Should You Book a Hotel or a Motel?
If you’re preparing for your next trip, you may be struggling to decide which type of accommodation is best for your itinerary.
You have a few options when you’re looking for a home away from home, with hotels and motels being two of the most common. But what’s really the difference, and which option is best for your plans?
This guide explains all the differences between hotels vs. motels. The next time you need lodging, you’ll know you’re making the right decision for your specific needs, budget and preferences.
Although hotels and motels have the same purpose — to accommodate travelers — plenty of features set them apart.
Let’s find out if you should book a hotel or a motel.
Hotel vs. Motel for Business Travelers
While hotels date back to the 1600s, motels are a more recent concept — and are almost exclusively an American lodging option. Motels first started appearing in the 1920s, and got their name as a combination of the words “motor” and “hotel.”
As America’s highway systems were built, so were motels. They fulfill the need for roadside stops for individuals driving cross-country.
Since motels have motorists in mind, they are geared for one- or two-night short-term stops along your journey. That’s why you’ll find that motels don’t always have the amenities seen in hotels, such as gyms, pools and lounges.
Common Differences Between Hotels vs. Motels
Key differences between hotels and motels include property size, amenities, common areas, locations and personnel.
Let’s take a closer look at each difference.
In terms of property size, hotels are typically larger. For example, hotels may contain several floors with elevators, staircases and internal corridors.
On the other hand, motels usually have one or two floors, and you can often access your motel room directly from the building’s exterior without having to pass through a lobby.
Hotels typically contain more rooms — hundreds in some cases — whereas motels usually offer a few dozen.
Amenities and Services
Another difference between hotels vs. motels is the amenities and services they provide. A hotel can offer a breadth of amenities and services, including room service, laundry, swimming pools, an onsite restaurant, gyms and day spas.
Some motels offer swimming pools, and may provide a continental breakfast. But overall, motels have fewer amenities. They usually have vending machines and ice makers to help make up for the lack of a restaurant.
The higher the star rating of the accommodation (1 to 5 stars), the more services the property offers. Hotels range from 2 to 5 stars, while motels are typically 1 to 2.5 stars.
Both hotels and motels typically offer free Wi-Fi and televisions, but you can usually find more premium channels, or even smart TVs with access to major streaming services, in a higher-rated hotel.
Hotels provide more common areas than motels, such as:
- Restaurant and bar facilities
- Conference rooms
- Other public spaces
Since motels have a smaller footprint, they don’t have many of the common areas you find in hotels.
Typically, motels just have a small lobby where you can check in and out. Otherwise, because you can enter your room directly from the parking lot, there isn’t a need for a significant amount of common space.
In the past, motels and hotels varied drastically in location because you could only find motels along highways and freeways. Yet, more hotels have been sprouting up near highways, which causes increased competition between hotels vs. motels.
But while motels are found almost exclusively off of major roads, hotels are everywhere. You can find them near airports, business districts, downtown areas, metropolitan areas and tourist destinations.
Hotels can be found in areas that are more walkable or connected to public transportation, while motel locations are more car-centric. If you’re not planning on having a car for your trip, a hotel might be the way to go.
Hotels are also prime locations for business travelers attending conferences or public events.
Hotels generally have more personnel than motels. In a hotel, you can find staff such as a concierge, bellhops, valets, chefs, housekeepers, doorkeepers, receptionists and elevator operators. This staff will vary depending on what type of hotel it is and what amenities they offer.
Because motels are smaller and provide fewer amenities, they don’t require the same level of staff. Sometimes, people will even perform multiple roles — for example, at small motels, a receptionist may double as a housekeeper.
Hotels come in all shapes and sizes, although motels have more of a standard appearance with exterior-access rooms and an open courtyard in the middle.
The quality of a property’s appearance will depend more on whether it’s been recently built or remodeled than whether it’s a hotel or motel. Both types of properties aim to create a comfortable and relaxing environment, although hotels are more geared toward luxury travel experiences.
When Should I Book a Motel?
There are a few scenarios when you should book a motel over a hotel. For example, if price is your biggest concern, motels are typically cheaper than hotels.
Let’s take a closer look at when you should book a motel vs. a hotel.
Motels offer some benefits that hotels do not. Here are the pros of booking a motel over a hotel.
For those on a tight budget, motels are a great option for travel accommodation. Although you’ll be sacrificing some amenities for a less expensive room, your wallet will thank you for your decision — and you can save money for other aspects of your trip, like dining out or a car rental.
We recommend searching for your options at your destination. Some hotels do charge comparable rates to motels.
Motels typically have large parking areas available for trucks and larger vehicles, which can be very handy if you’re traveling in a large vehicle or just want easy access to your car.
At a motel, you can get into your room directly from the parking lot, which means you can run out to your car efficiently at any time — you don’t need to pass through the lobby.
