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Ranked: The Best Finalists for Amazon’s Newest Headquarters

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Pittsburgh topped our rankings for the best city for Amazon’s next headquarters, tying Raleigh, N.C. for first place.

Amazon finally narrowed the list of candidates to host its second headquarters down to 20 on Thursday.

The 20 finalists were picked from 238 cities from across the United States, Canada and Mexico to host what Amazon calls HQ2, a new facility that it expects to create 50,000 jobs. On top of that, the company estimates it will invest more than $5 billion in the city it ultimately chooses.

Amazon has been transparent about what it’s looking for in a potential headquarters — focusing on factors like the area’s proximity to airports, major highways and the city’s population center.

But which of the 20 cities is really going to offer those 50,000 employees the best quality of life?

MagnifyMoney researchers decided to do an analysis of the cities on Amazon’s HQ short list to determine which cities are the best to live in. We not only wanted to see which of these 20 cities offered a decent cost of living and relatively affordable housing, but also key quality of life factors like weather and the average commute time, and whether the housing stock has slack to support an influx of jobs.

The cities were rated on a scale of 100, based on these seven factors. Those rankings were summed and divided by seven for a highest possible score of 100 and a lowest possible score of zero.

  • Average commute time (in minutes)
  • Median monthly housing costs
  • Cost of living index (non-housing)
  • Temperate climate, as measured by the difference between the highest and lowest average temperatures across twelve months (a lower range ranked higher)
  • Marginal income tax rate for a single filer earning $100,000 in taxable income (state, federal and city)
  • Vacancy rate of rental homes
  • Vacancy rate of owner-occupied homes

“We trust that Amazon is doing a great job of evaluating (and negotiating) the core criteria and key preferences they deem essential to their business operations,” said study author Kali McFadden, an analyst at LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney. “We wanted to take a closer look at what each of these cities can offer their rank and file employees, both local and transferred.”

The best possible Amazon HQs: Pittsburgh and Raleigh

Let’s start with the top three. MagnifyMoney gives Pittsburgh and Raleigh a tie for first place, both scoring 78 points.

Pittsburgh topped our rankings for the best city for Amazon’s next headquarters, tying Raleigh, N.C. for first place.

Overall score: 78 

Pittsburgh combines a low cost of living with a decent commute time of just 26 minutes. Bring a jacket. The weather is on the chilly side.

  • Monthly median housing cost: $791
  • Avg. commute time: 26 minutes
  • Climate: Between the hottest and coldest day, there was a difference of 46 degrees

Overall score: 78

  • Monthly median housing cost: $1,051
  • Avg. commute time: 26 minutes
  • Climate: Between the hottest and coldest day, there was a difference of 38 degrees.

Dallas came in at no. 3.

Overall score: 69

  • Monthly median housing cost: $1,096
  • Avg. commute time: 28 minutes
  • Climate: Between the hottest and coldest day, there was a difference of 39 degrees.

The worst of the top 20 contenders

New York City is the lowest-ranking finalist on the MagnifyMoney list, scoring poorly at 22. The Big Apple fell to the bottom of the pack for three key reasons: it has the highest living costs, highest marginal tax rates and longest commute time.

Northern Virginia and Montgomery County share the second-to-last place with a score of 29.

Interestingly, the current Amazon headquarters Seattle, only earned a score of 41 points, but we didn’t include it in the official rankings. Seattle would have been ranked in the 14th place if we had.

Full rankings:

Methodology

The data was gathered on the Metropolitan Statistical or Combined Statistical area for a city, except in the cases of Northern Virginia; Montgomery County, Md.; and Washington, D.C., as these finalists are, at least partly, part of the same statistical area.

County data was used for commute times and median monthly housing costs (county data was not available for the other factors). Similarly, county data was used for Newark, N.J., where available, because it is part of the New York City (another finalist) statistical area.

The U.S. Census American Community Survey (2016) was used for commute times and median housing costs, while the Census Housing Vacancy and Ownership data was used for vacancy metrics. Statistics Canada was used for Toronto data. Federal and local tax authority rate tables were used to derive marginal income tax rates for $100,000 in income.  Weather data was derived from USClimateData.com and The Weather Network, while cost of living index data was sourced from Numbeo.com.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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6 Budget-Friendly Places to Put On Your 2019 Travel List – Domestic Edition

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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If one of your resolutions for 2019 is to travel more, but you fear that finances will hold you back, have a little hope: there are plenty of destinations across the country that are still very affordable to visit. As fun as major tourist destinations like San Francisco and New York City are, let’s be honest — accommodation alone can cost a fortune.

