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How We Do Our Travel Rankings

The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on an analysis of expert and user opinions. We believe this unbiased approach makes our rankings more useful than simply providing our editors' personal opinions.

But even though our rankings of hotels, vacations and things to do are based on a wide collection of independent opinions, the best options for you may not be those ranked #1 or #2. Travel experiences are personal ones. Nonetheless, we hope that our rankings can serve as helpful guideposts as you plan your next trip.

Hotel Rankings

U.S. News & World Report now releases annual rankings of the Best Hotels in the USA, the Best Hotels in the Caribbean, the Best Hotels in Mexico and the Best Hotels in Canada. Over the coming months, we will continue to expand the hotel rankings by adding top hotels in other geographic regions.

Selecting What to Include on the List

For now, we rank only luxury hotels. When people ask for guidance about the best hotels in a given place, they are typically looking for upscale options. U.S. News defines luxury hotels as those that consistently receive a four- or five-star "hotel class" rating, which is determined by comparing the published class ratings assigned by a number of sources. As an additional requirement, a hotel property must offer at least 20 rooms in order to be ranked by U.S. News. In the future, we expect to rank a wider variety of hotels and other accommodations.

Calculating the Rankings

Each hotel's place in our rankings takes into account the aggregate opinion of published travel experts and the overall customer satisfaction expressed in online guest reviews provided under license by TripAdvisor.com. The highest-ranking hotels are typically those that both experts and users recognize for their exceptional quality.

To rank hotels, we compute a Hotel Score based on the following underlying components:

For each property, the Hotel Score is calculated as the weighted average of scores for the three components: Awards & Recognition, Hotel Class and Guest Rating. We combine the number of points earned by the hotel and divide that by the number of points for which the hotel was eligible. On a given list, hotels are ranked highest to lowest according to the calculated Hotel Score.

Please Note: There are many unranked hotels on our website. Unranked hotels appear on our lists after ranked hotels and are ordered first by hotel class and then by guest rating. Over time, U.S. News will continue to evaluate and rank more hotel properties.

U.S. News Hotel Awards

U.S. News & World Report has identified luxury hotels that are the "Best" in their respective destinations as well as the "Best in the USA," "Best in the Caribbean," "Best in Mexico" and "Best in Canada."

Hotels named "Best" in their destination rank in the top 30 percent of all ranked 4-, 4.5- and 5-star hotels in that destination. For example, winners of the "Best Hotels in Atlanta" award are the hotels ranked in the top 30 percent among U.S. News ranked hotels in the Atlanta area. These properties are identified by Silver badges.

The highest-rated hotels have received a "Best Hotels in the USA," a "Best Hotels in the Caribbean," a "Best Hotels in Mexico" or a "Best Hotels in Canada" award; these properties fall in the top 10 percent of all ranked hotels in those regions. Hotels that have earned this distinction are identified by Gold badges. Some destinations may have several "Best Hotels in the USA," "Best Hotels in the Caribbean," "Best Hotel in Mexico" or "Best Hotels in Canada" award winners, while others might have none.

The U.S. News Best Hotel awards are released annually at the time the rankings are updated.

Read More on Hotel Rankings

Vacation Rankings

We rank travel destinations against one another in specific categories (e.g., Best Romantic Getaways in the USA). All of our destination rankings are updated at least once per year.

These vacation rankings are based on a scoring algorithm, which computes an Overall Score based on the following components:

Please Note: The destination rankings only include places that we cover with our in-depth analysis and travel guides. In the "Best Romantic Getaways in the USA" example, there are certainly many more great romantic getaways in the United States than the select few that we rank. We aim to cover the most popular ones, and we will continue to add more destinations over time. Please don't hesitate to 1) let us know about places you think we should cover and 2) vote on those that we do.

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Things to Do Rankings

We rank things to do within each travel destination that we cover. Our rankings of things to do are based on our editors' analysis of expert and user recommendations from a wide variety of websites. We believe that the best way to create useful rankings is to get as many opinions as possible from real tourists and travel experts. This is why we use the consensus-based approach.

Selecting What to Include on the List

For any given destination, the top things to do are selected based on (1) our editors' analysis of what major travel publications recommend that you do and see and (2) a sampling of the opinions that real travelers have expressed across the Web. You can expect to see some of the usual suspects on our lists (the Eiffel Tower and Louvre in Paris, for example), but you'll also find some lesser-known things to do. Some of the "must-see" things to do will be brick-and-mortar sites, but others will be can't-miss neighborhoods or even seasonal events.

Calculating the Scores and Rankings

Rankings are computed on the basis of an overall score that reflects the extent to which previous travelers would recommend a certain thing to do to future travelers. The overall score also considers travel writers' and visitors' feelings about the value, atmosphere, facilities and, if applicable, the food scene of each thing to do. The relative weightings of these attributes are below:

Please Note: Scores are relative within a destination, so standards may vary by location. And opinions are subjective, so there can never be a true #1 thing to do for any destination. But our rankings do offer insight into what real tourists think, and hopefully this can help you prioritize which sites to visit during your trip.

