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Hotel vs. Motel vs. Inn: What’s the Difference?

Hotel vs. Motel vs. Inn: What’s the Difference?

Your decision of hotel vs. motel vs. inn can dramatically impact your adventure, vacation, or business travels. Here is a distinct guide to help you understand the differences between all three.

You are about to embark on an adventure, meaning you must plan where to stay during your travels. These days, there are many options for accommodation.

Plan for the right sleeping accommodations for your adventure. Hotels, motels, and inns offer distinct characteristics. You can stay at a hotel vs a motel vs an inn! What are the key differences between a hotel, motel, and inn?

What are the pros and cons of staying at each one? With travel hacking, you must know the best hotels for your stay, location, and price.

FeatureMotelHotelInn
LocationUsually located along highways or roadsUsually located in cities, near airports, or tourist destinationsOften located in rural or scenic areas
SizeTypically smaller, with fewer roomsLarger, with more rooms and multiple floorsSmaller, with fewer rooms
AmenitiesLimited amenities, such as free parking and basic breakfastWide range of amenities, such as restaurants, fitness centers, and room serviceVaries, but often includes breakfast and common areas
Room EntranceRooms are accessed from the outsideRooms are accessed from interior hallwaysVaries, can be accessed from inside or outside
Length of StayOften used for short stays or overnight stops during travelSuitable for both short and long staysOften used for short stays or weekend getaways
AtmosphereMore basic and functionalMore luxurious and full-serviceMore personalized and intimate
CostGenerally less expensive than hotelsOften more expensive than motelsPrices vary, but often similar to hotels

Hotels

Hotel Jerome building in Aspen, Colorado
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

What is a hotel? A hotel is a location that provides accommodation, meals, and other services to travelers. Hotels are where travelers can create a home base while sightseeing or conducting business.

What is a Hotel?

A hotel is paid lodging for travelers or tourists on a short-term or long-term basis for up to a few weeks. They provide a comfortable home-like environment with basic amenities as well as luxurious services such as restaurants, swimming pools, a spa, a gym, casinos, etc.

Hotels range from one to five-star ratings, with five-star offering the most luxurious facilities and services. Some hotels also accommodate conferences and meetings for business officials.

The charges of a hotel depend on its amenities, ratings, location, and the popularity of its brand name. You can expect to pay more for your Marriott stay than the Holiday Inn.

Travelers tend to stay at one hotel for the entire duration of their stay, but what are the pros and cons of a hotel?

Image of a Hotel Room

Pros of a Hotel

  1. Proximity

One of the biggest appeals of staying in a hotel is its proximity to other locations. Most hotels are located downtown or in metropolitan areas, often next to airports, business districts, or tourist destinations.

Their proximity makes it easy for travelers to get to where they want to go without the hassle of driving or taking public transportation. In addition, they are prime locations for travelers who are attending conferences or public events.

  1. Extensive Amenities & Staff

Travelers looking to enjoy their accommodation as much as their destination can enjoy staying in a hotel. Hotels tend to be much larger than motels or inns, meaning they have the resources to hire well-qualified staff and supply luxurious amenities.

Plus, there are many different hotel rooms out there that you can book to enjoy your stay. Depending on how large the hotel is, it can include personnel such as a concierge, event planner, bellhops, valets, and more. Again, depending on the size of the hotel, their amenities can include pools, gyms, spas, high-speed internet, shuttles, in-house restaurants, and more.

One of the Hotel Rooms at Pulitzer
  1. Variety of Service

Hotels have many options available to fit the needs of every traveler. They offer a variety of room styles, from simple to luxurious, depending on your budget. Besides, hotels provide the ability for long-term service.

While most accommodations have a short maximum stay, hotels can be booked for months, which is terrific for people attending training, relocating, or conducting extensive business. Beyond service, there is also a massive variety of types of hotels, such as:

  • Boutique hotel
  • Luxury hotel
  • Budget hotel
  • Extended stay hotel
  • Sustainable hotel

The list goes on. There are even more micro-niche types of hotels beyond the above as well.

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Cons of a Hotel

  1. More Expensive

Hotels can be grand, offering many fantastic amenities, but this means that they are often expensive. Hotels can easily range from hundreds to thousands of dollars a night. Given their high demand, they may also book out far in advance or become more expensive as the number of rooms available decreases.

