When planning a trip, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is where you’re going to stay. Two popular options include motels and hotels. The best accommodation for your trip depends on the type of trip you’re taking, your budget, and your personal preference. To help you decide, this guide outlines the difference between and lists the pros and cons of staying in a hotel vs motel. We’ll cover location, cost, cleanliness, amenities, comfort, security, and more.
Hotels offer more amenities and services and better locations. Motels are cheaper and are conveniently located near highways, making them great for road trips. Generally, hotels are better for vacationers, business travelers, and those looking for a bit of luxury. Motels are better for road trippers, those on a tight budget, and those who don’t care about amenities.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve spent about 1/3 of my life on the road. During that time, I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels and motels. In this guide, I’ll share my personal experience.
- Convenient location near highways and outskirts of cities
- Smaller properties
- Can be good for long term stays
- Great choice for road trips
- Homey and rustic atmosphere
Cons of Motels
- Fewer amenities
- No services
- Simple and basic rooms
- Less secure
- Can be less clean
Pros of Hotels
- Central location near attractions or points of interest
- More amenities
- More services
- Better security
- More luxurious
- Generally cleaner
- Better hospitality
- Modern and clean atmosphere
Cons of Hotels
- More expensive
- Not ideal for long term stays
- Can feel corporate and bland
An Overview of Motels and Hotels
Motels are usually located outside of cities near major roads and highways and along tourist routes. They are an ideal accommodation option for those who need a place to stay overnight during their journey. They offer plenty of parking and are generally easier to access with a car than hotels.
Most traditional motels have 1 or 2 floors. The door to each room leads outside. Usually, there are no interior hallways. You can park right in front of your room.
The term ‘motel’ combines the words ‘motor’ and ‘hotel’. They were originally called motor hotels because they catered to people traveling by car. Motels are most common in North America but they are found in other parts of the world as well.
Hotels offer accommodation as well as a range of other services and amenities including a restaurant, pool, spa, and gym. There are also valets, bellboys, a concierge, and room services offered. Many hotels also offer event centers and banquet rooms as well.
Hotel rooms can offer high-end amenities such as premium beds, linens, and toiletries. Suites are available with a kitchen, living area, and multiple bedrooms.
Hotels can be classified by stars. One-star hotels are similar to motels. Five-star hotels are luxury resorts with all of the above amenities.
Motel Vs Hotel: What’s the Difference?
Motels are usually located just off major highways and roadways, on the outskirts of towns and near airports. Motels are conveniently located for people who are just passing through. You can pull off the highway, sleep for a night in a motel, and then continue your journey the next day. This makes motels ideal for long-distance travelers.
Hotels are usually located in the center of a city in a downtown area or near vacation areas. You’ll find hotels near business districts, convention centers, airports, tourist attractions, beaches, casinos, theme parks, or sports arenas. Pretty much anywhere a tourist or business traveler would need to stay, there is a hotel conveniently located nearby.
Motels are cheaper than hotels. On average, a room in a motel in the United States costs $45-$100 per night. Hotel rooms usually cost more than $100 per night. According to this article from Hotel Management, an average hotel room in the United States costs $149.90 per night.
The sky is the limit for hotel rooms in terms of price. A luxury hotel might charge $300-$500 per night for a basic room. A suite in a luxury hotel can cost thousands of dollars per night.
Motels are cheaper than hotels for a number of reasons. First, they offer fewer amenities. You’re not paying for a spa or gym when you stay at a motel.
Motels also save money on labor. They don’t have a bellboy, concierge, security, or maintenance personnel. They usually only employ a receptionist and a couple of housekeepers. Oftentimes the owner works at the hotel.
Motels also save on furnishings. They use cheaper beds, linens, toiletries, TVs, and furniture than hotels.
Motels are also located on cheaper land. Rent is lower on the edge of cities and in rural areas than in central locations.
All of this saves money, allowing motels to charge guests less per night.
