Which Are the Top Meetings and Conventions Cities in the USA?

Orlando hotel

Las Vegas hotels at night

If you go to a lot of conferences for your job, you’ve probably noticed that you spend a lot of time walking the exhibition halls of specific cities. While every metropolitan area in the USA would love to have your meetings and conventions business, there are a few behemoths that win by pure capacity.

It costs a lot of money to build convention centers and they require an equal amount of infrastructure in hotel beds, flight capacity, parking, and transportation. All these factors have to work in tandem for a conference destination to make it to the top. Here’s who has won the arms race in modern times:

Las Vegas

Vegas knows how to shock and awe in every category and just by the numbers, they come out on top in both space capacity and room capacity. There’s a staggering 10.8 million square feet of conference space here, partly in 3 of the 10 largest convention centers in the country. You’ll have plenty of choices on where to bed down: about 157,000 rooms across nearly 200 hotels. And Las Vegas hotels are often not very small affairs either: MGM Grand alone has more than 6,800 rooms. When you combine The Pallazo and The Venetian, they have more than 7,100 rooms.

Search hotel prices and point redemptions at Bonwi.com, where your conference stay could earn you enough points for a weekend vacation somewhere else.

Orlando

Orlando’s hotels and resorts aren’t as massive as the biggest in Las Vegas, but the sprawling city has more places to stay overall, with 265 of them. There’s something here for all budgets and parents who want to extend a business trip clearly have lots of things to spend the family budget on with Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and other attractions.

Orlando hotel

Orlando has 4.64 million square feet of meeting space for conventions, but be advised some of that space is in self-contained resorts that can only be reached by car. Fortunately, rental cars are abundant and reasonably priced. You can earn Bonwi points for those and your Orlando hotel stay.

Chicago

One of the USA’s largest cities attracts plenty of convention business to fill up its 50,000 rooms across 177 hotels. This is a tough city to walk around in during the winter, but many conference goers don’t spend a lot of time outside. The largest exhibition space here is massive: 2.1 million square feet. The largest ballroom is nearly 104,000 square feet–nearly two full football fields in size.

Cvent says, “More people travel to Chicago for overnight business than any other U.S. destination. Its accessibility certainly plays a role in its popularity, as about 46 million people are within one day’s drive of Chicago.” See hotel rates and get the highest points payback at Bonwi.com.

Bonwi rewards points Chicago

Atlanta

Fast-growing Atlanta has the world’s busiest airport, so getting to the city is easy from nearly anywhere. The city has 43,000 rooms across 195 hotels in all price ranges, with most major chains represented. A quarter of those are in the convention district.

The easy access and mild year-round temperatures bring in 51 million visitors a year to a walkable convention district in a city with a metro from the airport. The largest exhibit space is 2.6 million square feet and there is a total 3.9 million square feet of meeting space. Get the best rate on an Atlanta hotel here.

San Diego

With some of the USA’s best year-round weather and easy access to the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is a popular sun-and-fun destination all year. The city boasts 70 miles of beaches and 92 golf courses. It has 2.6 million square feet of meeting space and 210 hotels to choose from.

See rates and point earnings on San Diego Hotels.

Washington DC

Washington D.C.

I once attended a convention lunch so large in D.C. that I couldn’t even see the person on stage speaking unless I looked at the big video monitor. The nation’s capital has a massive conference center in a convenient location not far from the government buildings and the Smithsonian. That ballroom I had lunch in is the size of 7 football fields and it’s part of 2.2 million square feet of meeting and exhibition space.

Be advised that D.C. hotel rates are the priciest of any city on this list, though they can drop when congress is in recess. Make sure you get something back from all that money spent by earning Bonwi points from your Washington DC hotel.

(Related post: Explore the Distilleries and Breweries of Washington, DC)

Cities Punching Above Their Weight Class

Downtown Nashville is just a few blocks from the city convention centerThese top six cities aren’t all that surprising: they’re all large metro areas that have plenty to see and do, with easy air access. Some of the other top convention cities are much smaller, however.

Nashville, Tennessee ranks just below D.C. as a convention destination thanks to a downtown conference center near the honky-tonks plus the long-established Gaylord Opryland complex closer to the airport.

New Orleans, LA is America’s favorite party town, with to-go cups of alcohol, a casino near the bars, and a street car system to get you around town. It is also a major conference city, with a massive ballroom and a wide variety of interesting hotels that are clustered close together.

Streetcar in New Orleans

Austin, Texas is experiencing explosive growth and its long-running music scene (with 250+ live venues) has been joined by a thriving tech industry. Some 24 million people a year visit Austin and its highly ranked airport.

San Antonio, Texas may be the wildest wildcard on this list, but it outranks Los Angeles and Boston in attracting conferences. This city doesn’t attract the mega-conventions with its 742,000 square feet of meeting space, but that space is some of the most modern available after a $325 million expansion of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in 2006.

Article and photos by travel writer Tim Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop.

Explore the Distilleries and Breweries of Washington, D.C.