Also, most hotels do not have a cooking space; this means you are forced to eat out all the time, which drives up the cost of your vacation even more. Lastly, there can be hidden costs you aren’t expecting, such as the mini-fridge stocked with goods you need to pay for at the end of your stay.

Think you’ve seen expensive? Check out these famous hotels in Paris (you’ll be surprised at how much they charge).

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  1. Large & Noisy

Hotels can be huge, with many rooms lined up in long hallways. This can mean lots of walking if you are placed on the far side of the hotel. These long hallways also allow for noise to travel.

If you are a light sleeper, you may hear the dinging of the elevator, the crunching of an ice machine, or guests walking heavily in the hall. Plus, hotels allow for some anonymity, leading to noisy neighbors who may stay up late into the night.

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  1. Less Culture

With the luxurious amenities hotels frequently provide, you may lack culture on your vacation. Hotels are generally culture neutral, which likely means that the food will be familiar to tourists, the decorations will be modern, and the space will be similar to every other hotel.

If you spend a lot of time in your hotel, you won’t get to experience the traditions and the unique culture of the place you visit. This is location-specific as the Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam was one of the most cultural and unique experiences at a hotel.

I used my American Express Platinum card to book with Fine Resorts & Hotels at that hotel. Hotels likely won’t accept cash, whereas motels are more likely to accept that as payment.

I suggest you start building rewards balances to reduce the burden on your wallet for traveling. These are some of the best credit cards for travel.

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Motels

Blue Swallow Motel with old car parked in front
MRicart_Photography / Shutterstock.com

What is a motel? A “motel” is short for a “motorists hotel.” Here is some more background on motels.

What is a Motel?

Initially, the term motel referred to a hotel near a major highway route, with rooms facing a parking lot for easy coming and leaving. Today, most motels have inward-facing doors that open in common areas, usually a parking lot.

Motels are meant for short-term stays as they have fewer amenities and services for guests. However, they provide easy access to a major road network, which makes it ideal for travelers wanting to hit the road at any moment.

Although motels rarely offer specialized services, some have an outdoor swimming pool for guests.

They also have internet access, which might not always work due to the location.

Why is it Called a Motel?

The term “motel” came from a blend of “motor” and “hotel” and entered the dictionaries after World War II. Motels began as inns along the countries’ major motorways, offering rest places to travelers and families on the road.

With the development of highway routes in the 1920s, long-distance journeys increased the need for inexpensive and easily accessible lodgings near the main routes.

This led to a growth in the concept of motels that provided a place to stay overnight. Today, a motel refers to a building that provides some hotel services minus the luxuries. Only a handful of motels in big cities have additional facilities, such as an on-site swimming pool or an eatery for guests.

What are the differences between a hotel vs a motel?

What’s the Difference Between a Motel and a Hotel?

The difference between motels and hotels is primarily in their design and amenities. A motel is designed for motorists, often having exterior room entrances and adjacent parking. In contrast, a hotel offers a broader range of services, including restaurants, fitness centers, and rooms accessed through interior corridors. While both provide accommodations, hotels typically offer more luxurious amenities and services.

While hotels are designed for people on vacation, motels are created for people who are merely passing through the area. Motels fall within the subcategory of hotels, so the difference is not very striking. The primary differences between hotels and motels are in the price and the duration of stay.

The hotels located at ideal locations cost more than a motel in a less expensive area of the country. However, motels situated in big cities such as New York or Los Angeles will cost similar to a four-star hotel.

Regarding the duration of stay for guests, hotels are for more extended stays. They are primarily located in cities with a wide range of attractions, so the guests stay for an extended duration. Some hotels are even known as “extended-stay hotels,” as they are built for guests who want to stay for weeks or even months.

Since hotels are usually for more extended stays, they offer a wider range of services, including room service, on-site restaurants, bars, spas, and gyms. A few hotels offer more extensive services usually found in resorts, including casinos and theaters.

Motels are better for shorter stays of up to a week and provide travelers with a place to spend a night or two. Some guests stay at motels for several weeks while looking for permanent accommodation in a new city or town.

Traditionally, motels offer fewer services than hotels, but there are exceptions. Some motels have swimming pools and provide complimentary breakfast during your stay.

Typically, motels are located alongside significant roads where travelers stop for the night before continuing.

Image of a Motel
Motels tend to have standardization

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What is Cheaper, a Motel or Hotel?