Of course, the price of both motels and hotels varies greatly depending on their location. A motel room in an expensive area could cost more than a hotel room in an inexpensive area. You may pay more for a motel room in Los Angeles than a hotel room in rural Ohio.
Hotels provide a variety of amenities for their guests to help make their stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. One of the most popular hotel amenities is a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and spa area. Some resort-style properties offer multiple swimming pools (indoor and outdoor) or even a private beach. Most hotels also have a fitness center.
Additionally, many hotels have both a bar and restaurant with room service, making it easy and convenient to get meals without ever having to leave the property. Large hotels may offer multiple restaurants offering different types of cuisine. There may be a buffet, a steakhouse, and a cafe. Some large hotels have a casino and nightclub as well.
All hotel accommodations typically come equipped with free WiFi so guests can stay connected. In addition, some hotels may offer conference rooms and event centers for business meetings or other special functions. Hotels that cater to business travelers may offer a business center with workspaces, printers, etc.
Higher-end hotels offer premium beds and linens. Hotels also offer basic toiletries as well as razors, shaving cream, bathrobes, and slippers.
Hotels also offer more in-room amenities. Most rooms come with a TV, iron and ironing board, coffee maker, and a hair dryer. Most hotels also offer a safe in the room to keep your valuables secure while you’re away.
Motels offer fewer amenities and services. Most motels offer basic rooms with no frills. Usually, there is a coffee maker and soap and shampoo.
Some motels offer basic amenities. These days, many motels have a swimming pool. Motels that are designed for longer stays might include a mini fridge and microwave in the room or a kitchenette. Some motels serve a complimentary continental breakfast in the morning. In addition, most motels offer free Wi-Fi these days.
Variety of Services Offered
Hotels offer a variety of services. Most hotels offer room service from their on-site restaurant. Many hotels offer spa services if you need some rest and relaxation. Concierge services are available if you need help booking a tour or sightseeing. Many hotels offer valet parking. There is a bellboy to help you with your heavy luggage. Sometimes a shuttle service or a driver is available to help you get around. Laundry service is usually available as well. Some resort hotels offer childcare.
Hotels may also provide packages for special occasions that include additional services. For example, resorts may host weddings, parties, banquets, or large group gatherings. Some hotels offer special services for honeymoons and romantic getaways. Many larger hotels also offer conference and event venues. These are perfect for business meetings or other events. There are even conference hotels that specialize in hosting large events.
Motels offer fewer services than hotels. Oftentimes, there are some basics offered such as laundry service (for a fee) and wake-up service. Motels don’t offer room service but you can order delivery from local restaurants through various food delivery apps such as Doordash or Uber Eats. Of course, there is a housekeeping service. You will have a clean room every day when you stay in a motel.
Hotels are larger than motels. According to Statista, an average upscale chain hotel has 313 rooms. An average economy chain hotel has 75 rooms. To compare, an average motel has less than 25 rooms. Some small roadside motels only have 8-15 rooms.
Design and Appearance
Motels and hotels differ in design and appearance. Traditional motels have one or two floors with rooms that open directly to the outside. The rooms open toward the parking lot. There are no interior halls. There may or may not be an elevator. Motels have a small reception office that you access from the outside.
Motels are often built in I, L, or U shaped buildings with large parking lots. This design gives guests the convenience of parking right in front of their room. This makes it quick and easy to unload your luggage at night and load up again in the morning.
Hotels are usually large buildings with multiple stories and hundreds of rooms connected by long halls and elevators. You enter a hotel through the lobby. From there, you can access the elevators. Hotel rooms open up to the hotel’s interior halls. Many hotel rooms offer private balconies.
Not all hotels are large. A boutique hotel is a small hotel that offers unique design touches. Boutique hotels typically range from 10 to 100 rooms. They focus on personalized services and comfort. They often have distinct designs that set them apart from typical corporate hotels, such as custom furniture, unique decor and art pieces, modern amenities, and even themed rooms. Boutique hotels offer a cozy atmosphere and a more exclusive feel.
