Updated: May 18, 2022
And nothing really rocks, and nothing really rolls,
And nothing's ever worth the cost,
- Jim Steinman, Bat Out of Hell
Whenever I make a decision that involves money (and don't they all), if the "economical" decision doesn't work out, then I am invariably informed, "you get what you pay for." When I was younger (a year ago) I would argue that the decision made was a sound one and attempt to explain to her the outcome using facts and logic. Now wiser, I don't bother (as much) and instead sip my Flackhatttan (drinking premium . . . paying medium), content with the wisdom that "you do not get what you pay for," you actually, as they say in the Navy, "get what you inspect, not what you expect."
For those of you that agree with me, there is no reason to read further as I have confirmed a lifetime of experiences, for those who don't, I'll try my best.
In September of 2017, my wife and I sold everything we owned less that could be stored in a 12' x 8' x 8' Pod and traveled around the world. We tried to see it all: Krakow, Marrakesh, Cape Town, Paris, Berlin, Maputo, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, and San Francisco¹ (ranked in order of increasing cost of lodgings). If we didn't visit it, it wasn't for lack of trying. During this time we slept at numerous hotels, motels, condos, tents, hostels, planes, and even on a ferry. I tried to keep lodging expenses around $100/night and quickly realized that paying more did not generally yield better quality lodgings. And when it did, the quality was rarely ever proportional to the increased cost.
I stayed in numerous hotels costing around $100/night and in a little less numerous hotels costing around $150/night. When I did pay $150/night:
20% of the time the quality of the $150 hotel was so evident that paying the extra $50 was well worth it. And by that, I mean a nicer, cleaner room, with a nicer, cleaner bathroom, located in a nicer, clearer neighborhood with a nicer, cleaner staff.
30% of the time the quality of the $150 hotel was so unevident that I felt like I just flushed $50 down the toilet (that could have been a little cleaner).
50% of the time the quality was better, but not $50 better. And because my expectations had been raised so high, I actually felt that much worse when the tv didn't get TCM, the internet was spotty, or when awakened way too early by a "knock, knock" and a stage whispered "Housekeeping!!", meant for the room across the hall. Paying a lot more for only a little more wound up ruining the whole experience!
Am I wrong to expect that a hotel that costs 50% more, be at least 50% better? Or should I just accept the fact that hotels that cost 50% more are 80% of the time not 50% better? BTW: I should tell you upfront, I'm not an accepting man.
In Superior, PA I observed this above effect firsthand while dining in a restaurant called Superior Motors which had been recommended by Tony Bourdain (and therefore charged accordingly) but just wasn't worth the extra cost (indifferent service serving indifferent food). It was at this time my quality vs. cost theory crystallized in my mind and I, therefore, immediately discussed it at length with Mrs. AAR (now wasn't she the lucky one). A fellow on the next barstool named Brack (yeah, that was his name) agreed with me, but also mentioned he was visiting for the fifth time. He had had two excellent experiences and two not so excellent experiences and so I guess . . . this was the rubber match²? It appears that he agreed with my theory . . . in theory, as a .500 field goal percentage will get you into Springfield, it should not get you to eat at an expensive restaurant a fifth time! It did though validate another theory I have, that many people will continually pay high prices for mediocre quality.
Being an engineer I need to put numbers to this to help better understand the issue and validate my theory. I, unfortunately, did not keep a lodgings diary so do not have detailed cost vs. quality stats on all the various hotels at which I stayed. This may have been for the best as after a while, you, the reader might have become (more) bored: as how many times do you want to hear me complain about the cleanliness of a hotel room, the breakfast at a Quality Inn, the noise from an adjacent Harley dealership, or the clientele at a Motel 6? Instead, I will rate a far more interesting but far more subjective subject: Museums.
During my travels, I have visited quite a few museums and as time wore on, have become more judicious in spending my time (and Euros) on them. There are a lot of tourists out there and more than a few museums have sprung up to take advantage of this fact. When one travels on vacation, one may feel obligated to visit a museum because "hey, we're on vacation" and "we need to get some culture." But when every day is in a sense vacation, you give the Buffalo Bill Museum Museum and Grave at $5, a second thought (though the grave was free), as well as the Molly Brown House Museum at $14. Though I wound up visiting the latter (as the dutiful husband got the better of the cynical New Yorker).
The best art museum I toured was the Louvre (I mean come on, it's the Louvre), with the best museum museum being a tie between the Imperial War Museum in London and the Strokestown Park, House, Gardens & National Famine Museum in Ireland.
Trying to analyze museums via quality vs. cost is much more difficult than lodgings, due to the subjectivity of measuring quality and the variance of cost. There are more than a few museums out there that charge very little to see quite a bit with the Magritte Museum in Brussels, Belgium being a prime example. I mention it because it was my wife's favorite and it only cost ~$12 to see over 200 Magritte originals in a well-thought-out and informative museum.
Also, there are a few outstanding museums that charge absolutely nothing. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City charges nothing to see a Louvre-like collection of art stretching from ancient Egypt to something created moments ago. Same with the Cincinnati Art Museum and the mother of all military museums (MOAMM), the aforementioned Imperial War Museum.
In order to better understand this issue, I have taken it upon myself to create a graph of quality vs. cost for many of the museums I have visited. Quality is measured between 0 and 5 and cost being the non-discounted USD admission price (not the veterans discounted price that I always ask for, and occasionally get).
I have then created a trend line that fairs through all the data points. Let us call this red trend line for lack of a better name, The Flack Curve®.
Oh my God, what does it all mean?! Well, to be honest, I'm not really sure. With the large number of excellent museums with free admissions, I was expecting more of a horizontal line. The fact that the line does rise, though asymptotically, from left to right, indicates that paying up does increase the quality - not all that much, but something along the lines of $33 per unit of quality (F).
One interesting thing I did notice is that all the museums listed above the Flack Curve®⁴, I would unhesitatingly recommend, while the ones below I would consider more middling in nature. One might expect something like this as quality is measured on the verticle, but the fact that the Flack Curve® neatly bisects the good and the not as good is notable. It will be interesting to see where future museums fall - don't worry, I'll keep you informed.
I must admit that this all has a Dead Poets Society feel to it, with Mr. Keating claiming that a poetry measuring system as being "excrement" and then exhorting his students to "rip it out . . . be gone J. Evans Pritchard, P H D.". In the end, while it may be barely possible to measure the quality vs. cost of a hotel, it may be impossible to measure it for a museum. But this will not stop me from continuing to measure it, as the real traveler knows, life is about the journey, not the destination.
Note - for you statisticians out there, see below for the raw data:
Museum Cost ($) Quality (F)* Comments
The Louvre 18 5 It's the Louvre!!!
USS Intrepid 30 3 $30!!!! Free admission for Vets made this palatable
Arnhem Airborne Mus (Ned) 15 3 Ever see the movie "A Bridge Too Far?"
Molly Brown House 14 2 What if every survivor of the Titanic got a museum?
The Gateway Arch 25 3.75 Shape is easlity explained by: y = b cosh (x/a) = b(eˣ/ᵃ + e⁻ˣ/ᵃ)/2
Ball of Twine 0 0.2 The Queen of Twine helped us add our own bit of twine
Detroit Inst Arts 14 3.9 Almost sold it all to bail out the city
Michener Mus of Art 15 3.5 Michener's actual office and Pennsylvania Impressionists
WW I Museum (KC) 20 3 Too many docents & rifles, not enough context & story
Football HoF 26 3 A man can only take so much of another man's ego!
Apartheid Museum 7 4.25 Whites and blacks were both petrified of each other
Grand Rapids Art Museum 10 3 A Calder: stabile (Blunt-Tail Dog), mobile (Red Rudder in the Air), and some sketches
Gerald Ford Lib & Mus 10 2.25 Contains the requisite Oval Office reproduction
Chicago S&I 40 4 Extensive - it even has it's own U-boat
Henry Ford Museum 44 4 JFK's caddy, the Rosa Park bus, and a whole lot of cars
Musee Picasso-Paris 22.8 4 Numerous Picassos arranged in chronological order to tell a story about their creator
Topography of Terror (Ber) 0 3.25 Reveals the inner workings of the most heinous secret police ever known to man
House of Terror (Bud) 11.25 3.75 Former secret police HQ - exhibits re: the fascist & communist regimes & victims
Magritte Museum 12 4.5 Mrs. AAR's favorite
BMoCA (Boulder) 2 0.5 A fake museum for a fake city
Wright Bros. Natl Monument 10 3.2 Park nearby and walk over for free (hypothetically)
Des Moines Art Center 0 4 The amount first-class pieces of art in this place is "ri-goddamn-diculous"
T.el Aviv Museum of Modern Art 15 2.5 Meh! A whole bunch of bupkis
Imperial War Museum 0 4.6 The Best Damn Military Museum Period
SA War Museum (Johannesburg) 3 3 Only Me-262 2-seater in existence. Black soldiers who fought for SA during apartheid
The Modern (Fort Worth) 16 2.75 $16 admission was a little steep, especially when I realized it's lacking a Calder
Memento Park (Budapest) 5.5 3 Communist statues in the middle of nowhere (possible idea for confederate statues?)
Tokyo Art Museum 5 3.5 Japan had its own Impressionists . . . who knew?
Nelson-Atkins Museum (KC) 0 4.25 A free Louvre in K.C. Everything from Ancient Egypt to the requisite Calder
Kimbel Art Museum (Ft Worth) 0 4.21 An edited collection of great art in a beautiful building
Kemper Art Museum (KC) 0 2.25 A bunch of BS
Cincinnati Art Museum 0 3.5 Frank Duvaneck's "Whistling Boy" looks like my nephew
Irish Famine Museum 16.8 4.6 Includes a tour of a Manor House (think Downtown Abby), so 2 great museums in one
The Barnes 25 4.75 More Reniors than you can shake a stick at
Escher in the Palace (Ned) 12 4 Intimate, comprehensive, and interactive
* Quality is measured in units of Flack (F)
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ Actually in San Francisco, we were able to stay in the house of friends while they were out of town which made the economics of our stay in the City by the Bay, go from being Boiiing to just Ouch!!!
² The rubber match refers to the final and deciding game in any series, and its origins trace back to the 16th-century English game of lawn bowling. It takes its name, specifically, from either two lawn bowling balls rubbing together — a game-losing mistake — or from the final game’s potential to "rub out," or erase, the losing team.
³ Liberty Leading the People is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France. You know what they say "One man's Revolution is another man's Insurrection."
⁴ The Flack Curve® may remind some readers of the infamous Mendoza Line which is named after Mario Mendoza, the late 70s (very) light-hitting shortstop. When a position player's batting average falls below .200, he is said to have fallen below the Mendoza Line. Note: These two lines are very different, as a positional player that falls below the Mendoza Line should not be in the Major Leagues, while museums that fall below the Flack Curve® may actually still be viewable.
⁵ Rush Hour is a composition of anonymous figures by George Segal that evokes the deep isolation that can occur even when we are surrounded by others. The bronze sculptures are made from casts formed by applying plaster-dipped gauze directly onto the faces and clothed bodies of the models, who were friends and neighbors of the artist. Segal says that each figural form "is a distinct psychological portrait" - which at least for one figure is completely accurate.