When you’re on a tight budget, it’s easier to make travel a reality when you choose lesser-known locations where the cost of activities and lodging are still reasonable. If you’re willing to make a budget in advance to ensure you’re regularly setting aside money for travel, you’ll be able to hit the road even sooner.

Another way to make vacations more affordable is to get a travel credit card, said Deidre Mathis, a budget travel expert and writer, and owner of Wanderstay Hostel in Houston. If you get a travel rewards card and use it for your everyday purchases, such as gas, your car payment or groceries, and pay it off right away, you’ll quickly earn points without accruing any debt. Depending on the card you choose, you could earn free hotel stays, free car rentals or free flights.

Now you just need to figure out where to go. We spoke to several budget travel experts to find out the best places in the U.S. you can cheaply travel to in 2019. Here are their six top destinations that are still somewhat off-the-beaten-path and won’t break the bank. (All hotel prices are from Kayak.com and accurate at the time of publication.)

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Albuquerque, New Mexico  

Cost of accommodations: Throughout the year, you can get a three-star hotel room for about $85 to $100. If you’re willing to stay at a one- or two-star motel, you can nab a room for around $40 to $50 per night.

Why go: Albuquerque is one of the top spots Mathis said she’s eyeing for 2019, in large part because it’s such a friendly spot for budget travelers. It’s also known for its distinct Southwestern feel and sunny weather. If you love the outdoors, Albuquerque is brimming with scenic hiking and bike trails that range in cost from free to only about $20 to use, making it an affordable way to explore the beautiful terrain.

There are also several museums in Albuquerque, and plenty of shopping if you’re on the hunt for Southwestern-style art, jewelry or souvenirs. Just west of the city, you’ll find the Petroglyph National Monument, where you can view ancient lava flows, petrified wood and rock drawings by Native Americans and Spanish settlers, dating back as far as 700 years ago. It’s free to enter, and parking is only $1 on weekdays and $2 on weekends.

It’s also typically affordable to fly into and stay in Albuquerque — according to Mathis, “they have tons of small hotels that will be a better price than the big chain hotels, and they give you a more local feel,” Southwest offers nonstop flights from many cities to Albuquerque, she added; for example, she recently saw nonstop flights in February from Houston to Albuquerque for $250, which she says is a great deal.

“To me, a budget trip is anywhere I can go for less than $500 with flight and hotel included for the weekend,” Mathis said, “and with Albuquerque, you can definitely do that.”

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Bloomington, Indiana

Cost of accommodations: A three-star hotel room is available for as low as about $80 per night, while some two-star motels offer rooms as cheap as about $50 per night.

Why go: “I have a passion for college towns — I find they often are more progressive and innovative than their larger neighbors — and Bloomington is one that makes me swoon,” said Kristin Luna, a budget-minded travel journalist and founder of the travel blog CamelsandChocolate.com. Not to be confused with Bloomington, Ill., this town is about an hour’s drive from Indianapolis, which is typically the cheapest airport to fly into, according to Luna.

“It’s also located in proximity to so many great outdoor attractions such as Monroe Lake, Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula Preserve and Hoosier National Forest,” Luna explained.  “Another free and unique offering is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, which was started in Bloomington in 1979 by an exile named Thubten Jigme Norbu, to protect the heritage of Buddhism,” she added.

Luna also noted that since it’s a college town, Bloomington has plenty of seasonal activities, such as Indiana University football in the fall or the city’s long-standing Little 500 bike race in the spring. She added that Bloomington has an ever-expanding greenway called “the B-line” that cuts through town and is extremely bike-friendly, though the town is also easy to navigate with the newly-popular electric scooters.

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Fargo, North Dakota

Cost of accommodations: It’s possible to grab a two-star motel room in Fargo for less than $50 per night. The average nightly rate for a three-star hotel here is around $90.