Safety and Security
Hotels are considered to be safer than motels. Hotels tend to feature better security. For example, most hotels have 24-hour reception staff, electronic key card systems, and CCTV monitoring of the entire property. Larger hotels have their own dedicated security staff.
There are also more people on staff at a hotel compared to a motel. There are door attendants, receptionists, bellboys, housekeepers, parking valets, managers, maintenance staff, cooks, bartenders, and more. Large properties may have hundreds of employees. Having so many people around can act as added security. There are more people to report any suspicious activity.
In addition, most hotel rooms have a built-in safe where you can lock your passport, cash, and other important documents as well as your valuable electronic devices such as your laptop, camera, and phone. This gives peace of mind while you’re out.
The design of hotel rooms also makes them safer. In order for a thief or criminal to enter your room, they would need to pass through the lobby. The rooms open to interior halls. They are not accessible from the outside.
Motels are also safe but they can be a bit less safe than hotels. At many smaller motels, the reception closes at night. There is usually a bell that you can ring to call the receptionist. Nobody is keeping an eye on the property during the night.
There are fewer people around when you stay at a hotel. The whole place might be run by two people. Most motel rooms also don’t have a safe for your valuables.
It is also easier for thieves or other criminals to access a motel room. Most motel rooms open to the outside. Anyone can walk right up to your motel room door. This makes it much easier for a criminal to reach your room. Of course, most properties have a CCTV system these days.
Hotels and motels are both safe accommodation options. At some properties, theft can be an issue. If something goes missing from your room, chances are an employee took it. Most staff members are honest. Once in a while, a dishonest housekeeper or even a hotel manager may steal from a guest. Theft in hotels and motels is rare but not unheard of.
To be safe, it’s best to store all of your valuables in your suitcase while you’re out. Lock your suitcase. If there is a safe in the room, use it.
The cleanliness of motels and hotels often depends on the individual property. Generally, hotels are cleaner. This is because hotels have more resources to work with. They can afford professional housekeeping.
Hotels also have higher standards. For example, they may use hypoallergenic cleaning products, launder bedding every day, and follow cleaning protocols set by corporate. Chain hotels set strict cleanliness standards that all locations must follow. When you stay in a chain hotel, you know it will be clean.
In addition, hotels can afford professional pest control services. You won’t find bed bugs, ants, or cockroaches in your hotel room.
On the other hand, motels may not have these same standards in place. Many motels are independent. Some are spotlessly clean while others are filthy.
When you check into a motel or a hotel, it’s a good idea to check for bed bugs, regardless of the cleanliness of the property. If you bring these home with you, they can be extremely difficult to get rid of. For more info, check out my guide to avoiding bed bugs while traveling.
Hotel and motel staff can vary greatly depending on the size of the property and its level of service. Hotel staff are professional and well-trained. They often have a higher degree of customer service skills. Many hotel employees have been formally trained in the hospitality industry. Either in school or by the company they work for.
Hotels also tend to employ a larger staff with designated roles for each employee. Everyone performs their own job. There are door attendants, receptionists, bellboys, parking valets, housekeepers, managers, cooks, bartenders, and more. In addition, hotel staff members are always dressed in uniform.
On the other hand, motels usually have fewer staff members per shift. They may not have the same level of professionalism or experience. Oftentimes, the employees are not formally trained in the hospitality industry. The same staff member may also perform multiple jobs. For example, at some small hotels, the person working reception may also help clean rooms and do maintenance tasks.
However, motel owners will often go the extra mile to make sure their guests have a great stay. Many motels are family businesses. Because motels are smaller, many motel owners are able to personalize the service. The owner might check you in and offer you some information on local attractions.
