by Matt Alderton | September 26, 2014
America's favorite travel brands aren't always the ones that offer the cheapest services, or even the best services. Instead, they're the ones that offer the biggest emotional connection, according to Harris Interactive, which this week published the results of its "2014 Harris Poll EquiTrend" study, which measures the brand equity of more than 1,500 brands across 170 different categories. When it comes to travel, the study concludes, the brands that win are those that create unique experiences and authentic relationships.

"Before booking vacation time, consumers face a variety of choices in where to stay and how to get there. They want to feel a connection to the travel brands they choose," Joan Sinopoli, vice president of brand consulting at Nielsen, Harris Interactive's parent company, said in a statement. "Emotional preference is important: While services may be similar, that emotional connection can create the perception that the 'connected' brand exceeds consumer expectations."

According to the poll, the nation's favorite travel brands are the following:

- Online Travel Service Brand of the Year: Expedia ranked first, followed by Travelocity, then Orbitz.

- Value Airline Brand of the Year: Southwest Airlines ranked first, followed by JetBlue Airways.

- Full-Service Airline Brand of the Year: Alaska/Horizon Airlines ranked first, followed by Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines.

- Luxury Hotel Brand of the Year: Omni Hotels & Resorts ranked first, followed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, W Hotels and Resorts, and The Ritz-Carlton.

- Full-Service Hotel Brand of the Year: Marriott Hotels ranked first, followed by Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard by Marriott, Embassy Suites, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton, and Hilton Garden Inn.

- Extended Stay Hotel Brand of the Year: Homewood Suites by Hilton ranked first, followed by Residence Inn.

- Mid-Market Hotel Brand of the Year: Hampton Inn & Suites ranked first, followed by Holiday Inn Express Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Comfort Suites, Best Western Hotels, and Country Inn & Suites by Carlson.

- Economy Hotel Brand of the Year: Americas Best Value Inn ranked first, followed by Super 8 and Red Roof Inn.

Overall, airlines' rankings are especially notable, according to Sinopoli. "At the start of the economic downturn, EquiTrend scores showed a drop across airlines as the industry almost universally started charging fees beyond checked baggage for things like blankets, pillows, meals, boarding privileges, ticket changes, and even reservations for seats closer to the front," he said. "In 2014, we are finally seeing a recovery from those lower equity scores -- with significant increases in brand equity across several carriers and no significant declines in equity for any airline brands."