Why go: Fargo may be famous for the Coen Brothers’ cult classic film, but it’s also a great up-and-coming destination for budget travelers seeking something off the beaten path. Mathis said North Dakota is on Mathis’ radar for next year, and it’s especially an ideal destination for travelers who love nature. North Dakota has ample opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, camping, fishing, horseback riding and just about any other outdoor activity you can think of.

Fargo and many other towns in North Dakota are also known for charming small-town bars, where you can get a true feel for the city, noted Mathis. There are also a few small breweries in Fargo, in addition to great shopping.

The town also has cultural institutions, including art museums, an air museum and a historic theater. A few minutes away, just across the river and the Minnesota border, you can visit the Hjemkomst Center for only $10, where you can see a replica of a viking ship and a “Stave Church,” a replica of a Norwegian church from the 1100s. And of course, you can see the infamous wood chipper from “Fargo” the movie; it’s free to see the original movie prop, located in the city’s visitor center.

Fargo is growing, but it’s still not a well-known tourist destination, Mathis noted, so it’s affordable, uncrowded, and still feels very authentic.

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Knoxville, Tennessee

Cost of accommodations: Budget travelers can find two-star motels in Knoxville for as low as around $50 per night, and three-star hotel rooms for around $80 per night.

Why go: “I grew up just south of Nashville, but if we’re being honest, I would live in Knoxville if I had the choice,” Luna said. “Like many mid-sized cities across the United States, it has a booming brew scene, a dedication to the arts and a sprawling town square that has been completely revitalized from when I was a student there 15 years ago and almost all the storefronts were boarded up.”

As Luna noted, The Old City, Fourth & Gill and Market Square neighborhoods have all undergone major makeovers, which has brought life and investment into these areas. But despite its growth, Knoxville is still a very affordable place to visit.

“Free attractions such as Ijams Nature Center and its quarries, and many hiking and mountain-biking trails connecting to the nearby Smokies, make Knoxville a popular destination among budget travelers who like adventure,” Luna explained. She added that whiskey lovers will enjoy that two Tennessee Whiskey Trail stops are located in downtown Knoxville (Knox Whiskey Works and Post Modern Spirits), and there are several others only a half-hour drive away.

Knoxville also has plenty of museums, memorials and parks that cost nothing to visit. There are also many walking and driving tours that are also totally free — you can take a walking tour to learn about country music, a driving tour to learn about the civil war and much more.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Cost of accommodations: You can get a motel room for as little as $30 to $45 per night in Oklahoma City. If you’re looking for a step up, three-star hotels average just under $100 per night, but can be as little as about $45.

Why go: As a centrally-located city, flights from hubs like Dallas or Denver to Oklahoma City are cheap, according to Luna. Plus, she added, as a mid-sized metropolis, Luna has found there’s virtually no traffic, and boutique hotels and parking that won’t break the bank.

“The food and drink scene is positively booming — Bon Appetit even picked America’s best new restaurant of the year from OKC,” Luna said. “In fact, one of the nation’s first brewery hotels is set to debut in 2020.” She added that a new streetcar launched in the city in December, which makes it really convenient for tourists to get around town. The city has also spearheaded other improvement projects, noted Luna, such as “the Boathouse District, an amazing attraction for visitors that includes an urban whitewater rafting course, canoeing and kayaking on the river, ziplining and a whole lot more.” On top of that, she has noticed that the locals there are some of the friendliest, most hospitable folks she’s ever met.

Another popular area in Oklahoma City is Bricktown, a fun entertainment district where old warehouses have been turned into restaurants, shops, piano lounges and wine bars. There’s even a water taxi that can take you on a tour along the Bricktown Canal.

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Oxford, Mississippi

Cost of accommodations: You can land a three-star hotel for around $90 per night, or one- and two-star hotel and motel options for only $45 to $75.

Why go: “While many people have a negative connotation about Mississippi — and yes, it’s a little complicated politically — I think it’s one of the most underrated and underappreciated states,” said Matt Kepnes, who writes the popular budget travel blog Nomadic Matt and authored the book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.”.

According to Kepnes, the state is rife with rich history, the people are friendly and the Southern food is fantastic. Oxford is home to the campus of the University of Mississippi (known as “Ole Miss”), described by Kepnes as a beautiful (and free) place to explore. Right across from campus is Rowan Oak, former home of famed writer William Faulkner, which costs only $5 to visit.

