the way many people approach travel, delivering unique experiences and value we may never have realized were missing before. (airbnb.com)

BEST TOUR COMPANY: CONTIKI

Contiki has helped foster the next generation of explorers by focusing on package tours for travelers who are 18 to 35. Covering much of the world at reasonable rates, and offering essential pre-trip prep and expert guidance during the tour, Contiki is a nurturing, affordable way for young travelers to educate themselves, make new friends, and have a blast. (contiki.com)

BEST TRAVEL APP: GUIDES BY LONELY PLANET 

Lonely Planet is Budget Travel’s parent company, so we actually went out of our way to try to find a more inspiring and start-today useful travel app than Guides by Lonely Planet. We found no such app. Guides is essentially the guidebook of your dreams, liberated from the two-dimensional world of paper and ink. Offering city guides, maps, audio language tools, “near me” suggestions and directions, and advice from on-the-ground experts, this is the one app that helps you prepare for your next adventure and then live it to its fullest.  (lonelyplanet.com/guides)

BEST CREDIT CARD: CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED

Talk about a credit card that’s tailor-made for travelers: With rental car insurance, no annual fee for your first year, and no foreign transaction fees, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card saves you money right off the bat. You'll also earn points that you can transfer to hotel and airline partners, and if you use the card for $4,000 in purchases during your first three months, you can earn up to two domestic round-trip flights or a luxury hotel stay. (chase.com)

BEST CAR RENTAL AGENCY: ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR

Enterprise Rent-A-Car continues to impress us with its cutting-edge digital booking tools and dedication to customer service. As part of the world’s largest car-rental company, Enterprise Holdings, which also owns National and Alamo, you might expect a little bit of complacency on the part of Enterprise, but the employees and leadership are exceptionally responsive to customer input, allowing the company to increase efficiency, value, and satisfaction. (enterprise.com)

BEST CRUISE LINE: AVALON WATERWAYS

This was a tough category because there is such a wide array of dependable and affordable cruise lines plying the seas these days. But we want to acknowledge the unique journeys offered by Avalon’s river cruises. We love Avalon's intimate, relatively small ships with panoramic views, food and wine experiences that pay tribute to local traditions, and numerous ports that boast incredible cultural, culinary, and active experiences that cruisers can tailor to their own priorities. (avalonwaterways.com)

BEST RESORT: YMCA OF THE ROCKIES

Estes Park, Colorado, is the gateway to beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, and year-round, the YMCA of the Rockies is the best way to experience the town and the park on a budget. With incredible rates, family-friendly lodging and experiences, and an eco-friendly aesthetic you’ll admire, the resort is a must for hikers, skiers, and nature lovers.  (ymcarockies.org)

BEST VOLUNTEER VACATION: BONNAROO

Sure, there are lots of ways to volunteer your time on vacation, and we are ardent supporters of travelers who choose to do so. We are acknowledging the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, held each June in Manchester, Tennessee, for the way it encourages young travelers to be a part of something eco-friendly, artsy, and utterly inspiring. Festival volunteers help with all aspects of shows, food, and events, and earn admission to the festival to enjoy its bounty when they’re not on duty, plus a T-shirt and bragging rights. (bonnaroo.com)

BEST NATIONAL PARK: ARCHES

We’re awarding the Best National Park title to the park with an utterly unique landscape, a manageable size, and perhaps the biggest wow factor in the NPS. Utah's Arches comes in a small package that can be navigated in a few days (though we’ll always encourage you to stay a little longer), and offers what are probably the most Instagrammable rock formations in America: the namesake natural arches, and other mind-bendingly colorful red and orange works of nature you’ll never forget. (nps.gov/arch)

