By on October 3, 2014


You can check out all the Coast to Coast 2014 updates as they get published here.

We are now leaving Memphis TN to drive South to New Orleans, Louisiana, crossing Mississippi via Jackson. For those of you unfamiliar with this often underrated State, Mississippi is home of the blues and the birthplace of Elvis Presley (check out Elvis’ cars here if you haven’t already). We are now entering the next level of pickup domination, more in line with the national sales charts: based on official FY2013 data supplied by JATO, the Ford F150 is the most popular vehicle in Mississippi followed by the Chevrolet Silverado. Full Mississippi stats and my exclusive review of America’s budget motels below the jump. Make sure you read till the end as it gets more ‘authentic’…

New York New OrleansUS Coast to Coast trip so far. Picture courtesy of Google Maps

Driving to the tune of the Walk the Line soundtrack, the increased frequency of pickup trucks is clearly visible even on highways where they had been rarer up until now. Specifically in Mississippi I noticed a trend towards commercial F150 crew cab models (with black bumpers), a very healthy amount of F250 while the Ram pickup – like the 1500 (Albert) I’m driving, now pops up on the road at levels not seen since the start of this trip. I also spotted shiny new Toyota Tundras for the first time in a while.

Nissan Altima MississippiNissan Altima in Winona MS

Top sellers in Mississippi – Full Year 2013:

Make Model FY2013
FORD F-150 7,466

Source: JATO Dynamics

Logically as it is manufactured here in Canton, Mississippi, the second Nissan assembly plant in the USA established in 2003, the Nissan Altima is the best-selling passenger car in the State with 5,145 sales over the Full year 2013. That’s a comfortable 27% above the national king the Toyota Camry and 64% above the Honda Accord. So there is no photo finish, Mississippi customers know full well which company has been providing much needed jobs here for over a decade and they have rewarded Nissan accordingly.

Chevrolet Malibu MississippiChevrolet Malibu

Stepping out of official stats into observations on the highway, I have elected the Chevrolet Malibu as the hero of the day. This is a car I had hardly spotted since I landed in the US despite repeatedly ranking among the country’s 20 most popular vehicles for the past 7 years. Before today that is. A constant flow of current gen Malibu is travelling along Mississippi highways.

Ford TaurusFord Taurus

In the continuation from my observations in Tennessee, the GMC Acadia can be seen very frequently in Mississippi, as well as the Buick Enclave and Ford Taurus – the latter at levels unseen until now but given the age of the current generation this frequency could still be the result of a surge in sales a few years ago. On the other hand, I didn’t notice any particular hike in popularity for the Toyota Corolla, manufactured in Blue Springs, Mississippi. It would appear that Mississippi consumers are yet to catch up to the fact that this vehicle is manufactured ‘at home’ and reposition their buying patterns accordingly, as this has only been the case for the past 3 years when Toyota switched Corolla production from California to Mississippi.

Albert MississippiAlbert in Winona MS

Now that we’ve cleared the car landscape in Mississippi, let’s get onto my exclusive review of America’s budget motels. Indeed, I did not want to tamper too much with the authenticity of my USA Coast to Coast trip and decided to test out the oh-so-American concept of budget motels, perfect for this type of voyage. So if you thought I was sleeping in 5 star hotels all through this trip, you were wrong! Very wrong. My basic necessities are a bed, shower and wifi connection to keep in touch with the elusive outside world. The latter point unfortunately meant most ‘original’ motels (read: that do not belong to a nationwide chain) were out, even though I did step out of motel chains for a few nights with varying degrees of success.

Note this review of the Top 5 best motel chains in America is based on all motels I stayed in during this trip up all the way to Los Angeles, not just to New Orleans, as there is a little bit of delay between the real time and publication time. Note also that I received no gifts or money from any motel/hotel during the trip. First things first, hats off to the US highway signage system. In a trip like this where 95% of distances are eaten up fast thanks to the highway network, knowing which accommodation options you have at the next exit saves huge amounts of time and energy, and thus enable the traveller to see more interesting things. In the US, there are signs before each exit that indicate all  food, lodging and gas options closeby. I don’t remember having seen this with such precision and regularity anywhere else in the world, and it makes for a very simplified, streamlined and more efficient choice process.