Hotels usually offer more than just a place to sleep. As they are a kind of “getaway” for travelers, they will likely provide at least some basic luxury, such as on-site restaurants, swimming pools, spas, and gyms.

With luxurious services and comforts, a hotel room costs $180 per night. While you can get an idea from this, the costs vary widely based on the hotel’s location and amenities. Apart from a place to sleep, the more luxurious you want, the longer your bill will be.

On the other hand, motels don’t offer such a wide range of facilities, which is why they are less expensive. They are only designed to meet guests’ basic needs, providing a place to rest and wash.

An average motel with basic amenities costs between $45 to $100 per night. Proper motels are solely made to provide a resting place for travelers, so luxuries are not an important factor in most of them.

Still, the final costs will depend on the motel’s location and quality of services.

Pros of a Motel

  1. Low Budget

Motels are excellent for budget travelers. They are a cheap and easy way to get a good night’s sleep. In addition, most motels come with a continental breakfast. This means you can get up and grab a decent bite before heading on your way.

  1. Vehicle Convenience

Motels are usually only one or two stories high, extending lengthwise instead of by height. This is fantastic for motorists because they can usually park right outside their door.

This means they don’t have to take a lot of time to lug in all of their stuff, and they can keep an eye on their car.

  1. Road Tripping

Motels are perfect for people who are road tripping given their convenient location along major roads, the ability to park your car right next to the door, and lower prices. They are always available, meaning you can walk right in and get a room for the night.

Most road-trippers stay in motels because they can arrive in the evening, grab a cheap room, rest, eat a light breakfast, and then head off without worrying about booking in advance or hidden costs.

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Cons of a Motel

  1. Few Amenities

Motels are cheap; therefore, they do not have as many amenities as other locations. Generally, only a few staff will be present to help you with your needs.

Usually, they have breakfast and occasionally a pool, but that is it. If you are looking for a tourist destination, you will not find what you want in a motel.

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  1. Dirty

As we have said, motels are cheap, so they aren’t always 100% clean. The training of the cleaning staff may not always be perfect, and sometimes they are overloaded with work. While many motels are perfectly clean, you may find one where you won’t even want to remove your shoes.

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  1. Unsafe

Given that the location of motels is often alongside major roads, they are not always the safest. The difference between hotels and motels is that entry doors are placed on the exterior walls, meaning anyone could come to your door or car.

It is always wise to ensure your room is securely locked and that all your belongings are inside of the room instead of being left in the car.

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Inns

Madonna Inn exterior in San Luis Obispo
Paul R. Jones / Shutterstock.com

Coming across an inn is not as common as it once was. Inns are generally older houses or buildings converted into lodging fit for a few people. They are usually located in rural destinations, similar to a bed & breakfast.

What is an Inn?

Unlike motels, inns provide short-term lodging services to travelers and limited food and drink services. However, they usually cost less than hotels and motels because of their unluxurious nature.

Inns can be in any part of a country, especially along the motorways, where people seek accommodation for a day or two. Even though inns don’t have separate restaurants for food, they have small sections that offer limited cuisines.

Room service and other luxurious additions are not common to inns, and most don’t have star ratings except on travel sites that rate noticeable lodges in a country.

Image of an Inn
Inns can be quiet charming

What’s the Difference Between a Hotel and an Inn?

Hotels and inns mainly differ in their prices and stay duration for guests. Hotels are located in the middle of cities, allowing guests to stay for extended weeks and months.

Most hotels offer enough space and extensive services to facilitate all the guests. Hotels are ideal for vacationers with bigger rooms, larger restaurant sections, and recreational facilities such as a gym, swimming pools, spas, etc.

People also book hotels when searching for permanent accommodation in a city. Unlike hotels, inns are smaller and more intimate settings that don’t provide luxurious services. They are meant for short-term living with limited provisions of food and drink.

Mostly built in rural locations, inns are single-building locations with limited rooms and singular in-house dining options. These days, the term “inn” is interchangeably used for branding.

For example, the well-known hotel Holiday Inn uses “inn” in its name even though it is far from a traditional inn. Also, traditional inns don’t have star ratings like hotels.

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What’s the Difference Between a Motel and an Inn?

Inns are older buildings that have been changed into a place for lodging a small number of people. Located in rural locations or along highways, inns offer limited food and drink facilities but no luxuries like hotels.

As inns are also built for limited stays, they are ideal for travelers looking for a place to spend a night. They provide them with a bed to rest their weary heads before they hit the road again.