BEST ISLAND GETAWAY: PUERTO RICO

The world is full of gorgeous tropical islands, but none has our heart quite the way Puerto Rico does. From the charming historic streets of Old San Juan to the pulse of authentic salsa music to the endless opportunities to taste, see, and feel the warmth of Puerto Rican culture, food, and natural beauty, a visit here can last anywhere from a weekend to multiple weeks and continue to surprise and delight you. Tourism dollars continue to help fuel the island’s recovery from destructive storms, so travelers’ love affair with Puerto Rico is definitely a two-way street. (discoverpuertorico.com)

BEST FOODIE CITY: DETROIT

In the last few years, the Motor City has revved up its dining scene and sped to the top of foodies' must-try list. Joining longtime institutions like Avalon International Breads and Traffic Jam & Snug is a roster of newer entrants, like Dime Store, known for its creative from-scratch brunches; Albena, a high-end minimalist destination from local star Garrett Lipar that serves progressive tasting menus; and Detroit Shipping Company, a vibrant food hall with a beer garden, gallery, and event space. And if it's cocktails you crave, Detroit bars like Kiesling and the tiki-minded Lost River have caused a stir on the national scene. (visitdetroit.com)

BEST THEME PARK: DOLLYWOOD

Of course there are awesome theme parks in lovely locations across America, but there’s only one Dollywood. Located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dolly Parton's namesake is dedicated to a thrilling visitor experience and extraordinary value (we know, that’s not a word you associate with most theme parks). Entrance fees are around 40 percent lower than other major theme parks, and Dollywood delivers not only incredible thrill rides but also authentic home-style cooking and great country and folk music, all amid the jaw-dropping scenery of the Smokies. (dollywood.com)

BEST ROMANTIC GETAWAY: DOOR COUNTY

An escape to Door County, Wisconsin, means charming B&Bs, unique hotels, spas, wine tastings, and five lovely state parks just waiting to be discovered. The Midwest’s Secret Cape is positioned for maximum scenic beauty between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, and there are nearly endless opportunities to relax, explore the natural landscape, and eat and drink to your heart’s content. Door County has a way of calling folks back, and, although we can’t make any promises, some couples end up returning year after year and passing on the tradition to their kids. (doorcounty.com)

BEST BEACH: SLEEPING BEAR DUNES

Speaking of Lake Michigan, did you know that the most beautiful beach in the United States is not on the Atlantic or the Pacific? Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, offers the soft sand, lapping waves, dune grass, and lighthouses you'd expect to find in, say, New England, at a fraction of the price and conveniently positioned smack in the northern Midwest. Sleeping Bear Dunes and its surrounding area is a place where families maintain annual traditions, staying in charming lake houses, exploring nearby forests and farms, and feasting on the local bounty with home-cooked and restaurant meals that the kids will remember long after they’ve returned to real life. (michigan.org)

BEST STATE PARK: HOCKING HILLS

The competition for our favorite state park was fierce. After all, each state boasts an array of them. Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio, takes the title for its 10,000 acres of forest about an hour’s drive from Columbus. The whole family will enjoy exploring the park’s glacier-carved rock formations, Insta-worthy waterfalls, cliffs, and caves (including the deliciously named Whispering Cave). Adventurous visitors will love zip-lining canopy tours and rock-climbing. But don’t forget to set aside some time to chill at one of the Hocking Hills region’s cozy cottages, B&Bs, cabins, and lodges. (explorehockinghills.com)

BEST HISTORICAL SITE: INDEPENDENCE HALL

Sometimes an award winner is just about unanimous, and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the United States Constitution was adopted, is hands-down the most significant—and, with free admission, the most affordable—historical site in America. And the hall, with its great ranger-led talks and tours, is just one of many historically significant buildings and exhibitions in the Independence National Historical Park and nearby sites, including the Liberty Bell, a great new visitor center, and the Museum of the American Revolution. (visitphilly.com)

Here are some related articles

A Stroll Through Dickens's London
10 Books Every Traveler Should Read
These Tourism Slogans Are Meant to Entice You...
4 Easy & Gorgeous Fall Foliage Trips From NYC