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

They’re similar, but they’re definitely not synonymous.

Motel vs. hotelPhoto: Shutterstock

Motel vs. Hotel: Find Out the Difference

Whether you’re the kind of traveller who likes to relax in a luxurious resort or the kind for whom a hotel is nothing more than a place to crash, the place you choose to stay can make or break your vacation experience. But even the most seasoned travellers may not know the difference between the two main types of homes-away-from-home. Besides their first letter, is there any real difference between hotels and motels? By the way, these are the secrets hotels won’t tell you.

Well, there’s no simple, cut-and-dry answer. These two types of lodging have the same basic purpose—a place for travellers to crash—but there are plenty of features that set them apart. For instance, they came to be for different reasons, and at very different times. The word “hotel” dates back to the 1600s and comes from a French word, hôtel. That word, just like the English one, referred to a place that provides lodging, meals, entertainment, and other services to travellers. Motels, on the other hand, are a much more recent—and pretty much exclusively North American—lodging option. This word dates back to the 1920s and combines the words “hotel” and “motor.” As North America’s major highway system developed, so did motels, filling the need for roadside stops for motorists travelling cross-country.

There are also some more nuanced differences that can help you figure out which type of place you’re in. Hotels tend to be built for longer stays, while motels are geared more for one- or two-night stops along a journey. Because of this, hotels are much more likely to have offerings like lounges, gyms and entertainment. While hotels usually have lobbies, you’re more likely to access your motel room door straight from the parking lot. Hotels are also more commonly right in the middle of the action at an already-popular tourist destination. Motels, meanwhile, might have nothing around them but a stretch of open road. As for cost, hotels tend to be pricier as a whole, but other things such as size, popularity, and location can have a bigger effect on cost than motel vs. hotel distinction.

So, in the end, it comes down to what you want from your trip and from your lodging. Want the place you stay to be just as much a part of your travel experience as anything else? Opt for a hotel. Just need a place to pop in and out of to shower and sleep? A motel might be the better choice.

Here’s why you should think twice before sitting in a hotel chair.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest