U.S. News Travel Methodology 2023



U.S. News Travel Methodology 2023


 U.S. News Travel Methodology 2023


  • 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 No. 1 or No. 2. Travel experiences are personal ones. Nonetheless, we hope that our rankings can serve as helpful guideposts as you plan your next trip.


Table of Content:

  • Things to Do Rankings
  • Travel Rewards Programs Rankings
  • Airline Rewards Program Rankings
  • Hotel Rewards Program Rankings
  • U.S. News Travel Rewards Program Awards
  • Travel Insurance Ratings



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 Best 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, and in select destinations (3) recommendations from local experts, such as hotel concierges, tourism board representatives and travel, food and lifestyle editors at local newspapers or magazines. You can expect to see some of the usual suspects on our lists (the Eiffel Tower and the 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 popular activities or tours.


Calculating the Scores and Rankings:


About U.S. News Scores: Rankings are computed on the basis of an overall U.S. News 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:

  1. Overall Level of Recommendation (50 percent weight): 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").
  2. Value (20 percent weight): 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.
  3. Atmosphere (15 percent weight): The Atmosphere Score represents travelers' impression of a thing to do's vibe and aesthetics.

Facilities / Food Scene, as appropriate (15 percent weight): The Facilities Score represents travelers' opinion of the quality, availability, and accessibility of a thing 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' opinions 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).


About U.S. News Local Expert Scores:


The Best Things to Do in select destinations are scored based on local expert input. These local experts include concierges at the top hotels in the destination, tourism board representatives, travel, and food and lifestyle editors at local newspapers or magazines, among others. Experts were asked to score each attraction as "Must-see," "Recommended" and "Only if you have time." These scores help determine the attraction's overall score and are represented on the Local Experts scorecard within each destination.

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 No. 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.


Travel Rewards Programs Rankings:


  • U.S. News & World Report ranks travel rewards programs in two categories: airline frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs. Considering highly coveted factors, such as how easy it is to earn a free flight or stay and what extra perks (think: complimentary checked bags and discounted room rates) are awarded to members, the Best Travel Rewards Programs rankings aim to help everyday travelers find the best loyalty program for them. These rankings will be updated once a year.



Airline Rewards Program Rankings

Airline Rewards Program Rankings



Selecting What to Include on the List:


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


Calculating the Rankings:


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

Ease of Earning Free Round-Trip Flight (47% weight): In order to evaluate the ease of earning a free round-trip flight, U.S. News analyzed two components: ease of earning and ease of redemption. The Ease of Earning a Free Round-Trip Flight score is a 50/50 composite of each program's earning and redemption scores.

Each program's earning score measures the typical miles or points earned by a U.S.-based flyer on an average flight within or to/from the U.S. To identify the typical cost and miles required for the average flight, U.S. News analyzed price and mileage survey data published in the Department of Transportation's Domestic Airline Consumer Airfare Report and the Bureau of Transportation Statistic's Annual U.S. Domestic Average Itinerary Fare in Current and Constant Dollars and TranStats.

The redemption score represents the average value an airline rewards program offers in points required for a free flight. The calculated redemption scores are based on searches conducted by U.S. News in July 2022. U.S. News analyzed up to 16 of each airline's highly trafficked routes within three round-trip mileage categories: short domestic (400 to 500 miles), medium domestic (2,200 to 2,600 miles), and long (4,800 to 5,200 miles) for four different round-trip dates between July and September to determine the average number of award points needed for a free round-trip flight across each airline.

Additional Benefits (25% weight): The Additional Benefits score comprises the number of ways members can earn and use points (other than for booking flights), whether or not points expire, and additional perks that elite members and members with basic branded credit cards (with an annual fee of $100 or less) receive, such as a free checked bag and airport lounge access. Programs can earn a benefits score between 1 and 5 depending on whether points can be acquired through hotel stays and credit card purchases and used to cover cabin upgrades, experiences (like concert tickets and sporting events), and hotel costs. Programs can also earn credit depending on how many miles program members must fly to take advantage of benefits like free checked bags and complimentary upgrades. Additionally, programs that offer more than one affiliated credit card can earn a higher Additional Benefits score. Programs will earn additional points if they: do not require members to spend a minimum amount of money to achieve elite status, let members with affiliated credit cards earn elite status or qualifying dollars toward elite status, and allow members to match elite status to the status equivalent from another airline or hotel loyalty program. For the 2022-2023 ranking, U.S. News also considered each frequent flyer program's response to the coronavirus pandemic and factored in how flexible and accommodating each program was for members.