Washington DC distillery

Want to sample some local hooch after you visit the Smithsonian and snap photos of D.C.’s monuments? Here’s a rundown on a few notable local distilleries and breweries in the city.

Among the revolutionaries that moved to Washington, D.C. in the late 1700s to start the USA’s first government, quite a few were were brewers or distillers. So it’s fitting that the nation’s capital has some production facilities of its own nestled into its limited land area. I got a tour of some of the options with City Brew Tours and here’s what we found.

Cotton and Reed Rum

Washington D.C. Distilleries

Cotton & Reed
Although rum played an important (and often unsavory) role in the Americas in the 1700s and 1800s, there was never a rum distillery in Washington. Cotton & Reid Distillery changed all that when they opened in a revamped 1929 factory building in 2016. They make two kinds of rum for now, white and spiced, because nothing has had time to age. So the attached bar serves lots of cocktails—really good cocktails. They’re serious about the craft though, using Lousiana cane sugar and distilling with a botanicals basket that includes the cane itself. One of the founders, Reed Walker, was a NASA engineer so they’ve got the chops for the science part.

Jos. A. Magnus & Co.
Taking the name and recipes from a midwest distiller that ceased operations during prohibition, Jos. A Magnus is a company that takes the best from the past and reworks it for the modern age. (One poster from the original days says, “A staunch friend from sunrise to sunset.” Another says it’ll cure your marital ills.) They make several styles, with their excellent Murray Hill Whiskey, a bourbon, already winning awards. Their Vigilant Gin is made exclusively with American ingredients. It’s a bit sweeter than most, in an attempt to lure in new fans to the spirit.

Heading up the operation is Nicole Hassoun, who mixed cocktails at D.C.’s top gin bar before striking out on her own. The company also makes Royal Seal Vodka, which tastes like…vodka. Good stuff all around.

Joseph Magnus liquor DC

Washington D.C. Breweries

Atlas Brew Works
Downstairs from Jos. A. Magnus in the Ivy City neighborhood is Atlas Brew Works, probably the city’s best-known brewery. Two of their three most popular beers are ones you would easily predict: the easy-drinking District Common and a Ponzi American pale ale. The third one, Rowdy, is kind of a wild card though: a hop-forward rye beer that doesn’t taste quite like anything else I’ve had.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to linger here, but did find out that Atlas is a 100% solar-powered brewery. How many breweries can say that? There’s a great pub vibe here, so make a night of it and go down the row for a flight.

Atlas Brew DC

Blue Jacket Brewery
Located walking distance from the Nationals baseball stadium, Blue Jacket is a new-build brewery inside the walls of an old boilermaker factory, in an area that’s gone from closed-factory-desolate to gentrified glory in just a few years. Because they could plan it all out from scratch inside, this brewery has set up operations in the traditional style, letting gravity take its course. Brewing starts at the top level and then works its way down to the bottom. There modern science takes over and beers are served in the brewpub at the ideal temperature: lagers at a colder temperature than stouts, for instance, all temperature controlled from the back.

Brewery near Washington Nationals baseball

They’re not afraid to experiment at Blue Atlas though, brewing wild yeast beers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, and having two dozen house-brewed beers on tap at any given time. The Mexican Radio spiced stout is a typical example. It’s not like anything you’re ever going to actually find in Mexico, but it’s yummy. This is a bustling restaurant too, so get some food in you between samplings.

There are a few other breweries and brewpubs in D.C. proper. You can check out the whole list of what’s there, in Virginia, and in Maryland nearby at DCbeer.com.

Find the best deals on Washington D.C. hotels and earn far more points for your stays than you would anywhere else—go to Bonwi.com DC.

Washington DC Shines, Despite Today’s Politics

The view of the Jefferson Memorial from a paddleboat Washington's Tidal basin. Max Hartshorne photo.
The view of the Jefferson Memorial from a paddleboat Washington's Tidal basin. Max Hartshorne photo.
The view of the Jefferson Memorial from a paddleboat in Washington’s Tidal Basin. Max Hartshorne photo.

I’m just back from a trip to Washington, DC, where the beauty of the city and the energy of its citizens energized and entertained me. If you haven’t spent time in the capital in recent years I’d highly recommend a visit. More than 20 million people visited DC last year, and there are a whole lot of reasons why that number will keep growing in 2017.

Being able to see the buildings that memorialize our greatest presidents as well as the newest monuments like the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Martin Luther King statue is exhilarating, and refreshing.

In the glittering sun of a lazy Sunday, we climbed into paddleboats and enjoyed monument-viewing up close in the Tidal Basin.  All around were the great monuments, the obelisk nod to our first president, Washington, the rectangular Lincoln Memorial and the newest monument to our nation’s great African American citizens, which looks like a crown, with a dark color that contrasts with the lighter colors of the others.

The city has expanded its water transit network in the face of traffic problems so that now, many residents commute to the city from Maryland and Virginia by water taxi.  We cruised up the muddy Potomac River where were told that the water quality has dramatically improved–but you still can’t go swimming, or, God forbid, drink it.

