I never pay more than $4 for a pattern. The pattern companies' websites run sales frequently, and fabric stores have patterns on sale for $.99 or $1.99 almost constantly. The selection varies – one week it will be Butterick, the next Simplicity, and so forth. You can check the sales flyers for fabric stores such as Jo-Ann and Hancock Fabrics to see which brand is on sale during certain dates. The sub-brands don’t go on sale but are only $3-4 at regular price. They can be found at some Wal-Marts as well as fabric stores.
Is one brand better than another? In my experience, not really. My personal preference is Simplicity, but I’ve used all the brands with relatively equal success. The advantages of the sub-brands are they’re easy to sew and always inexpensive; no need to wait for a sale. The advantage of the “top level” brands – Simplicity, Butterick, McCall’s and Vogue – is their greater variety of styles.