What’s the Difference Between a Hotel, Motel & Inn (According to 8 Travel Experts)

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Most of us rely on booking various accommodations when traveling. But what is really the difference between a hotel, motel, and an inn?

We asked travel experts to give us more insights between the three.

Kerry Mooneyham

Travel Advisor and Owner, Midwest Travel Solutions

Inn denotes a boutique property

Perhaps each room is decorated in a unique style with furnishings that match the Inn’s location, rustic rough-hewn wooden framed chairs with black bears or trout adoring the fabric in the rocky mountains. Most often small inns are located out of a city center and run by the owner rather than a large corporation.

They can be the perfect destination for a romantic weekend or exploring a new location with your best friend. They might offer a homecooked breakfast, a wine, and cheese happy hour, or simply a warm smile and helpful suggestion on exploring the local area.

Hotels are the product of big corporations

Hotels tend to be larger buildings with rooms that have a similar decorating and a cohesive color scheme throughout. Welcome to the land of the blue hue, with a splash of vibrant spring green so you will know we are hip.

Hotels are the product of big corporations with professional designers, matching furniture plucked from a warehouse offering long-lasting, almost-comfortable furniture, each room being identical giving patrons a familiarity and the knowledge that what you see online is what you get – more or less when you arrive in your room.

Large chains have been very successful in building brand loyalty with this model, although rarely will you find that a hotel in this category will truly impress, you will also not be displeased by your accommodations. Amenities tend to be basic with the expectation of Wi-Fi, someone manning the front desk 24 hours a day, ice, a soda machine, a basic pool, and small gym tucked in a corner; parking while often provided, can be an extra cost especially in city center locations.

Room service is the norm with any hotel that is four-stars or above but generally omitted in more basic hotels. Free breakfast is popping up as an inclusion in many hotels – quality can range from I seriously wouldn’t feed this to my dog to what a great start to my day.

Motels tend to be smaller buildings

The actual word motel is derived from the combination of Motor and Hotel it was coined post-WWII when the motoring American public began traveling the interstate system in larger numbers. Often located off major roadways, and while they typically offer many of the same features of a hotel, they tend to be smaller buildings usually under 3-stories with ample free parking and can be priced above or below both an Inn or a Hotel.

All terms are often used interchangeably and often inappropriately, for example, a Holiday Inn is clearly not a boutique property despite the word “Inn” in the corporate title. To further confuse matters some Holiday Inns are clearly more motels built right off exit ramps clearly designed as a one-night stop on the way somewhere, or business travelers that are in the area temporarily, while some are truly a hotel, a destination to be enjoyed.

One of my favorites pre-cruise hotels in Galveston is the Holiday Inn Resort Galveston-On The Beach, they understood the name Holiday Inn was not descriptive enough, so they added “Resort” and “On The Beach”, the latter so that this important feature would be understood. All things being similar beachfront always outprices a block away.

Any discussion of inns, hotels, and motels would not be complete without mentioning resorts, similar in many ways, however, a resort denotes a property that has amenities far beyond what a hotel offers. The all-inclusive resort offers a staggering and diverse range of amenities: water-parks, SCUBA diving, massage, and other spa treatments, with entertainment that run the gambit from a night-time dinner, shows to adventure park admission that is included with the initial price tag but still have rooms that share the characteristics of a hotel.

Hawaii and Las Vegas properties are leading the way deeper into consumers’ pockets by adding a mandatory “Resort” fee for each and every night – often when the amenities should already be included in your hotel stay. These fees can increase your bill by over 50%. Excalibur Hotel ads a $35.00 Daily Resort Fee plus applicable tax to each hotel reservation, stating that the “amenities are sure to enhance your experience at Excalibur Hotel and Casino.”

The resort fee includes Property-wide highspeed internet access (public spaces and in-room), unlimited local and tollfree calls, airline boarding pass printing and fitness center access for guests. All amenities that should be included in a decent hotel, and frankly with smartphones who need calls and printing your boarding pass?

When the property is located in a remote location surrounded by nature, look for the term “lodge”. A lodge can be a rustic hut in Banff to tented boutique accommodations on the African savannah.

New Zealand and Australia have created an entire brand around the word, combing upscale, yet independent accommodations set in enormously diverse locations and environments surrounded by stunning natural attractions and termed them “Luxury Lodges”. Most offer a rate inclusive of a range of meals, beverages and importantly, experiences.