Network Coverage (10% weight): The Network Coverage score represents the breadth and diversity of routes offered by each airline and its alliance network. The score is based on the total percent coverage each carrier offers in major regions across the globe (i.e. Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the Caribbean and Mexico, Central and South America, Australia and the Pacific, and the U.S. and Canada). U.S. News referred to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to determine the percentage of cities within each region serviced by each airline and its partners. The programs that service most cities in each region receive a 100% coverage rating and a higher overall Network Coverage score. Programs are awarded a score of 1 to 5 based on the passenger-weighted average of their individual region coverage scores.

The number of Daily Flights (10% weight): The Number of Daily Flights is awarded a score between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest score. The score is directly related to the number of domestic flights the airline operates, which reflects the level of opportunity a program participant has to earn or use rewards. If an airline offers between 1 and 499 domestic flights per day, then the airline's Number of Daily Flights score would be 1 out of 5, while a carrier that provides 2,000 or more domestic flights per day would be awarded a 5.

Airline Quality Rating (8% weight): The Airline Quality Rating score is based on each airline's quality rating as determined in the annual Airline Quality Rating report published by Dean Headley, of Wichita State University, and Brent Bowen, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The ratings represent each airline's performance in regard to on-time arrivals, lost or mishandled baggage rates, involuntary denied boarding rates, and consumer complaint rates. Each airline with a frequent flyer program represented in our rankings receives a score of 1 through 5 based on its AQR score.

Award Flight Availability (0% weight): The Award Flight Availability score represents the number and variety of award flights that can be purchased at a low cost using points or miles. In order to calculate this score, U.S. News compared the number of award flights available to program members at a lower threshold of point redemption (defined as flights that are at or below the average number of miles required to redeem across all airlines for a given mileage category). U.S. News calculated the volume of award flight options available at a low point value for up to 16 of each airline's highly trafficked short, medium, and long routes on four different round-trip dates between July and September.

  • NOTE: Due to insufficient data, likely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic's continued effect on travel, Award Flight Availability was not factored into the scoring formula for the 2022-2023 ranking. As such, other components were weighted higher to reach the 100% scoring threshold.




Hotel Rewards Program Rankings 2023

Hotel Rewards Program Rankings



Selecting What to Include on the List:


U.S. News Travel ranks 15 loyalty programs associated with major hotel brands that have at least 50 properties, 10 or more of which are located 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 appear 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:


Ease of Earning Free Night (45% weight): Each program is awarded a score of 1 through 5 based on the average number of paid nights members must accumulate to earn a free night in each of the 20 destinations referenced in the Geographic Coverage score. Because hotel rates change frequently and vary by travel date, all research for this scoring category is conducted on the same day for the same travel dates – arriving Saturday and departing Sunday four weeks from the research data. We calculate the average number of paid nights required to earn a free night in each destination based on the average price in points of a one-night stay. (Programs that do not allow members to earn free nights receive a score of 0.)

Additional Benefits (25% weight): The Additional Benefits score comprises the number of ways members can earn and use points apart from hotel stays, whether or not points expire, and complimentary services offered to elite members. Programs can receive an Additional Benefits score between 1 and 5 depending on whether points can be earned for flights, credit card purchases, and through other means, such as dining or shopping portals. Programs also earn Additional Benefits points for offering the following member perks: complimentary nights (that don't require any form of payment, whether in dollars or points), free room upgrades, priority check-in, and checkout, complimentary amenities (like internet access or a free drink at check-in) and member discounts on room rates. Programs that have more than one affiliated credit card are awarded an additional point in this category. Programs that offer these benefits receive additional credit for making them available to basic members. Programs that give members with affiliated credit cards complimentary elite status or match elite status earned in other hotel or airline rewards programs are awarded additional points. For the 2022-2023 ranking, U.S. News also considered each hotel rewards program's response to the coronavirus pandemic and factored in how flexible and accommodating each program was for members.

Geographic Coverage (15% weight): A program's Geographic Coverage score refers to the presence of participating hotels in the U.S. and abroad. This score represents how easy it is for members to take advantage of the program when traveling domestically and internationally. For our Geographic Coverage score calculation, we counted the number of participating hotels (with availability on the research date) within a 15-mile radius of 20 major business and leisure travel destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Points are awarded for each destination that contained a participating hotel, and additional credit is assigned to programs that feature more than nine participating hotels in a given destination.

