Wondering what exactly is the difference between hotels and motels? There are quite a few things that make it easy to tell them apart, besides the first letter of the name!
Building size, layout, amount of rooms and the services offered are just a few things that make a difference between a hotel and a motel. But there’s a lot more to talk about like the number of staff each type of accommodation employs and how you get to your room. Read on if you want to know about all the various differences between hotel and motel accommodation!
The main difference between a hotel and a motel is its layout. Hotels are traditionally big buildings with rooms over several floors. They feature stairs, elevators and hallways through which you get to your room. And in most cases, you have to go through the lobby and walk past receptionists to get to the elevators.
Motels are much smaller than hotels and a lot of them don’t have more than one floor. Rooms are accessed through the parking lot in most motels, so even if there is a second or third floor you can only get to it via stairs.
Additionally, hotels are designed to accommodate a lot of guests with hundreds and thousands of rooms. A motel might have a few dozen rooms and that’s it. Motels are much smaller in size for several reasons, starting with the cost of building it. Everything about motels is cheap, from the materials used to build it to the fee you must pay for a room.
Since there are so many hotels out there, they have to compete to attract guests. A lot of the popular ones have unique designs and features that you can’t experience anywhere else in the world. That costs a lot more money than slapping a few rooms together near a parking lot, and it’s one of the main reasons why hotel rooms are so much pricier than motel rooms.
There are pros and cons to both these accommodation types – in motels, you have more privacy. You don’t have to walk through a lobby full of people to get to your room, and you can bring guests without anyone seeing you.
On the other hand, the main benefit of hotels is security. Motels might feature a security guard here and there, but that’s more of an exception than a rule. Hotels will have at least one doorman and a lot of security indoors. Also, you can’t really walk into a hotel and just head upstairs – you have to check-in at reception and if you have no business being there, they won’t let you bother guests.
Obviously, this is not the case with every single facility out there. But as with every rule, there will always be an exception.
Hotels usually feature a central location that is close to all the main tourist areas. Motels, on the other hand, are more frequently located on the side of the road, usually quite far from city centers. There’s a method to this madness – motels were originally built for motorists, who would just need a place to spend the night so they could continue traveling in the morning. That’s why they are near highways and freeways – it’s the most convenient location for people who don’t plan to stay there longer than one night.
On the other hand, hotels are built for vacationers. If you’re booking five nights at a hotel in the city center, you’re doing it because you want your vacation to be as perfect as possible. You don’t have to worry about transportation because all the important attractions are within walking distance. Meals are usually included in the price, as is regular housekeeping.
Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to hotels. Location is a big factor in the price of accommodation, so you’ll usually find that the centrally located hotels are much more expensive than the ones that are 10-15 minutes away from the main tourist hubs. Also, hotels that are further away more likely to have a lower star rating, simply because they’re not in the hottest location.
But a lower star rating also means better prices, so it’s not a bad idea to go for a three-star hotel if you want to book more nights for the same amount of money. Plus, a lot of the hotels will be close to bus or metro stations, so it’s not like you’ll have wander around for hours to get to where you’re going.
What kind of facilities can you expect in either of these accommodations? Hotels will usually give you the full package, particularly the more expensive ones. Expect at least one restaurant and bar on-site, a gym, sauna, pool, entertainment/lounge area, business center etc. Motels might feature a pool but that’s it – don’t expect masseuses to be at your beck and call, and you’re certainly not getting free meals.
If you want a minibar, room service and housekeeping to keep your room clean while you’re out and about exploring, a hotel is definitely more up your alley. Motels offer only the most basic facilities for guests, but that’s exactly why the lodging is so much cheaper. They don’t have to employ nearly as many staff as hotels do, so they’re able to charge less for the rooms.
And of course, let’s not forget about the Las Vegas hotels with their massive casinos. Those are designed to provide you with everything you could possibly need during your stay, so that you don’t have to leave the hotel grounds at all. And they do everything they can to make you spend as much time as possible in the casino.
Hotels feature more room variety than motels. You can get a single, a double, a triple, a quad, and then you can also choose between queen and king-sized beds. Some hotels will offer one or two-bedroom apartments, which are great for larger families or groups of friends that want that kind of privacy.
On top of that, most hotels have at least one or two luxurious suites on the top floors, which are meant for the most important guests. Regular Joes rarely get to see the insides of Presidential Suites, but those are commonly found in every fancy hotel.
Also, different types of hotels will include different room sizes and layouts. Marriott’s Residence Inn hotels are a great example of this – the rooms in these hotels are more spacious and better equipped than rooms in their standard hotels. That’s because Residence Inn hotels are a means for people who are staying longer in a particular place, and require all the same amenities they’d have in a proper apartment.
Motels have much less variety when it comes to room types. In most cases you can choose between rooms that have one or two queen beds – the former is a single/double, whereas the latter works for three or four people. They rarely have anything bigger, and they certainly don’t feature fancy presidential suites.
When it comes to what you get in the room, motels and hotels are not that different actually. There should be a proper bathroom in the room, as well as a phone and a TV. Both hotels and motels offer WiFi, but it’s not always free for guests. But that depends on the exact hotel/motel you’re staying at and what their rules are.
Motels can also include a small kitchenette in the room. You won’t get much – maybe a microwave and a coffee maker, plus a mini-fridge at the most. And this is also true for some hotels but it’s not the norm. If you want a kitchenette or a full-sized kitchen in your room, you’ll have to do some research before you book your stay.
Hotels are generally intended for longer stays. If you’re going on a 7-10 day vacation and you don’t want to worry about keeping your room clean or where you’re going to get lunch, a hotel is there to make your life easier. You’re paying for the service so that you can fully enjoy your stay without having to worry about the details.