1. Econo Lodge

Number of motel nights: 1

The best value-for-money motel chain I have stayed at during this trip is Econo Lodge, at $49.99 in Savannah GA. It is a little symbolic that Econo Lodge comes first in this ranking as it created a new business category – the discount business hotel – in 1969 when it was established as Econo-Travel in Norfolk, Virginia. So technically not a motel chain if you want to be picky. There are 830 Econo Lodges open in the USA today, often located near highways. Econo-Lodge provided me with the quintessential American motel experience I was looking for during this trip: a long, stretched one storey building with one parking spot in front of each room, a warm check-in welcome at reception, a reassuringly uncooperative key card, free wifi, a comfortable bed and a free breakfast – a rarity at this price point. At the time it was the cheapest motel I got to stay in and also the best, no mean feat. Econo Lodges tend to be more concentrated towards the East Coast of the country, so they became rarer as soon as I left Savannah GA, I checked a few additional ones online along the trip, didn’t stay because I didn’t happen to stop in the area but they all seemed to align price-wise which gives this chain bonus points.

Motel 6

2. Motel 6

Number of motel nights: 4

Owned by the Accor Group up until 2012, Motel 6 is the most frequent motel chain I kept spotted along US highways during my trip – makes sense given it has over 1,100 locations nation-wide. Created as the very first budget motel chain in 1962 and responsible for the first (shock, horror!) non-smoking motel room, it was called Motel 6 simply because all single nightly rooms cost $6 at launch. Motel 6 gave me the best value-for-money night of the entire trip at $39.99 in Dallas TX. There the welcome was warm, the key card was uncooperative, the room was modern and the receptionist was worried when I checked out after just one night: ‘You didn’t like it?’  That same receptionist was the only one in the entire trip to actually ask me where I was headed next. Simple and obviously rehearsed but a nice touch. In the Motel 6 Hollywood CA, I got to stay in one of the redesigned rooms and I have to admit it didn’t feel like being in a motel any more, more like a boutique hotel. Is that all? Surely after all these positives Motel 6 should come first.

Not so, and the main reason is inconsistency between locations, potentially due to the fact that franchised Motel 6 do not have the same strict guidelines as the ones directly owned and operated. My night in Washington DC cost $89.99 with only a similar level of comfort and almost as warm a welcome as the $39.99 one in Dallas TX. And the two other locations I stayed at broke two of my sacred rules about motel-travelling. Hollywood, CA charged an extra $12 for your car! Isn’t the whole point of staying in a motel the fact that you can park your car close-by at no additional cost? That Motel 6 resembled in no way to a motel anyway. Whittier CA was appropriately gritty but charged $2.50 extra for wifi access and this was per device, something reception omitted to mention. I was so tired I couldn’t get myself to walk back to reception to add a device given I already did the trip to get a working key card. So I ended up spending an hour frantically switching from my phone to my laptop and having to log in again each time. Not ideal.

La Quinta

3. La Quinta

Number of motel nights: 3

Technically not a motel but an ‘inn’, I used La Quinta as a motel and therefore it qualifies in my review. Because I say so. Tellingly, I blanked out La Quinta for half of the trip thinking it would be out of my budget given the decidedly non-budget looking venues I could spot from the highway, until friends in Dallas recommended it as a valid option. This limited service mid-priced hotel chain was originally founded in San Antonio TX in 1968 and now has its headquarters in Dallas TX, operating around 1.000 locations across the country. It was on average more expensive than the rest of the motels I stayed in, but not the most expensive of the trip. Known for its pet-friendliness (not that I cared), to me the biggest advantage of La Quinta is its consistency across various locations, something other motel chains seem to be struggling with.

