I'm not ashamed to say it - I like cheap hotels.
The way I look at it, when I'm on vacation, I would rather save on the hotel and have more money to explore my new destination.
Not that I'm a fan of sketchy hotels. There's a major difference. Here's the criteria I use when booking a hotel. Even if I can't score every goal on the list, I try for as many as possible.
My value hotel criteria:
-Free airport shuttle or easily accessible from public transportation
-Private bathroom (duh)
-Safe location, walking distance to market, convenience store, bar, restaurant
-No add on or miscellaneous fees
Things I don't care about and try to avoid:
-A bellman to open the door for me and carry my bags to the room
-Anything with the word "luxury"
-Extra fees for Wi-Fi
-Minibar or in-room snacks (for a fee)
-Pay per view movies or in-room entertainment
-Extra fee for in-room coffee, helloooo Sheraton ;-(
So there you have it. It basically comes down to location. Free Wi-Fi is a close #2, and free breakfast is nice. Tourist class hotels such as Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, Days Hotel, Red Roof Inn, etc. are usually good bets.
If you want to keep those nickels and dimes in your pocket, generally avoid full service hotel such as Renaissance, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, and Wyndham.
These are only general rules and subject to change.
A little research on TripAdvisor can pay huge dividends in terms of learning about the hotel's surrounding neighborhood. Cheap restaurants and markets within walking distance will save you a bundle.
Here's a YouTube video I made of the Travelodge Center Strip Hotel in Las Vegas. Watch the video for the epitome of a value hotel.