Also, I have to mention the hotels and resorts that offer ultra-all-inclusive deals. This is by far the best if you want to pay just for the hotel and not have to spend a dime more on your vacation. It is the priciest service, but you get as much food as you can eat and everything you can drink. In most cases, alcoholic beverages are included in this service and you can literally chug away the days (and nights) without spending a dime more. Not a bad way to get your money’s worth! This service is great value if you’re going to a beach hotel far from town, and there’s nothing else to do than sit around the pool and explore the grounds.
Motels, on the other hand, are intended for shorter stays. Motel is short for ‘motorist’s hotel’, and it was originally designed specifically for motorists – hence the large parking lots and ability to get to your room through a parking lot. First motels were built in the early 1920s when US saw an expansion of highways and motorways allowing for cross-country travel. But since road travel was still very time consuming, there was a rise in roadside accommodation for motorists who needed to rest somewhere for the night, before they could get back on the road again. And that’s the purpose of motels.
They are meant for shorter stays, which is exactly why they rarely offer any luxuries. If you just want a place to sleep through the night, a motel is a great option. But if you want all the amenities that will make your vacation better, then definitely head to a hotel.
Hotels are always on the pricier side, even if we’re talking about lousy one-star hotels. In most cases, a decent Airbnb is cheaper than the worst hotel in town, so keep that in mind if cost is significant to your decision. Motels are traditionally much cheaper, and if you’re traveling on a tight budget, you should definitely consider staying at a motel.
Especially if you don’t plan on staying in your room that much while you’re on vacation. Motels are great for people who just need a place to sleep – if you’re walking around the city all day and you’re not worried about meals, it’s not a bad idea to stay at a motel. You can book more nights than in a hotel for the same price, and that’s certainly better for people who don’t care too much for the luxuries and just want to stay in a new place longer.
On the other hand, if you don’t think a vacation without room service counts, then you’re definitely one for hotels. Yes, you’re spending more money for accommodation and services, but you’re also getting more bank for buck. Free meals, housekeeping and security are worth it for most people, as is just pure convenience or being located right in the center of the action.
The main reason why prices vary so much between hotels and motels is because of the different facilities each accommodation offers, as well as the amount of people they have to employ to be able to offer those amenities. Hotels will have doormen, masseuses, fitness trainers, cooks and bartenders, whereas motel staff is mostly limited to receptionists and housekeepers.
Star rating systems exist to measure the quality of hotels. This is an easy way of letting travelers know what to expect before they even open up the website of a particular hotel. The higher the star rating the better the service and the higher the prices.
Motels don’t have star ratings, so it’s a bit harder to judge them. But generally, if a motel has higher prices than what you’re used to, it means that it offers more services for the guests.
In the US, hotels are traditionally rated on a five-star system, whereas in Europe that’s usually a four-star system. If you’re used to five-star hotels, don’t be disappointed you can’t find one in Europe – four stars is the best money can buy.
But, what do the stars mean exactly? A one-star rating doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s lead paint in the hotel and that the furniture is from before WWII. It just means that the hotel doesn’t offer more than the bare necessities but it should still be close to public transportation. Two stars mean that you will get some extras – usually a phone and a TV in your room. Also, two-star hotels usually have a restaurant on-site, as well as daily housekeeping.
Three stars is where it starts to get interesting. These hotels are generally a part of larger chains, and they offer a wide variety of services and amenities. A three-star hotel is perfectly fine for a comfortable vacation with everything you could need – everything above three stars is considered luxurious, especially in Europe.
Four stars in the US is geared towards upper middle-class travelers who are yearning to burn through some money. Expect big rooms with expensive furnishings and luxurious extras like pricey French soaps and shower gels.
Five-star hotels feel like you’ve walked into a museum when you step inside the lobby. Everything about them is lavish and over the top, including the prices. Valet parking, golf course access and state of the art fitness centers are just some of the things you can expect from five-star hotels.
Hostels are a whole different thing. This is accommodation that more often offers beds than rooms, and it’s by far the cheapest option out of the bunch. Hostels are particularly popular with backpackers who don’t need any luxuries and just want a bed where they can sleep or the night. And they’re extremely popular with travelers on a budget since in most countries in the world you can get a hostel bed for 10-20 Euros per night.
Some hostels will offer private rooms, but that’s not very common. And they won’t have a lot of rooms, so if you’re looking for that type of privacy in a hostel, you should definitely book your stay early. Also, shared bathrooms are the norm in hostels, even if you do manage to book an entire room.
Privacy and security are the main issues with hostel stays. Usually, you’re sharing a room (and bathroom facilities) with 10+ strangers, and you don’t have a place where you can put your stuff. You have zero guarantees that nothing will get stolen and you have to wait in line to go to the loo.
Hostels can be anything from a small hotel building to a converted apartment. In some of them, you will get to meet the owners, since they’ll be the ones working as receptionists and housekeepers in order to maximize their profits. In any case, if you’re not traveling alone, it’s almost always better to pool the money and get a privately owned apartment, and it will usually cost just as much as two hostel beds.
But if you’re in a group of 10+ people, you can easily make that 10-bed dormitory into a private room and have a blast at any hostel!
It’s not! Different cultures have different interpretations of hotels and motels, and everything I’ve said above mostly applies to accommodation in the United States!
In Brazil, for example, a motel is a type of accommodation where you get a room above a garage. There are stairs inside the garage that gives exclusive access to your room, and the rooms can be quite luxurious.
Some countries interpret motels as just cheaper roadside hotels and they’ll feature lobbies and hallways. And other countries – particularly island countries in the Caribbean – have bungalow hotels that don’t actually feature a central hotel building. Instead, the accommodation offer consists of smaller bungalows and water villas that give you the opportunity to jump into the sea straight from your bedroom.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.