If you want to take a road trip across the state, there’s plenty to see, according to Kepnes — and it’s all easy on a budget. A trip through the Mississippi Delta delivers a journey through incredible blues music, and he noted that it’s also worth a stop in the beautiful city of Natchez. Kepnes also loves the coastal town of Biloxi, which has great seafood, a beautiful beach and many casinos with very affordable hotel rooms. The Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic national park trail that goes up through Mississippi, is also worth a visit. It’s 444 miles long — it also passes through Alabama and into Tennessee, ending close to Nashville — and takes you along gorgeous drives.

“I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Mississippi,” Kepnes said. “I know some other travel writers who didn’t want to go, but once they did, they were surprised by how much they liked it.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Starbuck Gerson
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Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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6 Budget-Friendly Places to Put On Your 2019 Travel List – International Edition

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

best airline credit cards
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Do you have dreams of collecting passport stamps but fear international travel is beyond your budget? You might be surprised what you can afford with some smart strategies.

If you’re willing to spend time budgeting and saving, stay in hostels and visit destinations that are off the beaten path — and therefore less expensive — it’s easy to travel internationally on a shoestring.

Another way to lesson the cost of travel is to regularly use travel credit cards. Deidre Mathis, a budget travel expert and writer, and owner of Wanderstay Hostel in Houston, said she uses her Delta credit card for everyday essentials, then pays it off right away. “I was able accumulate enough points to book a flight to go to Spain next year for free. This was just from using my credit card to pay for things I would have bought anyway,” Mathis said.

“Of course, if there’s an annual fee, you have to look into it and see if it makes sense,” Mathis explained. “For this card, it does make sense, because a normal flight to Spain from Houston can range from $900 to $1400, so an annual fee of $200 is totally worth it because I got the free flight.” If a long-haul flight is your main budgetary concern, racking up points on a travel credit card could be your ticket to ride. Plus, many travel credit cards offer huge sign-up bonuses that start you off with a large balance of reward points.

Now, where to go with all those points? We interviewed several budget travel experts to find out which countries are best for budget travelers. If you’re resolved to travel more in 2019, here are six of the most interesting and affordable spots around the globe. (All hostel prices come from Hostelworld.com, are presented in U.S. dollars and are accurate at time of publication.)

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Argentina

Cost of accommodations: The average price for a night at a hostel in Buenos Aires is an affordable $17.47. The average price of hostels in most other cities are only $10 to $20 per night, though there are some outliers, like Cordoba at $9.67 or El Calafate at $51.09.

Why go: “There’s never been a better time to visit Argentina,” said Johnny Ward, an entrepreneur who runs the hugely successful travel blog OneStep4Ward. Originally from Ireland, Ward currently lives in Thailand, and through savvy budget traveling, has visited every country on earth (seriously, he’s been to all 197). “Unfortunately, their economy is struggling a touch, but that means it’s a very cheap time to visit and explore,” Ward said.

He adds that long-distance buses in the country are like business class flights, with glasses of Malbec starting around $1 a pop. With a great bus system, it’s easy to explore the country, which has vibrant cities like Buenos Aires, in addition to areas of natural wonder, such as Patagonia.

To experience the best of Argentina on a budget, Ward suggests flying in and out of Buenos Aires. “Then, bus up to Iguazu Falls and back to Buenos Aires,” he said, “before getting those hiking boots dusted off and exploring majestic Patagonia, with Bariloche and El Calafate particular highlights.”

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Bulgaria

Cost of accommodations: Of the most popular cities, hostels are cheapest in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, with an average price per night of $6.99. Bansko is the most expensive, at an average of $18.82 per night.

Why go: “Bulgaria is not often picked on top travel lists, but it’s a great country for budget travelers because it’s inexpensive and it’s not on the euro,” said Matt Kepnes, blogger behind the popular budget travel blog Nomadic Matt and author of the book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.”

According to Kepnes, Bulgaria has plenty of rich history, the beautiful Black Sea, delicious Mediterranean-style cuisine, friendly people and plenty of mountains ideal for hiking. “Plus, it’s sort of off the beaten path, so you won’t find the huge crowds of Prague when you’re going to Sofia,” he added. “And it’s affordable; as a backpacker, you can get by on around $35 a day. If you’re traveling on a slightly larger budget, you can get by pretty comfortably for $50-$60 day doing anything you wanted, eating anything you wanted and staying in an Airbnb or cheap hotel.”

