What’s The Difference Between A Hotel And A Motel?

Last Updated on November 27, 2021

To understand the difference between hotel and motel you pretty much just need to think about why the word motel starts with the letter M.

Motel is a portmanteau of two words, ‘Motor’ and ‘Hotel’. That is to say, ‘Motor hotel’ was shortened to Motel.

It might not be obvious these days because the words ‘car’ and ‘automobile’ have replaced the old-fashioned term ‘motorcar’.

What Is A Motel?

Motels are hotels designed for motorists. They are automobile hotels, located near major highway routes. They provide a convenient place for a motorist on a road trip to pull in and rest for the night.

Motels originated before the age of cheap air travel. Motorists would often need overnight lodging because they were in the middle of a long road trip, and motels developed to fill this need. The original motels were located along major thoroughfares.

The first motel was created in San Luis Obispo in 1925 when California architect Arthur Heineman renamed his establishment from the Milestone Mo-Tel to the Motel Inn. Things moved slower in those days, a 400 mile road trip from from San Francisco to Los Angeles would take two days of driving. The Motel Inn provided a midway stopover point where motorists could rest up for the night.

To this day most guests staying at a motor hotel bring a car with them.

What Is A Hotel?

Everyone knows that a hotel is a place where you can book a room to stay for the night.

But the origins of the word ‘hotel’ is revealing too.

Hotel comes from the French word hôtel which means ‘a mansion, palace, or large house’.

Although some modern cheap budget hotels are far from luxurious the original meaning of the word invoked luxury.

It uses to be Inn was a cheap place to stay for a night but a hotel was a luxurious stay in a palace or a mansion. Over time cheap hotels degraded the name.

Many hotels still aim to provide a luxurious place for guests to stay. This means a hotel can be a destination outright whereas because a motel has fewer amenities they are usually used just as a stopover for drivers on an automobile road trip.

Motel vs Hotel Chart

Hotels today offer many services and more amenities than Motels.

AmenitiesFrom room service all the way to shoe shine. Hotels have attempted to outdo each other in the services and amenities they provide.Basic amenites and few services.
Parking FacilitiesHotels might have limited parking facilities but that’s not what they are all about.Motels always have parking facilities. They are designed with the automobile in mind.
SwimmingHotels often have indoor and Outdoor swimming pools. Spa hotels have therapies and relaxation treatments.Some motels have a swimming pool but it is less common.
Fitness CentersMore expensive hotels will include gyms and fitness centers.It’s rate for a Motel to have a gym.
BreakfastFull cooked breakfastMany Motels do offer breakfast but it tends to be a continental breakfast rather than a cooked breakfast.
DiningMany hotels have an onsite restaurant.
EntertainmentHotels can offer extensive entertainment optionsMotels offer limited entertainment
Architectureinternal corridors leading to individual roomsRooms in motels are accessed via the parking lot. Motels tend to have one or two floors.
StaffHotels might employ chefs, receptionists, concierges that provide information about things to do and see in the local area, bellhops take luggage up to guest rooms, elevator operators.Motels usually only have reception staff and housekeeping.
LocationHotels are found in cities, downtown areas, business districts, or picturesque rural locations.Motels tend to be on the edge of town close to roads and highways.
Length Of StayHotels can be a destination in their own right. They can suit longers stays for weeks.Motels are usually suitable for shorter stays of for 1 or 2 nights.
Age RestrictionsBecause they serve alcohol many hotels are for age 21 plus.More Motels will accept younger guests.
PriceHotel accommodations commonly cost more than motels. Since hotels offer more amenities and are in more desirable locations they tend to cost more.The average motel will cost less than $100 per night.
BrandsHoliday InnMotel 6

Hotel Vs Motel Similarities

Hotels and motels both offer paid lodging but that’s where the similarities end.

Motels are all about providing a bed for the night near the highway. Hotels, especially more expensive hotels, aim to offer a more luxurious stay. With some resort hotels the only reason you might be going is because of the facilities the hotel offers.

Motels tend to target different types of travelers vs hotels.

Hotels often aim to appeal to tourists, whereas motels aim to offer convenient lodging for transient travelers.

The Bottom Line

The main differences between a hotel and a motel are found in the architecture, the location, and the provided amenities.

All those extra amenities and the premium location impacts the price. Generally, hotels are more expensive than motels.

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