What Is the Difference Between Hotels and Motels?

(Last Updated On: May 29, 2019)
What Is the Difference Between Hotels and Motels?

So, what is the difference between hotels and motels? Despite the fact that many people tend to use these terms interchangeably, there are actually many significant differences between them. Those that don’t understand these differences could be setting themselves up for, at best, confusion, and, at worst, a night spent regretting the fact they never took more time to read articles like this one.

In a general sense, hotels and motels each exhibit certain unique characteristics, although each particular hotel or motel may have some features that are also common to the other category.

What Is the Difference Between Hotels and Motels?


The word “hotel” dates back to the 16th century and derives from the French word “hôtel” which, shockingly, referred to a place that provided lodging, meals and other services for travelers. So, not exactly an obscure origin story.

The term “motel”, on the other hand, has a slightly more involved starting point, although still not exactly complex wordplay. The term was coined in the 1920’s in the United States as a mashup of the words “motor” and “hotel” to refer to accommodations specifically designed to cater to the needs of people traveling by vehicle.

Size and Layout

Typically, hotels are larger than motels. They usually have multiple floors and often hundreds, or even thousands, of rooms. There will be a lobby where guests check-in, congregate or just wait their turn. With some exceptions, hotel rooms are accessed from hallways entirely contained within the building.

Motels, meanwhile, started out as small, single-level properties where vehicles could pull up close to their room. Nearly all motel rooms are accessible from outside to make it easier for travelers to transport luggage to and from their vehicle. Nowadays, many motel chains boast large, multi-floor lodging options comparable in size to hotels, yet still always offer outside access. The check-in desk area is generally quite small and often there is no lobby at all.

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Hotels are geared toward longer stays and, to this end, offer a greater range of amenities and options. Along with a lobby and waiting area, most hotels will include a number of other features to enhance the experience of their guests. Restaurants, conference rooms, gyms, spas, business centers, lounges and concierge services are among the many alternatives that hotels use to attract customers looking for an inclusive experience.

While some motels may offer one or more of these features also, they are far less common. If a motel has a restaurant, it will normally be quite small and often only serve breakfast. The majority of motel guests are passing through after just a night or two and typically don’t require all these added benefits. Maintaining a simple business model allows motels to keep their prices as low as possible. Of course, long stay or short stay, extravagant or on a tight budget, everyone seems to love a pool, so those can be found in pretty much equal measure in both.


In keeping with the expectation that hotel guests will usually stay longer than those in motels, most hotels are located close to local attractions. Business hotels are usually found in, or close to, the area’s financial district, while tourist-oriented hotels might set up near the area’s most popular leisure activities such as amusement parks, shopping centers or golf courses.

Motels, however, anticipate more transient guests and, therefore, tend to be concentrated near the busiest roads and freeways. While this may be inconvenient for enjoying the sights of the city it usually allows for the most straightforward access in and out of town.

Hotels vs. Motels

Many hotels and motels can be quite similar and often share many of the same features, although these general guidelines provide an overview of the most common differences. While it is certainly possible to find an 8-room hotel that doesn’t offer meals and a 200-room motel completely outfitted with every possible amenity, overall, they tend to follow these trends. Most of the differences can be attributed to the idea that hotel guests will stay longer than motel guests, and normally the variety of available features and amenities are designed with price in mind. When located in comparable parts of the country, motels are almost always cheaper than hotels, and enjoy lower expectations as a result.

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