MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Nice but cheap place to stay in Chicago

We want to take the MegaBus to Chicago. Looking for a place that is downtown, easy to get to, close to the main sites, and the right mix of inexpensive but nice. Welcome your suggestions. - Karen, Milwaukee

For a single, the best deal is the Hostelling International family hostel in the South Loop, three blocks from the Art Institute at Congress and Wabash. It's quite posh, with pancake happy hours, an Internet room and a carpeted great room with foosball, ping-pong and a pool table. Volunteers takes guests on excursions around town. 

In 2006, 2007 and 2009, it was voted Best Large Hostel Worldwide. Shared rooms are $29-$38 per person, including coffee and muffins, and there's a kitchen where guests can cook for themselves.

At Congress and State in the Loop, the 1,700-bed University Center rents apartments in the summer and guest suites year-round. Just west of downtown in the University Village neighborhood, the University of Illinois-Chicago rents apartments in summer. For more, see Cheap stays.

You could also stay at an Airbnb home; there are more than 200 listed in Chicago. Rates go as low as $25 for a private room with a pull-out sofa. For more, see Staying with Airbnb.

For hotels, I like the Club Quarters at Wabash and Wacker, right off Michigan Avenue and overlooking the Chicago River. It's a private hotel for businesspeople, so rates are lower on weekends and especially holidays; reserve through Orbitz, Travelocity or Expedia. Try to get a room in the art-deco Mather Tower; they're small, but the view is spectacular.

The Seneca also is a long-time value; check Hot Rooms for other possibilities.

If you don't mind not knowing where you'll stay, you'll get the best deal on Priceline. For more, see Happy deals.

Getting a good rate is all about timing; they're cheapest in Chicago on the week before Christmas and in the depths of winter. I've also gotten very good deals on the long Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and in late October (avoid the Chicago Marathon in mid-October).

The key is to avoid going when a big convention is in town; when planning a trip, first check the Chicago convention calendar. When 90,000 people are in town for June's Society of Plastics Industry, convention, for example, rates will skyrocket.

Christmas shoppers might think the week after Thanksgiving would be slow, but 60,000 members of the Radiological Society of North America always are in town then.

For more money-saving tips, see Cheap Chicago.

Last updated on July 14, 2010