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Stephen Fofanoff

Stephen Fofanoff

VP of Marketing, Washington Independent Inns Network

It can be ever-more confusing to distinguish between various lodging types these days. What’s the difference between an “Airbnb” and a bed and breakfast, or a hotel and a resort, or an inn and a hotel? As the lines between these lodging types blur more and more, and travelers search for unique lodging experiences, there are some fundamental differences between hotels, motels, and inns.

A hotel typically provides additional facilities, such as an onsite lobby restaurant and bar, small convenience store, and room service. A hotel building will typically feature interior hallways and guestrooms will typically have indoor entries. Hotels will typically have more than 50 rooms, with the exception of some boutique hotels (which are really more like large inns).

Hotels may be part of a large branded chain or franchise system. A resort is a type of hotel with expanded facilities that include a spa, restaurants, pool, shopping area, and other guest amenities so that guests can remain at the property for all of their needs.

A motel will typically be located along a high traffic road, such as a highway, and will not have a common lobby with interior hallways, onsite restaurant or bar, nor room service.

A motel building will typically be no more than 2 stories, have exterior guestroom entries (with no interior hallways), and be configured around a central parking lot. Motels are almost always independently-owned, outside of a few large franchised motel chains.

An inn can generally be thought of a small, limited-service specialty hotel of up to about 25 rooms or so, but generally not larger than 50 rooms. An inn may be a traditional bed and breakfast, have a small restaurant, and some hotel-like amenities (fitness center or business center, for example), depending on local food permit regulations that govern restaurants and other amenities at small lodging properties.

Inns are almost exclusively independently-owned small businesses and are not usually part of a chain or franchise. They are often managed by the owner or an onsite innkeeper who provides concierge and other guest services in a unique environment, such as a historic building, converted farmhouse, or winery.

Anna Ransom

Anna Ransom

Owner & Travel Agent, Destination Yours Travel

Motels are the “Drive-Ins” of lodging accommodations. You drive right up to your door. Just like Drive-Ins of ages past they usually have character and themes. The word comes for motor + hotel and they tend to be less expensive options. You find a larger number of motels in small towns.

Inns are the “Quaint” lodging accommodation option. An Inn traditionally is located in a town or countryside. It has a smaller number of rooms with limited food options. Major chains have added the word “inn” to their names to make them seem more quaint and intimate rather than a hotel atmosphere, but they are in fact hotels. Think Holiday Inn. Generally, the cost is the midpoint, higher than motel rates but less than a luxury.

Hotels are the “Full Service” lodging accommodation option. They are larger with many rooms, often multiple stories. They offer more services such as a restaurant, business center, work-out area, pool, room service and so on. The level of service varies greatly from minimal to all-out full luxury service. The price point ranges from budget to high end.

Ilke Lander

Ilke Lander

Owner & Resort Hostess, Paradise Hills Winery Resort and Spa

In the lodging industry, the differences between the 3 types of lodging are very specific.

  • A Hotel is a building with multiple rooms, corridors to access them and it is typically multiple levels.
  • A Motel has 1-2 floors with rooms that are accessible through outdoor walkways near the parking lot.
  • An Inn is a smaller hotel type lodging that does not have any ‘star ratings’.

Owning and working in a boutique resort, I would further say that the differences between the 3 are also the levels of customer service. The smaller properties tend to focus more on an intimate personal experience with stronger customer services.

Though there are great large brands like Ritz Carlton and Marriott who pride themselves in the gold standard of service, the larger hotels do not typically offer the same personalized service that can be received from a boutique property.

Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith

Hotelier | Travel Blogger, MoveToNewZealand.net

Hotels, Motels, and Inns are different in many ways and the same in other ways. It all depends on what kind of lodging you want while traveling. Motel and Inns are more generally close to the highway or rural areas on the outskirts of town to make it easier for travelers to find. Hotels are usually found inside a city, around attractions, near vacation destinations and airports.

Hotels can have as many levels as you can imagine where Inns and Motels do not have more than 2 or 3 levels. Motels and Inns have their room exit to the outside and a Hotel is more private with rooms that exit inside into a corridor that leads to a lobby and then outdoors making it a little safer for guests.