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Travel Rewards Programs Rankings

U.S. News & World Report ranks travel rewards programs in two categories: airline frequent flier programs and hotel loyalty programs. These rankings will be updated once a year. In the future, we will also rank credit card-based travel rewards programs.

Airline Rewards Program Rankings

Selecting What to Include on the List

For now, we only rank frequent flier programs offered by airlines based in the United States. Ten programs have been evaluated for the Best Airline Rewards Program rankings.

Calculating the Rankings

The frequent flier program rankings are based on a scoring algorithm, which computes an Overall Score based on the following components:

Please Note: We have taken into account recent airline mergers when selecting which frequent flier programs to rank. Because US Airways and AirTran are in the process of being absorbed by American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, respectively, the Dividend Miles and A+ Rewards programs have not been evaluated.

Hotel Rewards Program Rankings

Selecting What to Include on the List

U.S. News Travel ranks 17 loyalty programs associated with major hotel brands that have properties in the United States. For a loyalty program to appear on the list, it must allow potential members to join without any prerequisites. For example, a potential member should be allowed to join a loyalty program even if he or she has never stayed at a participating hotel. All programs that appears on our Best Hotel Rewards Programs list offer members the ability to earn rewards and privileges each time they stay at a participating property.

Calculating the Rankings

We compute each hotel program's Overall Score using an algorithm that comprises the following components:

Please Note: For each Ease of Earning a Free Night score for programs that reward members on a stay-by-stay basis rather than a dollar or nightly basis, we translated the number of stays needed into the number of nights needed assuming that the average stay equals 2½ nights. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association's 2014 Lodging Industry Profile, 60 percent of business travelers and 50 percent business and leisure travelers stay two or more nights during each hotel stay.

U.S. News Travel Rewards Program Awards

U.S. News has identified the best airline and hotel rewards programs; programs that score in the top 20 percent receive a U.S. News Best Travel Rewards Program award. These awards are released annually at the time the rankings are updated.

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Cruise Rankings

The U.S. News & World Report Best Cruises rankings are designed to help you find a cruise that best suits your needs. Using the following methods, U.S. News has identified the best cruise ships and cruise lines in a variety of categories.

Scoring Components

To rank the best cruise ships and cruise lines, we use the following scoring components:

Overall Rating:

The Overall Rating is used to determine the placement of each ship or line on any given list. The Overall Rating comprises three elements:

A cruise line's Overall Rating is calculated as the average of its ship's overall ratings.

Filtering Lists by Criteria:

Cutoff points and other criteria are used to identify cruise ships or cruise lines that qualify for a given ranking list.

Inclusion in Cruise Ship Rankings

For now, we only rank cruise ships within 15 of the most popular ocean cruise lines.

Calculating Cruise Ship Rankings

Cruise ships are ranked based on each ship's Overall Rating. Some cruise ship rankings are tailored to specific interests using filter criteria, and these are still rank-ordered by Overall Rating. The overall rating is a numerical score that may include several decimal points; however, we represent this as a graphical star rating rounded to the nearest half-star. As a result, two cruise ships that show the same graphical star representation may have slightly different underlying ratings. The ranking reflects the specific underlying rating, and not the rounded graphical star rating.

Please note: Cruise ship rankings are updated regularly. As new vessels are launched and additional inspection scores and guest reviews become available, they are added to our rankings and affect how specific ships stack up against one another.

Cruise Line Rankings

U.S. News evaluated 15 cruise lines in this year's rankings, identifying the best cruise lines in a variety of categories. Whereas ship rankings are updated throughout the year, cruise lines are ranked only once per year.

Calculating the Cruise Line Rankings

We rank cruise lines in five categories: Best Luxury Cruise Lines, Best Cruise Lines for the Money, Best Cruise Lines for Romance, Best Cruise Lines for Families and Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean. In order to qualify for a ranking, a cruise line must meet the requirements for that specific list.

U.S. News Travel Cruises Awards

The highest ranking cruise line on each of the five rankings — Best Luxury Cruise Lines, Best Cruise Lines for the Money, Best Cruise Lines for Romance, Best Cruise Lines for Families and Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean — have been identified with a Gold badge as the "Best." The No. 2- and No. 3-ranked cruise lines qualified as "finalists" in a category and are identified by Silver badges. The U.S. News Best Cruises awards are released annually at the time the rankings are updated.

Read More on Cruise Rankings

We hope you find the U.S. News rankings useful. We continually update our lists based on the latest reviews and information. As we cover new travel destinations, hotels and things to do, we will add them to the rankings and this may affect how places rank versus one another. Check back periodically to see how the U.S. News travel rankings are shaping up.

If you have any questions about our travel rankings' methodology, please feel free to contact us.