Motels are the perfect accommodation for long-distance road trips or transportation companies because they are conveniently located off major highways. Book a motel over a hotel if you need a place to catch some shuteye after a long day of driving, and want to conveniently get back on the road in the morning without going out of your way.
You won’t need luxury amenities if you only wish to find somewhere to sleep, so there’s no point in shelling out for features you won’t use. Plus, many motels do have pools if you want to take a quick dip before hitting the road again.
Now that we discussed the benefits of a motel, let’s take a look at a few of the downsides so that you can decide which option is right for your trip.
Fewer Onsite Amenities
As we’ve covered, motels don’t have as many extras as you’ll find in hotels. You might find a pool, but not a hot tub, spa or gym. And in lieu of an on-site restaurant or cafe, you’re more likely to have a continental breakfast, coffee station and vending machines.
It all comes down to the purpose of your trip. If you plan to spend a significant amount of time where you’re staying, relaxing and enjoying the amenities, a motel might not be the best choice for you.
You may also like: How to Find the Right Hotel Booking Tool for Your Transportation Company
When Should I Book a Hotel?
Hotels are best suited for travelers staying in one location for longer stays. They offer more relaxation, luxury and a unique experience.
So, let’s go over the pros and cons of booking a hotel over a motel.
Hotels have a lot to offer for travelers looking to rest and relax in comfort.
Whether booking a vacation or planning a business trip, you can find a hotel near your target destination. Hotels are often located in the heart of cities, near business districts and connected to public transportation.
As such, booking a hotel can make your stay convenient and accessible. In addition, a hotel may also host a conference or event you want to attend.
Lots of Amenities and Staff
A critical difference between hotels and motels is that hotels have more amenities and staff. If you’re going on a business trip, your hotel may have private meeting spaces and conference rooms where you can work.
If you need to complete some work late at night and don’t want to stay in your room, you can run to the hotel lounge to finish up.
Hotels also have more staff standing by to assist you. From a helpful concierge and receptionists, you can learn essential information about the city you’re in and how you can get the most out of your stay.
As we mentioned earlier, there are a wide range of options when it comes to hotels. From barebones hotels to fancy 5-star resorts, you can find a property to suit your budget and preferences.
A few different types of hotels include:
- Luxury hotels
- Boutique hotels
- Budget hotels
- Extended stay hotels
- Sustainable hotels
- Service hotels
- All-inclusive resorts
There are even more niche hotels beyond the ones listed above.
The main drawback for hotels is the price tag, which is typically higher than a motel (and the more amenities you get access to, the more you’ll pay).
Hotels with more stars are more expensive than hotels with fewer stars, but across the board, they’re typically at a higher price point than motels.
Hotels are also in high demand, so prices can increase closer to your trip since fewer rooms are available. Therefore, we recommend booking far in advance when prices are low.
What’s the Cost of Hotels vs. Motels?
Although hotel prices vary drastically, the average room rate in the United States is $120. Conversely, the average motel room costs less than $100 per night.
Of course, both of these price points vary wildly depending on the brand name, location, amenities and demand. You can pay anywhere from under $100 to over $1000 for a single night at a hotel.
The range for motel pricing is a little bit smaller. You’ll still pay a lot more for a motel outside of an expensive metropolitan area than in a rural community. But because motels are a little more standard than hotels in sizing and amenities, the price won’t change so much based on those considerations. Motels can cost from as little as $30 a night to several hundred dollars.
What are the Best Hotels and Motels?
Knowing which hotels to look for when booking your next trip is important.
Here are some of our favorite hotel brands:
- Drury – Best hotel for business trips
- Hilton – Best hotel for service options and locations
- Best Western – Best hotel for budget-conscious travelers
- Choice Hotels – Best hotel for international lodging
- Wyndham – Best hotel for resorts, casinos and luxurious getaways
These hotel brands partner with Hotel Engine, and you can receive discounted rates when you sign up to Hotel Engine for free. In addition, each listed hotel has a wide range of amenities to make your stay much more enjoyable.
Likewise, a few of our favorite motel brands are:
- Motel 6
- Super 8
- Econo Lodge
Keep your eye on these motel brands when searching for a motel for your next road trip. They have thousands of locations around the United States and are known for their reliability and hospitality. Many also boast recent remodels and upgraded beds.
See also: 10 Hotel Amenities Growing in Popularity
In summary, hotels are great for people on vacation or needing somewhere to stay during a business trip. On the other hand, motels are an ideal choice for people who are passing through the area and needing somewhere to rest their heads.
The primary differences between motels and hotels are in the price, amenities and duration of stay.
Use Hotel Engine on your next booking to save up to 60% on our partnered luxury hotels, comfortable motels and any type of property in between. It’s completely free to sign up!
Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine’s audience and cultivating the company’s brand voice. When she’s not working, Audrey enjoys spending time with her family, and hiking in the nearby Rockies with her dog, Albie.