Hotel and motels have completely different atmospheres. Hotels tend to be modern, clean, and meticulously maintained. They are also active. Reception is always open. There are always people around. Hotels are also more upscale. They often have higher-end furniture and appliances as well as newer and better-quality bedding and towels. Hotels are also located in better neighborhoods, such as the city centers, touristy areas, and wealthy neighborhoods. In addition, hotels usually use light-colored bedding, towels, and paint. This makes the room feel bright and welcoming. This all adds to the atmosphere.
Motels are usually clean and pleasant. Everything is just a bit cheaper including the fixtures and linens. There are also fewer people around. In addition, motels are usually located in areas with lower real estate values. These neighborhoods can be less than desirable. Motels that are located near airports or on the edge of cities can be kind of boring. There isn’t much around.
Some motels have a run-down and depressing atmosphere. Motels are often neglected. In these cases, the carpets may be stained or the paint may be peeling. Some of the fixtures may be broken or damaged. Sometimes the design is outdated. I’ve stayed in motels that look like they haven’t been updated since the 70s. For whatever reason, many motels also use darker-colored bedding, carpeting, and wallpaper. This makes the rooms feel a bit dim and depressing.
Motels that welcome long-term guests also have a bit of a sad atmosphere. The people living there are usually down on their luck or homeless. If you’re on vacation, you may not want to put yourself in this type of environment.
Duration of Stay
Hotels are usually designed to provide short-term stays. At most hotels, the average stay ranges from 1 to 3 days. Hotels also welcome long-term guests. Staying at a hotel long-term gets pricey.
Motels usually offer both short-term and longer stays. Motels offer basic rooms for those who just need a place to sleep for the night. Many motels also offer weekly and monthly rates for long-term guests. For long-term guests, motels often offer rooms with a kitchenette.
If you’re looking for a temporary place to live, a motel is a good option.
How Long Can You Stay in a Motel or Hotel?
Generally, there is no limit to the number of days you can stay in a motel or hotel. Some properties even offer weekly or monthly discounts or extended-stay packages for longer stays over several months. You can stay as long as you keep paying.
Having said this, sometimes there are rules or restrictions regarding the length of stay. Some properties have a maximum stay. This maximum stay is often 14 nights. Sometimes it’s 29 nights.
These rules are put in place because, in some jurisdictions, if a guest stays more than a certain number of days, they may become a tenant under the eyes of the law. There are different sets of laws for tenants and hotel guests. Tenants have more rights. They can’t be easily evicted. Hotels may not want to deal with this so they set a stay limit to avoid it. In this case, the motel manager may ask you to leave for 2 days every 29 days so the time resets.
Sometimes there are local regulations that limit how long you can stay in a hotel. Hotels are designated for short-term stays. They aren’t long-term accommodations.
Can You Stay in a Hotel or Motel for a Few Hours?
Yes. You can stay in a hotel for just a few hours. If you’re just passing through, you might check in late at night and check out early in the morning. You may only stay in the room for a few hours. In this case, you’ll usually have to pay for the entire night. Most hotels do not rent rooms hourly.
There are some exceptions. Some hotels offer hourly rates for shorter stays. For example, love hotels typically offer this option for couples. Oftentimes there are 1-3 hour packages. Some airport hotels also offer hourly accommodation options for those who need to rest during a long layover.
Who Should Stay in a Hotel?
- Business travelers
- Those seeking luxurious services
- Tourists and vacationers
- Those hosting a large event
- Those looking for an experience such as skiing, surfing, safaris, or various activities can stay in specialty hotels
Who Should Stay in a Motel?
- People who are on a tight budget
- Road trippers
- Those who don’t care about services and amenities
Those who need a temporary place to live
Popular Hotel Brands
Popular Motel Brands
America’s Best Value Inn
Of course, there are also many independently run motels. Many are family businesses with one location.
What is an Inn?