Ok comfort level, faultiness wifi and working key card (at last!): Amarillo TX ($79.99), Gallup NM ($99.99) and Las Vegas NV ($144.99) were all level and without any bad surprise. If La Quinta loses points for its dearer prices, it gains many for its spontaneity. Rather, the spontaneity of the Gen Y receptionist at Amarillo TX who will remain one of the more colourful characters of this trip: “But whyyyyyyyyy are you staying in Amarillo there is nothing heeeeeeeere!” A breath of fresh air among the generally circumspect yet polite welcome I received in most other places. “A song about Amarillo? Nah. Never heard of it. But I’m from Vegas, so…” You just made me feel 20 years older than I already am…

Albert Days Inn NashvilleAlbert in Days Inn Nashville TN

4. Days Inn

Number of motel nights: 1

Another very frequent motel chain along my route, Days Inn however loses a couple of spots due, again, to large variations in price and quality over my trip which disqualifies it as a reliable option. It still ranks inside my Top 5 because it did save my life (ok, night) in Franklin TN (a Nashville suburb) when I arrived a little bit before 2am all excited to have crossed the 30 mpg milestone with Albert my Ram 1500 ecoDiesel pickup truck, but rather exhausted from my 9 hour trek from Savannah GA. At $59.99 a night, this particular Days Inn at this particular time of the night after this particular trip looked like the best hotel in my entire life. Indeed, top notch quality, wifi and amenities did not disappoint. But there was a second storey (not a true motel!) and I went on to inquire at a few other Days Inn further along the way: double the price or more, and double the dodgy factor. Must get better.

5. Sentry Inn Gretna, LA

Number of motel nights: 1

I also reached this motel at ungodly hours of the night on arrival from Memphis TN. This was potentially the closest to dodgy I got to on this trip, in a questionable neighbourhood of New Orleans across the bridge and with such feeble wifi that it was required to get out of the room, jump in my truck, move the car a few metres and connect to the reception signal. But. It also was the closest to a true American motel I got to stay in and not a formatted chain. People did live there permanently: there were flower pots on the next room’s window. The air was heavy, the room smelled of humidity, the air-con was roaring, my truck was by far the shiniest in the parking lot and the painting on the outside walls was a distant memory. There was a sign next to the door warning to double lock yourselves at night for your own security. Except there was no more inside lock. I was basically waiting for the Samuel Jackson character in the Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction to burst into my room pointing a gun at my head. To top it off, a plump receptionist wearing fluorescent, diamond-adorned pink nails longer than her hand, sultrily checked me out with an avalanche of ‘baby’, ‘honey’ and  ‘luv’. I’m still blushing. Ok this should have been #1.

Next stop: New Orleans LA

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38 Comments on “Coast to Coast 2014 – Crossing Mississippi And Reviewing America’s Motels...”

  • avatar

    Just a note: FY 2013 means Fiscal Year 2013–i.e. “banking” year from October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013. That also typically relates to a given vehicle’s model year.

    Oh, and the “Honey”, “Baby” and “Luv” type of talk is very common in the deep south. You might say it’s a Southern thing.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi Vulpine, for JATO data FY2013 means Full Year (January to December)
      Yes I did get lots of “honey” and “baby” in the South…

    • 0 avatar

      There is no single definition of a Fiscal Year, that is defined by the individual organization. For example the non-profit I work for defines their FY as July 1st – June 30th mainly because we work closely with schools and that coincides with the US school year. MY or model year is used for vehicles and the gov’t defines that to some extent though the mfg can set their own starting and ending dates as long as you don’t have 2 Jan 1st in there.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Generally in Australia the FY (financial year) starts on 01 July and ends 30 June. This is based on the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) or the equivalent to the US’es IRS.

      Up where I’m living in the NT Outback “doll” is a common term used by women.

  • avatar

    This past summer, I did a two-week tour of the southeast US, including 13 different hotel stays.

    My main takeaway was inconsistency. My suspicion is that there is very little oversight of the franchisees, regardless of “brand”. Any two properties bearing the same brand name can be vastly different – one a palace, and the next, a dump.

    • 0 avatar

      It really depends on the brand – things are much better in the mid-scale and up hotels (generally 3 or 4 star ratings and up), but the economy and budget segment tends to be a mess.