Number of Hotels in Network (10% weight): Each program is assigned a score of 1 through 5 depending on how many properties are in the hotel group's portfolio – the more properties that participate in the program, the more opportunities members have to earn and redeem rewards. For example, a program that features more than 4,000 participating hotels receives a score of 5, while a program with fewer than 100 participating hotels earns a score of 1.

Property Diversity (5% weight): The Property Diversity score represents a variety of property types that participate in the program. A loyalty program that can be used across multiple property categories offers members more choice and flexibility in terms of style and price than a program that is only valid for one kind of hotel. We looked at each program to see what locations (beachfront, airport, city, mountains) and price ranges (luxury, upscale, mid-range, budget) are available within the program's network. A program can earn up to 8 diversity points, with 1 point awarded per applicable category. Programs with 8 points receive a Property Diversity score of 5, while programs with 2 or fewer points receive a score of 1.

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 2.5 nights. According to research from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 58% of business travelers and 51% of leisure travelers stay two or more nights during each hotel stay.


U.S. News Travel Rewards Program Awards 2023



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 30% receive a U.S. News Best Travel Rewards Program award. These awards are scheduled to be released annually at the time the rankings are updated.



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:


  • Expert Rating (30% weight): Our editors assign each ship an Expert Rating between 1 and 5 based on the ship's level of luxury, with 5 being the highest score. This score represents our editors' analysis of a ship's atmosphere, facilities, activities, cabins, cuisine, and service.
  • Traveler Rating (50% weight): A ship's traveler rating is provided under license by Cruiseline.com. Reviewers assign a rating between 1 and 5 based on their level of satisfaction with their cruise experience.
  • Health Rating (20% weight): A ship's health rating is based on sanitation inspection scores published by the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Individual ship inspection reports can be found here. The CDC defines "Satisfactory Scores" as those that are 86 or above (out of a possible 100 points). A ship's Health Rating is the average of the vessel's individual inspection reports from the 22 months prior to the calculation of the U.S. News Best Cruises rankings. For our rankings, CDC scores are translated to a five-point scale as follows: Vessels with average CDC ratings greater than 97.5 received a score of 5; vessels with average CDC ratings greater than 95 and up to 97.5 received a score of 4.5; vessels with average CDC scores greater than 92.5 and up to 95 received a score of 4; vessels with average CDC scores greater than 90 and up to 92.5 received a score of 3.5; vessels with average CDC scores greater than 87.5 and up to 90 received a score of 3; vessels with average ratings greater than 85.1 and up to 87.5 received a score of 2.5 and vessels with an average CDC rating of 85.1 or lower received a score of 1. If a ship has not received a health inspection score within the past 22 months, the average Health Rating of all CDC-rated ships within the cruise line is used as a proxy in the calculation of the ship's Overall Rating. (Note: Virgin Voyages provided U.S. News with a thorough health report conducted by a private company, which was used to evaluate the cruise line and assign a health rating at this time.)

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.


  1. Traveler Type: Each cruise ship and cruise line's placement on our traveler-type cruise rankings take into account the aggregate traveler rating among specific types of travelers. Cruise ships and lines with the highest Overall Ratings and the greatest approval rating among a certain traveler type (e.g., families), appear on such lists. To qualify for a cruise ship traveler-type ranking list, a ship had to have a minimum of 10 total guest reviews, and a certain percentage of reviews had to come from the specified traveler type; the percentage required varies by list.
  2. Region: We rank the best cruise ships in seven popular regions: Alaska, Europe, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Mexico, the Pacific, and Hawaii. We also rank the Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean and Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean. Regional scores are assigned based on a percentage of itineraries a ship has in each of these regions over a 24-month basis. The ship-level regional scores are updated as new information is made available; however, the list of the Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean and the Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean will only be updated once a year.
  3. Price Class: A cruise ship's price class rating is based on its average nightly base fare. Ships with average nightly balcony rates of $450 or more are rated 5; average nightly balcony rates of $350 to $449 are rated 4; average nightly balcony rates of $250 to $349 are rated 3; ships with average nightly balcony rates of $150 to $249 are rated 2, ships with average nightly balcony rates below $150 are rated 1. Ocean view rates are also considered at the rates above, minus $50 per night. Cruise lines with average price class ratings of 3.5 and above are included in the Best Luxury Cruise Lines rankings. Cruise lines with average price class ratings of 2.5 or lower are included in the Best Cruise Lines for the Money rankings.



Inclusion in Cruise Ship Rankings


  • For now, we only rank cruise ships within 17 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.


