2014's Top Travel Brands Will Help You Escape This Winter

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As the fall winds start blowing harder, leaves whirl across the lawn, and winter looms, you might be thinking now's a good time to plan a vacation. If that's the case, then we have bad news: Air travel prices are soaring and the quality of service is plummeting.

However, if you really need that getaway, you can minimize the pain by sticking with the travel providers that consumers have found offer the best service and prices. Harris Poll EquiTrend asked 41,806 U.S. consumers ages 15 and older to rate travel brands on familiarity, quality and "purchase consideration," a marketing term that basically boils down to how likely you are to consider buying a service from a vendor. The winners:

Online Travel Service -- Two-Time Winner

Harris finds that American consumers prefer to begin their vacation planning with online searches at Expedia.com (EXPE), Travelocity.com -- owned by Sabre Corp (SABR) -- and Orbitz.com (OWW), in that order. Expedia topped this list for the second year in a row, and according to Harris, recently earned its highest score of the past 10 years.

Airlines -- The Old Guard and the New

The top two full-service airlines in Harris' survey are the two with the most limited reach -- Alaska Airlines (ALK) and Hawaiian Airlines (HA). The good news, however, is that travelers surveyed by Harris give decent marks to larger legacy airlines Delta (DAL) and American Airlines (AAL) as well, which come in at third and fourth place, respectively.

Among so-called discount airlines -- a distinction that's losing its difference as the discounters grow bigger and older, while the legacy airlines cut services and flights -- Harris finds travelers giving the highest marks to Southwest (LUV) and JetBlue (JBLU).

Hotels -- What Kind of Accommodations Do You Like?

The study included 47 hotel brands across five categories:

  • Luxury: Omni wins top honors in the luxury hotel category, followed quickly by Starwood (HOT) and Four Seasons. W Hotels (also owned by Starwood) and Ritz-Carlton (owned by Marriott (MAR)) take fourth and fifth places.

  • Full service: Marriott also tops the rankings for full-service hotel brand of the year in Harris' survey, followed in short order by Hilton Hotels (HLT), Courtyard by Marriott, and Hilton's own Embassy Suites.

  • Extended stay: Like where you've arrived at, and want to stay a while? Homewood Suites (owned by Hilton) and Residence Inn (Marriott) win top honors in this category.

  • Mid-market: Hilton's Hampton Inn ranks No. 1, followed by Holiday Inn Express and Holiday Inn (both owned by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), which failed to rank in the luxury category but redeems itself here), and then La Quinta (LQ) in fourth place.

  • Economy: America's Best Value Inn tops this category for the third consecutive year, followed by Super 8 and Red Roof Inn.

And now it's your turn. Do Harris' findings match your own impressions of these online travel agents, airlines and hotels? Or are some of these "winners" not really up to snuff? Chime in and sound off -- tell us what you think below.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith hasn't really enjoyed traveling since about 1995 and thinks most travel services ratings these days should be qualified as "the lesser of X number of evils." Neither he, nor The Motley Fool, has any position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check outour free report.