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Hotels vs. motels…and what’s an inn?

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

Have you ever been preparing to book a trip only to find yourself struggling to decide which type of accommodations is best for your itinerary? Understanding the differences among your options will ensure you make the right choice for your unique budget, needs and preferences. Here, we dive into the differences and compare motels vs. hotels vs. inns.

What is a motel?

When the automobile became the prevalent mode of road transportation in the early 20th century and freeway networks expanded, motels started to pop up. The word motel combines the words motor and hotel.

Here are a few facts about motels:

  • Motels tend to be confined to locations close to roads and highways, often outside of cities but along popular tourist routes.
  • They are typically designed for short stays.
  • A continental breakfast is not offered, but they may have a quick, basic breakfast with foods like hard-boiled eggs, bread and cereal.
  • Motels can be the cheapest places to stay near popular destinations.

Read more: 11 U.S. dreamy staycation destinations

Person walking into an elevator with a yellow, wheeled suitcase.

What is the difference between a hotel and motel?

In addition to lodging, a hotel offers a number of other services and amenities to its guests. If you stay at a hotel, you’ll get more than just a room or suite to sleep in. You may also benefit from a restaurant, swimming pool, fitness center and spa. A motel, on the other hand, typically doesn’t offer amenities. It is solely designed to give you a place to sleep and free of “extras.”

Another difference is property size. A hotel is usually a large, enclosed building with hundreds of rooms across multiple floors, while a motel has one or two floors with outdoor room entrances. While you may have to go through the lobby and take an elevator to get to your hotel room, you’ll likely enter your motel room from just off the parking lot without passing through a lobby.

Both styles of accommodations are widely available in the United States and Canada, and they can also be found when you travel to other countries around the world.

In this new world of post-COVID travel, hotels are also more likely to have the means to thoroughly clean and sanitize rooms and common areas. No matter where you choose to stay, call ahead of booking to ask about their current cleanliness practices.

When should I book a motel instead of a hotel?

There are a number of situations where it makes more sense to select a motel instead of a hotel, such as:

  • If you’re looking for the best value and don’t care about property amenities (like a fitness center or room service), motels can be cheaper.
  • If you’re on a road trip, motels are a convenient option because they can give you a cheap place to get some shut eye after a long day of driving.
How to compare a motel vs hotel vs inn? This is the facade of a typical motel.
Motels originated as basic & self-service hotels conveniently located along highway routes, like Route 66, which is a popular cross-country route with many historic and unique motels.  

When should I book a hotel instead of a motel?

Although motels are cheaper than hotels, you may want to spend the extra money and stay at a hotel in certain situations.

  • When you are looking for property amenities and a comfortable vacation, hotels feature more luxurious accommodations, fast WiFi, room service, fitness centers, spas and more. 
  • If you are traveling to an area you are not familiar with, hotels tend to have more staff like receptionists and concierges who can assist you in planning activities or provide local information. 
  • Convenience can be important, and hotels are usually found in desirable locations, such as close to popular attractions.
  • Business travelers attending a conference may prefer a hotel’s amenities, like room service or a sit-down restaurant, so they can have a hassle-free schedule. 

Read more: How to book a hotel with a flexible cancellation policy

Cost of a hotel vs. motel

The average motel will typically costs less than $100 a night. It mostly depends on location and demand. Hotel costs vary widely and are based on factors such as brand name, amenities, location and demand. Hotels will mostly cost more than $100 per night, with the average cost around $180 a night. Of course, you can expect to pay more if you stay at the Ritz-Carlton than the Holiday Inn, or in downtown LA versus rural Pennsylvania.

Find out the best time to book a hotel according to data and trends.

Hotel vs. motel main differences

Sizeexpansive buildings with hundreds of rooms across multiple floorsone or two floors that open to a parking lot or central courtyard
Common areasreception or lobby area with concierge, bell man and other hotel staffoften rooms are directly accessible from the parking lot without having to pass through a lobby
Property amenitiesrestaurant and bar facilities, conference rooms and public spaces, fitness center, spasometimes feature free breakfast items, laundry machines
Room amenitiesroom service, mini fridge, safe, toiletries, hair dryer, WiFibasic toiletries, bedding, towels
Costtypically more than $100/nighttypically less than $100/night
  • Marriott
  • Sheraton
  • Hyatt
  • Holiday Inn
  • InterContinental
  • Four Seasons
  • Best Western
  • Comfort Inn
  • Radisson
  • America’s Best Value Inn
  • Econo Lodge
  • Knights Inn
  • Motel 6
  • Super 8

What is an inn?

Inns are small properties with a limited inventory of rooms, and they are typically found in rural locations and sometimes within communities. They are often privately or family-owned and operated. You can expect much fewer amenities at an inn than a hotel. There will likely be toiletries and a coffee maker in the room, possibly WiFi, and a basic daily breakfast offered in a common area. Compared to a motel and hotel, inns are often decorated by the owners and have a more homey feel than brand-name chains.

The cost of staying at an inn usually falls between a motel and hotel. Inns will almost always be more expensive than a motel and rarely cost as much a hotel. Although, there are boutique inns offering more amenities and services, which will be reflected in the per-night price.

coffee and a newspaper on a table at an inn.

Before your trip

Before booking or traveling, always remember to double-check government restrictions at your destination, be prepared to comply with local orders and be informed about COVID-19 testing requirements. When you are ready to find the right place to stay, Skyscanner has you covered with flexible travel options, from airfare to accommodations.

Where can I go right now?

As you compare motels vs. hotels vs. inns and prepare your trip itinerary, we recommend keeping an eye on travel restrictions. Check out Skyscanner’s interactive travel restrictions map. Here, you can see in real time where you can go, and what the conditions of entry for each country are.

FAQ about motels vs. hotels vs. inns

Is a hotel or motel better?

Hotels and motels serve different purposes and appeal to different travelers based on their locations and what they offer. For example, hotels have more amenities, but they are going to be more expensive. Motels, while less pricey, tend to be located near highways or generally outside of town or downtown areas.

What’s the difference between a hotel and an inn?

Inns are typically privately or family-owned, whereas hotels are often owned by larger corporations. Hotels will have many more rooms available than inns, and therefore more vacancies for last-minute bookers. Decor is also different, with inns typically feeling more homey.

What’s the difference between a motel and an inn?

Location and amenities are two of the biggest differences. Motels are often located along highways or just off an exit, while inns are usually located in rural settings or within a community. Inns are decorated more intimately, with rooms oftentimes having different characteristics, while rooms in a motel have a standard layout and decor.

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