  • avatar

    Do you know what “La Quinta” means?

    Next to Denny’s

    Thank you, thank you…I’m here all week.

  • avatar

    I spent a year living in hotels when I worked for the railroad. With the exception of the Hilton family, things were very inconsistent. Thanks to the internet, you can now prescreen hotels when traveling if you have enough information on where you are going to stop for the night. Late night and gotta stop – Hampton Inn rarely is outright bad. My experience is that things are more of a crapshoot up north / midwest due to the fact that the average age of the hotels is higher with a greater chance of a ratty/smelly/poor HVAC room.

    That being said, my two favorite places to stay are the Lincoln Motor Court on the Lincoln Highway in PA and the Dearborn Inn in Dearborn. Old but in good shape and cool due to the history.

  • avatar

    Did you happen to go through Oxford, MS? Every other car is a Mercedes, the rest are BMWs. Hardly seems to be the poorest state in the union.

  • avatar

    It’s the Ole Miss effect. The cream of MS families send their kids there, and you get a decent number of out of state kids there too. Plus athletes on scholarship, who we know shouldn’t be driving flashy cars but somehow do…

  • avatar

    Based on my travel experience, Best Westerns usually are pricier and nicer than other motels, multiple stories motel buildings tend to be newer and have higher quality room and air conditioning (central that’s not loud instead of the loud window one), and prices are usually more align with local competition instead of the chain / franchise you pick.

    So far I found online booking to be a better deal than hitting them on the road with advertised prices.

    p.s. when booking online, pick the one that is usually priced high but marked down a lot, that usually is a good indicator of quality. Reviewers tend to rate their stay with the price range in mind, so a 4 star rating in a motel may not be as good as a 2 star rating in a 5 star hotel because of different expectations.

  • avatar

    Did a road trip through the Western US a few years ago so I’m familiar with budget hotels and those massive digital displays showing their price.
    Not a fan of big chains but they are consistent for the most part, whereas the independents are usually more dodgy then cozy.
    Never a place to spend your vacation, but for $50-60 a night for a 12 hour stay, with Wi-Fi and a free, albeit minimalist, breakfast, what the hell.
    Just check in, check for bed bugs, use you own pillow and you’re golden.

  • avatar

    Note those signs at the exit are actually advertizements, so it only lists those businesses that are willing to pay to be on the sign and there is no definition of how close you have to be to that exit to purchase a spot on that sign. Locally there is an ad for a Safeway under gas at the near exit but you would give up before you ever made it there because it is 4 or so miles from the exit. It is actually closer to the next exit but they have a Safeway w/o gas right near the exit so that would be even more confusing and less likely that someone would find it. In WA it is $50 per year the last I checked, dirt cheap advertising.

    You can’t really judge pricing across different areas, it does vary dramatically from area to area. When I travel for business there are some chains that I can book directly through our provider so that it goes directly on our master monthly bill. The same chain can vary by 100% or more just 25-50 miles away from each other. Pricing is not based on cost it is based on competition and what they think they can get in that particular market. Pricing can also vary significantly, ie double or triple, based on a “special event” being in the area at that time.

    • 0 avatar

      Ok so it won’t let me edit my comment.

      A tip that it sounds like won’t help you this time, is that there are a number of companies that publish “travel guides” that are distributed at rest areas and often fast food locations near a freeway exit. They cover a state or a travel corridor and have coupons/special rates that can save you $10-$20 off of the rate on their sign. It is quite helpful in finding those areas where going a few more miles or stopping a little sooner can save you some significant money. Just watch out for those exclusions due to special event pricing.

    • 0 avatar

      It is not fair to complain about a hotel/motel chain having inconsistent pricing; pricing is a function of location (just like housing), events (big tourist events will drive up prices), timing (if you show up late in the day and most rooms are sold out you will pay more), and negotiation.

      You can’t be surprised that a Motel 6 room costs more in Hollywood than it does in rural Texas. The economics of the land, building cost, staffing expenses, taxes, etc are completely different.

