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.
Here is what we rank:
- Travel Destinations
- Things To Do
U.S. News & World Report now releases annual rankings of the Best Hotels in the USA, the Best Hotels in the Caribbean and the Best Hotels in Mexico, covering luxury hotel properties across the country. Over the coming months, we will continue to expand the hotel rankings by adding top hotels in international destinations.
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. 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. 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:
- Awards & Recognition: We evaluate the number and prominence of awards and recommendations a hotel has received from respected travel publications. However, all such awards and recommendations are not considered equal. Some are highly selective and may apply to only a handful of hotels across the globe. Others apply to a vast number of hotels and are thus considered less selective. We assign up to 10 points of value for each major industry accolade, which must be current (earned within the past twelve months). A hotel with several accolades may accumulate a high number of Awards & Recognition points. There is no limit to the number of such points a hotel may receive.
- Hotel Class: A hotel's class rating—a 4-, 4.5- or 5-star rating—is a general indicator of quality. However, it is by no means universal. Many travelers may be surprised to learn that a hotel labeled a 3-star property by one publication may be labeled a 4.5-star property by another. In our analysis, U.S. News editors have reviewed multiple sources to estimate the mean-average class rating for each hotel that we rank. In our rankings calculation, a hotel may receive up to 10 points for its average hotel class. The number of points is directly proportional to the class rating. Specifically, a 4-star hotel receives 8 out of 10 points; a 4.5-star hotel receives 9 out of 10 points; and a 5-star hotel receives 10 out of 10 points.
- Guest Rating: A hotel's guest rating is that provided under license by TripAdvisor.com. The Guest Rating is worth between 10 points and 20 points in our hotel rankings' methodology, with the weighting based on the number of underlying guest reviews. Hotels with fewer guest reviews will see a guest rating weighted closer to 10 points, whereas hotels with thousands of guest reviews will have higher weightings for the guest rating.
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. On our lists, these hotels are displayed after the ranked properties and are ordered 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" and "Best in Mexico."
Hotels named "Best" in their destination are typically the properties that rank in the top 33 percent of all 4- and 5-star hotels in that region. For example, winners of the "Best Hotels in Atlanta" award are the hotels ranked in the top 33 percent among ranked luxury hotels in the Atlanta area.
A smaller group of the highest-rated hotels have received a "Best Hotels in the USA," a "Best Hotels in the Caribbean" or a "Best Hotels in Mexico" award. This applies to the top 10 percent of all ranked luxury hotels. Some destinations may have several "Best Hotels in the USA," "Best Hotels in the Caribbean," or "Best Hotel in Mexico" award winners, while others might have none.
The U.S. News hotel awards are released annually at the time the rankings are updated.
Travel Destination 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:
- Expert Score (50 percent weight): For each destination we cover, our editors assign a series of Expert Scores, each covering an attribute of the destination as a vacation spot (e.g., family friendliness, beach quality, romance). These scores are assigned based on our editors' analysis of travel experts' opinions, as expressed in travel guides, reviews, sample itineraries, etc. For a given rankings list, we use the Expert Score(s) that are relevant for that list. For example, we use the "Romance" score as the Expert Score for our Best Romantic Getaways in the USA list.
- User Score (50 percent weight): Our users have the ability to vote on the destinations included on any of our ranking lists. Specifically, we ask users whether they believe a destination belongs on the list. The User Score for a destination is calculated from the percentage of "yes" votes and is specific to a given ranking list. For example, if 60 percent of voters say that "Anytown, USA" belongs on the list of Best Romantic Getaways in the USA, then the destination's User Score for that rankings list would be 6.0 out of 10.
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.
Things to Do Rankings
We rank things to do within each travel destination that we cover.
If you open a travel guidebook for any given destination, you'll get a listing of the "must-see" sites to visit during your trip. Those recommendations are largely based on word-of-mouth -- and occasionally -- the likes and dislikes of a particular travel writer.
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:
- Overall Level of Recommendation (50 percent): This is the overall sentiment expressed about a thing to do (e.g., "this is a must-see site" vs. "skip it if you're short on time").
- Value (20 percent): The Value Score represents travelers' sense of whether the thing to do is a good value. Any things to do that are free to enjoy automatically get a value score of 5 out of 5.
- Atmosphere (15 percent): The Atmosphere Score represents travelers' impression of a thing to do's vibe and aesthetics.
- Facilities / Food Scene, as appropriate (15 percent):The Facilities Score represents travelers' opinion of the quality, availability and accessibility of a thing to do's restrooms, visitor centers, concession stands and other tourist conveniences. This score is not assigned for things to do that are neighborhoods. The Food Scene Score represents travelers' opinion on the availability, variety and quality of food options in a neighborhood. This score is assigned to things to do that are neighborhoods (in place of the Facilities Score).
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.
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 at email@example.com.
The U.S. News Travel team