Hotels normally have a place to pull up to the doors and some even offer valet and concierge services. They have elevators to get you from one floor to the other. You are not likely to find any of these luxuries at a Motel or Inn.

Inns and Motels are meant for a quick and easy overnight stay and some can even be booked per hour. Hotels offer room service and Motels and Inns have a breakfast bar or some sort of eating facility. They may only offer certain foods where a Hotel has more of a menu type of service.

Hotels are usually more exclusive and Motels and Inns have branches around many cities. Hotels offer pools, hot tubs and workout rooms and other upscale amenities that most Inns and Motels do not offer. Hotels offer internet service where an Inn or Motel may not.

Motels and Inns usually have more eye-catching advertisements such as neon lights. Hotels do not advertise in that way. Inns and Motels are more budget-friendly and on average do not charge as much per night as a Hotel does. If you want a shower and some sleep then a Motel or Inn might be the best choice. If you want a place to stay with a little more comfort, choose a Hotel.

Hotels have a luxurious feel by offering higher quality surroundings such as the bedding, towels, and washcloths and even with the furniture used in the rooms. Motels and Inns offer a cheaper version of those same things.

The bottom line is that Motels and Inns are a cheap version of a Hotel but serve the purpose of getting some rest.

Tim Leffel

Tim Leffel

Editor, HotelScoop

As I understand it, these would be the definitions:

Hotel: A lodging option where there are a single entrance and rooms are all accessed from interior hallways. It will have 24-hour front desk service and some amenities on site such as room service, a restaurant, or bar.

Motel: A lodging option near a road or Interstate highway where customers can park near their room and each room has a separate entrance accessed from an outside door. They are suited for travelers on a budget: there’s no such thing as a “luxury motel” unless the term is used ironically.

Inn: Usually a small, privately owned lodging establishment where the innkeeper is on site. It will have one main entrance that was often historically the entrance to a grand home or historic lodging option. Guests use a common area for socializing and possibly meals.

Nikki Webster

Nikki Webster

Travel Blogger, BritOnTheMove

Motels

Motels are often family owned and run vs. chains. Typically, a motel is a one- or two-story building with a small reception area and limited amenities. Often, the amenities provided consist of a pool in the parking lot, coffee and breakfast if you are lucky. Motels are for overnight stays while on the road, a place to lay your head and not for vacationing in.

Motels are cheaper than hotels and unless it’s a chain there are no rewards programs. Motels do not have a star rating indicating the quality of the motel. If the motel is included in the overall star rating, they fall to the bottom in category 1. Most experienced travelers that are not on a budget only use motels as a last resort. They are common in remote areas in American and on highways. Motels are an “American” option, it’s not a global accommodation option. Lastly, I think most seasoned travelers consider them a step above a hostel.

Hotels

Hotels are universal across the world and they use a star rating system to indicate the quality of a hotel. Hotels can be independently owned, a franchise or part of a larger chain.

Hotels can range from full-blown 5-star resorts to low budget (boarder line models). Hotels typically have a lobby are usually bigger than motels and have amenities. Amenities vary based on the quality of the hotel. Some examples are valet parking, a concierge, turndown service, laundry service, restaurants, bars, room service, fitness center, business center, gift shops, and spas. The amenities vary based on the quality of the hotel.

Another difference with hotels is what is in the room. In the room bedding, mattresses and toiletries provided are aligned to the quality of the hotel. Lately, almost all hotel chains have a reward program that is often a deciding factor for most.

Viktoria Altman

Viktoria Altman

Travel Blogger | Photographer | Writer

The difference between the three types of accommodations often comes down to amenities and personal service.

Hotels are larger and less personal. In many hotels, you’ll find an impressive lobby, room service and a variety of amenities, such as a gym, an onsite restaurant, and a pool. Hotels are ideal for travelers looking for a large space with amenities and room service.

Motels are the “budget hotel” option. Although they do not offer an impressive lobby or a room service, they do some times offer amenities such as a modest pool. Motels are often used by families traveling on a budget.

An Inn is the most personal of the three options. They are often very small (many Inns have less than a dozen rooms). They are run by a small business owner and often offer a personal touch. The rooms are different from one another, and the common space is utilized by guests and the owners. Inns range in price and are ideal for those looking for a more personalized travel experience.