      • 0 avatar

        I posted the same thing about pricing earlier – looks like that comment is stuck in moderation.

      • 0 avatar

        I was not complaining about inconsistent pricing, I was pointing out that pricing varies significantly depending on a number of factors that have nothing to do with the name on the sign and everything to do with location, competition and demand.

  • avatar

    As far as differences between brands and even within brands goes – It really depends on the area you are in and the brand you are staying at.

    Most brands have minimum brand standards, so the hotel is required to provide a minimum of services in order to be associated with a certain brand. This might be things such as pool, breakfast, room service, on-site restaurant, etc… It can also include less tangible items such as last renovation date, interior (hotel) or exterior (often called motel, but this is not 100% accurate either…) access, age of carpet, TV channel selection, etc…

    That doesn’t mean that the hotel in question can’t provide more ammenities beyond what is required. This also is why you might end up with a hotel Branded “Hotel X” that is 20+ years old, run down, etc and the next one you stay at is brand new and well maintained. In the first case the owner/franchise eitehr can’t or wont spend the money to upgrade things, in the second example you have someone that can or will.

    As long as both hotels meet minimum brand requirement they can have the same brand.

    Another deciding factor is availability of brand. Each parent company has a minimum exclusion area, meaning you can’t open any additional hotels under the same brand within a certain area. So you might have to settle for a lesser brand for your brand new hotel until the hotel that currently has the brand loses it due to not meeting brand standards. Then you can re-brand the hotel.

    Lastly you have brand owners that are more intersted in the income from the franchise agreements vs. the quality of the hotels using their brands. A lot of time older hotels will be branded under those brands, especially if they lost their former brand due to not meeting franchise standards.

    I could go into a lot more detail on this, let me know if you are interested :-)

    • 0 avatar

      The thing that bugs me is how inconstant the low budget hotels are. I can handle an older property but when the same brand has hotels in a war zone and in complete disrepair and brand new properties with a nice location it makes being brand loyal very difficult. Some brands seem to be notorious for having very wide standards. I just don’t see how enforcing standards could hurt the brands.

      • 0 avatar

        It wouldn’t hurt the brand (it would actually help), but you would lose franchise fees by having fewer hotels… And most of these hotel brands are owned by investment groups or stock owners.

    • 0 avatar

      Good post, S1L1SC.

      From my experience in the industry, all brands do (as you say) have a set of property/service standards that they officially require franchisees to meet. However, different brands have different priorities in their enforcement.

      Some brands (typically the larger ones) emphasize the consistent customer experience, and will turf franchisees who don’t meet them. Holiday Inn/HI Express, La Quinta and Hampton come to mind.

      Other brands are more focused on ensuring broad distribution, and will tolerate substandard franchisees in order to maximize “points on the map” and overall franchise fee income. To my mind, this is a self-defeating strategy, but a number of companies follow it.

      My experience also was that very successful franchisees want the brands to strictly enforce quality standards, and are frustrated when they don’t – they feel that poor quality locations drive away customers from the brand and cost the good ones money.

  • avatar

    Anyone know if the Motel 5 in Lake Charles, LA is still in operation? Made Motel 6 look like the Four Seasons.

    Meanwhile, in this category I am partial to Super 8. Relatively consistent across the US.

    I was going to say something about Knights Inns and meth manufacture, but this is a car blog so we’ll cover mobile meth labs instead in a future segment.

    • 0 avatar

      Checking it out on Goggle Maps; Motel 5 in Lake Charles appears to still be there, but I think it is a “Regency Inn and Suites” now.

      My favorite joint like this was across the river in Westlake, LA. It was where US 90 broke off from I-10. It was on E Napoleon St, so the place had a fancy French name, and featured Napoleon on it’s signs; but it was clearly a real dump. It’s just a bunch of concrete slabs now.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Thanks for you info on how you rate some of the motels. This Christmas when I go over to the States I’ll try one of those chains.

  • avatar

    I honestly have to say that I’ve really not had any problem with Days Inn out of all the other chains. Each location I’ve been to seems to be consistent with their customer service, and if any issues arise, they tend to take care of them. I’ve heard a lot of people voice their opinion about Days Inn, but I’ve had good experiences with them (then again, I read the reviews in advance).