An inn is a type of accommodation that is usually located in a rural area or small town. You’ll often find them in the country along highways. Inns are usually smaller than hotels but larger than motels. Like motels, inns cater to travelers who are just passing through.
Inns offer fewer amenities than hotels. They might offer Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a TV, toiletries, a coffee maker, free parking, and laundry facilities. Most Inns also serve a continental breakfast in the morning. Some even have a small restaurant.
Inns are often family-owned and operated. There are also large chain inns such as Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn. In terms of price, staying in an inn usually costs more than a motel but less than a hotel.
FAQ About Motels and Hotels
Is a Motel or Hotel Better?
Neither is really better. Depending on your budget, your travel needs, and your personal preferences, a motel or hotel may be the better option.
Hotels are typically more expensive than motels but offer more amenities. Hotels are also more accommodating than motels. They generally have more staff and offer additional services such as valet parking, concierge services, and room service. If you’re looking for luxurious services, stay in a hotel.
Motels are usually more basic. They focus on affordability. Motel rooms are cheaper due to their location away from the city center, lower quality fixtures, and lack of amenities.
The location is an important consideration as well. Hotels are usually centrally located whereas motels are usually located near highways. If you want to stay near a particular attraction, a hotel is usually the better choice. If you want to pull off the highway and sleep, motels are more convenient.
For those looking to save some money without sacrificing too much comfort then a motel might be the better option for you. If you’re looking for luxury and convenience then a hotel might be the best choice.
Why is it Called a Motel instead of a Hotel?
The term ‘motel’ emerged in the early 20th century as a combination of the words ‘motor’ and ‘hotel.’ Motels were originally called ‘motor hotels.’ These properties catered to families and business people who were traveling by car.
The idea was that visitors driving into town could easily find a place to stay. This is why motels tend to be located near highways and main roads rather than in downtown areas. This allows travelers quick and easy access.
Motels were at their peak during the 1950s and 1960s.
What’s the Difference Between an Inn and a Hotel?
The main difference between an inn and a hotel is that inns tend to be smaller and provide a more intimate experience. Inns usually have fewer rooms and fewer amenities than hotels. For example, most inns don’t have a fitness center, bar, or spa. Hotels focus on providing luxurious services.
In addition, inns are usually family-run. Hotels are usually owned by larger corporations. Inns also tend to have a more homey or rustic decor. Inns are also cheaper than hotels.
What’s the Difference Between an Inn and a Motel?
The main differences between an inn and a motel are the location and type of accommodation offered. Inns are usually located in residential areas in smaller towns, rural areas, and in the country. Motels are located on the side of major roads and highways in commercial areas.
Inns are also decorated more intimately. The rooms have character. Motel rooms are usually designed for affordability. Fixtures and linens are cheaper. Inns are also a bit more expensive than motels.
In my travels, I’ve stayed in dozens of motels and hotels. I prefer hotels, when given the option. I think everyone does. Hotels are more luxurious. They offer more amenities. They’re cleaner. The service also tends to be better. Staying in a hotel room is comfortable. It’s a vacation.
Sometimes hotels are out of my price range so I stay in a cheaper motel instead. I also tend to stay in motels while road tripping, out of convenience.
When staying in a motel, I try to stay in a chain motel, such as a Motel 6 or Super 8. These properties are usually clean and well-managed. The experience is usually positive.
I have had a couple of negative experiences staying in small independently run motels. Sometimes they’re noisy. Sometimes there are shady-looking characters hanging around outside.
When deciding between a motel or hotel for your next trip, it’s important to consider your budget, travel needs, and personal preferences.
Hotels usually offer more luxury amenities while motels focus on affordability. If you need to stay near a particular attraction or in the city center, a hotel will offer a more convenient location. If you just need a place to sleep for the night, a motel may be the better choice. For those looking to stay someplace a bit nicer than a motel but don’t need the amenities of a hotel, consider an inn.
Whichever type of accommodation you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Do you prefer to stay in motels or hotels when you travel? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.