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Iceland

Cost of accommodations: Hostels in Reykjavik are around $84 per night on average, but in most other cities, the average prices are closer to $30 to $50 per night.

Why go: While travel to Iceland has surged in popularity in recent years, it can still be an affordable place to visit if you know how to do it right, Mathis said. Known for its otherworldly landscapes and jaw-dropping geysers, waterfalls and lagoons, it’s the perfect place for outdoors-lovers (and adventurous eaters — fermented shark, anyone?).

Flights are often the greatest expense of an international trip, but not in this case: Mathis recommended looking at WOW Air, a budget airline that offers flights to Iceland from major U.S. cities for as little as $100 to $200 round-trip, on which Mathis was able to score a $200 flight. “Though Iceland isn’t super cheap once you get there, getting there is incredibly cheap, so it gives you more flexibility to use that money for something else,” she explained.

In addition to hostels, Mathis noted that the country has many Airbnbs that help you save money, as compared to a hotel. The other trick to budget travel in Iceland is to avoid public transportation, which is very expensive — “just rent a car and drive that for the time there, and you’ll save a lot of money on transportation,” she recommended.

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Macedonia

Cost of accommodations: In six of the most popular cities in Macedonia, hostels range from an average of only $7 to $17 per night.

Why go: “France, Italy and Germany are all a little played out — head east, save a fortune and explore Macedonia,” Ward recommended, noting that you can easily get meals for $7 in the country.

He said the country’s capital, Skopje, is idyllic, with Old European architecture and boutique hotels for a fraction of the price of Western Europe. Skopje is home to the Old Bazaar, a great place to shop and find cheap eats. The city is also home to the Memorial House of Mother Theresa, who was born there — the house is on the site of the former church where she was baptized.

“Then head to Lake Ohrid for a truly relaxing time,” Ward added. “The water is clearer than you imagine, and there won’t be hordes of tourists, I can promise you that!”

The Lake Ohrid region has been named a world heritage site by UNESCO, and the charming town of Ohrid is the location of one of Europe’s oldest human settlements. The area has the oldest Slav monastery, built starting in the 7th century, and hundreds of Byzantine-style icons from the 11th to 14th centuries.

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The Philippines

Cost of accommodations: You can score a hostel bed in Manila for an average price of $9.08. Hostels in other cities range from a mere $6 to $14 per night.

Why go: “South East Asia draws in so many tourists, but most don’t make it beyond Thailand or Vietnam,” said Ward. “For an additional hour or so you can explore the Philippines — all 7,000 islands of it!” Domestic flights within the Philippines can be as cheap as $40, he added, “so you can island-hop until your heart’s content.”

Ward thinks Manila, the capital, isn’t much to write home about, but from there, you can take a short, cheap flight to the “World’s Most Beautiful Island” of Palawan. From there, he recommended, “head north to El Nido and Coron for the kind of blue seas and limestone cliffs you’ve used as a screensaver for years.” According to Ward, you can nab some delicious street food and a cold beer for about $2, and if you get a cheap hotel on the beach, you can get away with only having to spend $30 to $50 per day.

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South Korea

Cost of accommodations: In Seoul, the average price of a night at a hostel is only $15.68. In other popular cities, the average prices range from a mere $14 to $21 per night.

Why go: According to Kepnes, so many travelers get excited about Japan, but they often overlook South Korea: “South Korea is an underrated place,” he  explained. “Not a lot of people go there, but it’s fascinating.”

He pointed to the incredible Korean food, rich history, excellent museums, beautiful palaces, K-pop music and the booming tech scene. Plus, if you’re a history and politics buff, you can take a guided half-day tour of the The Demilitarized Zone — the infamous border between South and North Korea — for as little as $40.

Kepnes is especially a fan of Seoul, which he described as an affordable city that many people miss out on.

“It’s like a cheap Tokyo,” he explained. “You could go out there and go eat Korean BBQ and drink to your heart’s content, and then pay only $10.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Starbuck Gerson
Emily Starbuck Gerson |

Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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