    Most have the full breakfast bars with my favorite item–the Carbon’s Golden Malted waffles–and they’re fairly clean and well-kept, and the rates are not too bad for what you get. Most have free wifi, a guest laundry, and often offer a gym for workouts on the go.

    Super 8 is pretty good too, almost like Days Inn. If I’m staying for longer than a night, I may substitute Days Inn for Comfort/Quality/Sleep Inn, a Best Western or a Holiday Inn Express.

    I’ve stayed at Motel 6 a few times, but many tend to be located in sketchy areas, so naturally, I’ve avoided staying there. What’s more, the exterior corridor buildings–the de facto configuration of most Motel 6 locations–are naturally noisier. And as for amenities, it’s really just a place to sleep for the night and leave the next morning. Since I often like to have perks like the free continental breakfast, free wifi, a gym and a (clean) guest laundry, I usually pass on staying at Motel 6 for these reasons as well.

    The trick to getting a good place to stop is to plan ahead and read the reviews. You can also get a deal on the rate while you’re at it.

    • 0 avatar

      Proper prior planning prevents p!ss poor performance. The principle of the 7Ps also applies to planning your lodging stays and in the decades that my wife and I have traveled across the US we have used the Hospitality Industry a great deal.

      Rates vary with location, season and events scheduled for the area. In my experience the best value we received were Extended Stay America for $59/night, including a complete Kitchen with 1-King OR 2-Doubles, flatscreen, DVD player, Wi-Fi and printers. During graduation or Sports events the rate can go up to $79/night. This is pretty much nationwide.

      The most consistent and enjoyable that included a hot breakfast, gym, pool, Wi-Fi, business office with printers, flatscreen, DVD player and DVD library has got to be Holiday Inn Express at $79 – $149/night depending on season, events or location.

      Everything else in Lodging, no matter the brand or price would rate below the above for us. What really sucks is to stay some place and find the next morning your ride has been broken into and stuff stolen. It’s a real b!tch to have to continue your trip with one of your windows busted out.

      Learning from the experience of others, we plan our stays and try to stay away from the “bargain” or “budget” motels or hotels. Things are so much easier now with the internet.

      • 0 avatar

        When we travel by road, we always prefer extended-stay properties. The rates are generally equal or close to those of comparable quality hotels, there is generally more space and and there is the convenience of a kitchen facility (especially the fridge).

    • 0 avatar

      My favorite Days Inn was the Houston area near the old airport (Hobby). It was a suite, with couch in front of the TV. Good service, too. If only flying in and out of Hobby was as good.

  • avatar

    If you plan to stay near Baltimore’s waterfront, Days Inn Inner Harbor is a good choice. Clean, convenient (walking distance to attractions), helpful staff…much less expensive than the large chain hotels nearby. Discounts if you are traveling to John Hopkins Hospital for treatment. Heading there Sunday night.

  • avatar

    Hooray for the Chevy Malibu finally showing up on this excursion! They build most of ’em out of the Fairfax plant in Kansas City, KS so a bit of a home field advantage for it, as well.

  • avatar

    I always thought the definition of “motel” was when there were no interior hallways, and your room exits to the outdoors. To me a “hotel” always has enclosed halls.

    • 0 avatar

      Motel is simply a contraction of “motor hotel”, i.e. a hotel that is located to serve motorists. It may usually be an exterior corridor property, but need not be.

      Within the industry, there has been a trend towards interior corridor designs, which are recognized as being significantly safer than exterior corridor properties. For women, especially, this is an important factor in deciding where to stay.

      The term “motel” has also fallen out of favour, especially in branded properties, because it conveys a more downscale image.

  • avatar
    Lack Thereof

    Motel 6 used to be my go-to for highway traveling. However, in the last decade or so, I’ve seen a precipitous drop in the quality of the rooms (everything from non-functional climate control to unwashed linens), and so I’ve dropped them from my list of acceptable travel options.

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