Yet this didn’t stop a flotilla of kayakers, paddleboarders, and pleasure boaters large and small from taking to the water on this sunny afternoon.

Kayaking on the Potomac River in Washington DC.
Kayaking on the Potomac River in Washington DC.

The river is an area that’s going to be dramatically changed when the expansion of the Kennedy Center is completed in Sept 2018. As part of an ongoing $175 million expansion project, a new pedestrian bridge will connect the Kennedy Center to Rock Creek Trail, which runs along the Potomac River, connecting the National Mall to Georgetown, Rock Creek Park, and the C&O Canal.

If a visit to DC is in your future, you’ll find plenty of hotels to choose from. In fact, 4,635 of the city’s hotel rooms are within walking distance to the Walter Washington Convention Center.

Find DC Hotels on Bonwi, and you’ll earn Bonwi points for a future trip!

Bonwi: The Travel Booking Site That Pays You Back

The Mayflower Hotel: Living History

Do you have that historic hotel you’ve wanted to visit forever but has always seemed out of reach? For me, that hotel was The Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. The Mayflower, built in 1925, has witnessed Washington’s history for the past 90 years. From Inaugural balls to more sordid affairs, every corner of the Mayflower has a story to tell.

The Mayflower is steeped in luxury as much as history- and has rates to match. That is, it does during the week while official Washington goes about its business.  Once the lobbyists clear out, rates at The Mayflower drop within reach of mere mortals. I took advantage of The Mayflower’s weekend discounts to enjoy a stay that didn’t break the bank.

Sometimes when you’ve built up a hotel in your head it can’t possibly be a great as you want it to be. My stay at The Mayflower more than met expectations. It helped that I surrendered to the history with a biography of John F. Kennedy in hand. He had an apartment at The Mayflower during his Congressional days (and it’s rumored one of his many girlfriends was a regular there as well). Curled up with Jack, it was so easy to lose myself in time.

Booking With Bonwi And Getting 26 Percent Back

Making the reasonable weekend rate even more enticing is a new booking site: Bonwi. Bonwi is tailored to make travel shopping both easy and rewarding. The site promises up to five times the rewards you can get from other sites. As Travel Hack TravelingMom, I’m all about rewards. But I also take claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. Bonwi asked TravelingMom to test the site and give an honest review.

Imagine my surprise when Bonwi not only met but exceeded its promises!

The weekend I visited The Mayflower, Bonwi’s rates matched both Travelocity and Expedia. Both offer a rewards program averaging 2 percent that can only be used towards future hotel bookings on the same site. Marriott.com had a $10/night lower rate and offered Marriott Rewards points. But you would need to be loyal to Marriott over many stays to earn enough points to use them.

Bonwi not only offered a competitive rate, the site offered a whopping 12,553 points back on a $479 two night booking: a 26% rewards earning rate! Even better, the points are super easy to use. The points posted within a day of checkout and are usable towards airfare, hotel, or even gift cards at the rate of 1 penny a point.

tuscan flatbread enjoyed during trip booked using Bonwi

Edgar’s Tusca Flatbread was great as lunch but was even better as leftover dinner. Photo by Dia Adams, Travel Hack Traveling Mom

Savoring Our Stay

A highlight of using Bonwi was knowing that I had rewards waiting for me when I got home. That gave me flexibility to splurge where I might not have otherwise.

Among the long list of Mayflower Alumni is J. Edgar Hoover ,who dined in the hotel’s restaurant daily for decades. Edgar’s restaurant in the lobby pays homage to Mr. Hoover while presenting a menu that is firmly in the 21st Century. I met some friends for lunch in the storied setting. We loved our Tuscan Flatbread bursting with dried figs, crispy prosciutto, caramelized onion and Gorgonzola for lunch. And I loved the cold leftovers even more at dinner back in my room.

Reaping Booking Site Rewards

Now I’m back home with 14,053 Bonwi Rewards burning a hole in my pocket–the points from my stay plus 1,500 bonus points customers get for signing up. The easiest way to cash out is with a $100 gift card to Amazon, Target, or any number of retailers or restaurant chains.

I plan on using mine on my next hotel booking. Disney World is an especially good value using Bonwi as it’s really hard to find ways to save on Disney Resorts. My points cover a night at Pop Century entirely (April 30) or I can use them for $140.53 towards a higher level resort and pay the difference. The room rate is exactly the same as on Disney’s own site.

I’ll still get all of the benefits of being a Disney Resort guest including Magic Bands, Early Magic Hours, and early access to FastPasses. I just won’t have to pay for it!

Does Bonwi Sound Like A Site That Could Work For You? I’d Love To Hear Your Thoughts In The Comments.

Bonwi is a new travel booking site that promises up to five times the rewards you can get from other sites. Does Bonwi live up to the hype? Travel Hack Traveling Mom checked out the site. You might be surprised by what she found.

by Dia Adams, Travel Hack TravelingMom