  • 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. Ships that feature N/A as their overall score have either not launched yet or have not received enough traveler reviews.


Cruise Line Rankings:


  • U.S. News evaluated 17 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 six categories: Best Luxury Cruise Lines, Best Cruise Lines for the Money, Best Cruise Lines for Couples, Best Cruise Lines for Families, Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean, and Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean. In order to qualify for a ranking, a cruise line must meet the requirements for that specific list.


  1. Best Luxury Cruise Lines: For our luxury cruise line ranking, we include only cruise lines with a price class rating of 3.5 or above. Qualifying cruise lines are ranked highest to lowest based on their Overall Rating.
  2. Best Cruise Lines for the Money: For our best value cruise line ranking, we include only cruise lines with a price class rating of less than 2.5. Qualifying cruise lines are ranked highest to lowest based on their average Overall Rating (50% weight), their average nightly pricing on a scale of 1 to 5 (40% weight), and value-add benefits included in the base fare, such as prepaid gratuities, free onboard Wi-Fi access, free room service and more (10% weight).
  3. Best Cruise Lines for Couples: This ranking factors in (1) each line's Overall Rating as well as (2) the aggregate traveler rating by "couples" travelers and (3) the percentage of a cruise line's reviews on Cruiseline.com that are left by couples. For example, a cruise line that receives a high percentage of its reviews from couples is more likely to be couples-oriented. Cruise lines are ranked according to the weighted average of their rank within each of these three factors. For a cruise line to be eligible for inclusion in this ranking, at least 60% of its total traveler reviews had to come from couples.
  4. Best Cruise Lines for Families: This ranking factors in (1) each line's Overall Rating as well as (2) the aggregate traveler rating by "families with kids" and (3) the percentage of a cruise line's reviews on Cruiseline.com that are left by family travelers. For example, a cruise line that receives a high percentage of reviews from families is more likely to attract family travelers. Cruise lines are ranked according to the weighted average of their rank within each of these three factors. For a cruise line to qualify for this ranking, at least 20% of its total traveler reviews had to come from families.
  5. Best Cruise Lines in the Caribbean: This ranking is based on (1) each line's Overall Rating as well as (2) the percentage of scheduled itineraries in the Caribbean over a 24-month period (3) the number and variety of Caribbean itineraries available over a 24-month period. Cruise lines are ranked highest to lowest according to the weighted average of their rank combined with the annualized rate of scheduled itineraries and the number of total Caribbean itinerary options over a two-year period. The Overall Rating carries a 50% weight. Line coverage components are both weighted at 25%.
  6. Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean: This ranking is based on (1) each line's Overall Rating as well as (2) the percentage of scheduled itineraries in the Mediterranean over a 24-month period and (3) the number and variety of Mediterranean itineraries available over a 24-month period. Cruise lines are ranked highest to lowest according to the weighted average of their rank combined with the annualized rate of scheduled itineraries and the number of total Mediterranean itinerary options over a two-year period. The Overall Rating carries a 50% weight. Line coverage components are both weighted at 25%.


Travel Insurance Ratings 2023



Travel Insurance Ratings



  • U.S. News & World Report rates the best and the cheapest travel insurance providers to help travelers determine what policy will best help them protect their investment in their vacation. U.S. News evaluates travel insurance companies that specifically offer trip cancellation and interruption protection.


Best Travel Insurance Companies


  • To determine the Best Travel Insurance Companies, we compiled two types of third-party ratings and reviews:


  1. Professional Ratings & Reviews: Our travel insurance ratings take into account the top credible professional sources. Professional reviewers often recommend different options. Rather than relying on a single source, U.S. News believes consumers benefit when these reviews are analyzed collectively.
  2. Consumer Ratings & Reviews: U.S. News also researched published consumer ratings on travel insurance companies. Sources with a sufficient number of quality consumer ratings and reviews were included in our evaluation.  


In addition to third-party reviews, we review each provider's AM Best credit rating to help ensure we’re recommending providers more likely to weather major global travel disruptions.
The travel insurance companies that appear on the list are those that have a high credit rating, receive more positive consumer reviews, and accumulate numerous expert accolades.


Cheapest Travel Insurance Companies


To determine the Cheapest Travel Insurance Companies, U.S. News created sample traveler profiles for trips to different destinations at a range of price points. We used that information to get quotes for the cheapest option for 100% trip cancellation coverage for each trip. We then calculated the average cost of the trips. The travel insurance companies that appear on the list are those that have a high credit rating and offer the lowest average cost.


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