On the other hand, motels are larger, with rooms containing all basic amenities. A handful of motels also have kitchenettes and on-site pools as a luxury. You can also find rooms with connecting doors so that they can be combined into one large room.

Due to their apartment-like facilities, some motels charge higher as guests can prepare food or get a complimentary light breakfast. Additionally, the traditional motels always have “I,” “U,” or “L” shaped buildings facing a large parking area for motor vehicles.

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Pros of an Inn

  1. Less Expensive

Much like motels, inns are less expensive than other accommodation options. They are a spectacular option for travelers who are on a budget, and sometimes, they come with a complimentary breakfast!

You will not be faced with tipping door attendants, being pushed towards expensive places, or discovering hidden costs after your stay. Everything is upfront and honest, so you’ll be sure you won’t break the bank.

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  1. Culture

Located in rural settings, often in smaller country towns, inns are fantastic for tasting local culture. Inn owners tend to be friendly, treating you like one of the family, so they will likely tell you the best places to check out during your stay. If they serve food, you will experience local dishes with local produce. What’s better than that?

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  1. Intimate Settings

Inns are designed to feel homey. They are comfortable, spacious, and quiet. In addition, there are cozy public spaces available to socialize and relax.

You do not have to worry about rowdy neighbors, given that most inns only allow a few guests at a time. Inns are peaceful and relaxed, and given their rural location, they will enable you to enjoy a tranquil vacation.

Place Setting at an Inn

Cons of an Inn

  1. Fewer Amenities

Similar to a motel, inns lack amenities. A family usually runs them, so there is little staff. Occasionally there are dining options, but generally, you must find most of your food and entertainment outside the inn.

See how to plan a month-long vacation.

  1. No Ratings

Inns do not receive star ratings on sites like TripAdvisor or hotels unless they are in a prime tourist location, so you likely won’t know the quality of the accommodation until you arrive. While the reviews might be positive, you do not have a regulated system to compare them to; what might be a luxury to someone could be average to another.

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  1. Short-Term Service

Given the small size of an inn, they do not allow for long-term service. If you hope to stay there for a month, that is unlikely to be acceptable. Most inn travelers tend to stay for one night to a week before continuing on their way.

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Conclusion: Where Should You Stay?

Waterfall at The Mirage Hotel and Casino with Treasure Island in the background located in Las Vegas, Nevada
Felipe Sanchez / Shutterstock.com

There are many differences between a hotel, a motel, and an inn. Each accommodation provides a different set of features for its target audience. There are no right or wrong answers; it merely depends on the amenities you want during your stay.

So, when choosing your accommodation, how will you know to choose between a hotel vs. motel vs. inn? If you want quick access to town, plenty of great staff, high-quality amenities, and a variety of room options, and you don’t mind having a pricier vacation, you should stay at a hotel. If you prefer a cheap place to stay and a light breakfast in the morning, then a motel is the right choice.

Lastly, if you would like to soak up the culture of the area you are visiting with kind staff, small-town charm, and a budget you can afford, then inns are what you are looking for.

Now that you have looked at the difference between a hotel vs. a motel vs. an inn, it is time to consider where you want to book your accommodation.

Consider where you will be located, what features you are looking for, what is within your budget, and what will make you happiest. Make sure to take a peek at their reviews and then book it!

FAQs

What is the purpose of a motel?

The purpose of a motel is to provide short-term accommodation for travelers. Unlike hotels, motels typically have rooms that open directly to the outside, making it easier for guests to load and unload their luggage. Motels are often located near highways or major roads, making them a convenient option for travelers who need a place to rest for a night or two.

Is a hotel or motel better?

A hotel and motel are both lodging options, but whether one is better depends on individual preferences and needs. Hotels are typically larger and offer more amenities like room service, swimming pools, and fitness centers.

On the other hand, motels are usually smaller and more affordable, with rooms that open directly to the outside for easy access. Ultimately, the choice between a hotel and a motel comes down to budget, location, and desired comfort level and convenience.

Why are inns cheaper than hotels?

Inns are typically cheaper than hotels because they offer fewer amenities and services. This is because inns are usually smaller and more modestly furnished than hotels, with fewer staff members to provide room service or concierge assistance. Additionally, inns are often located in less touristy areas or smaller towns, which means they can charge less for their rooms due to lower demand.

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