What’s the Difference Between a Hotel, Motel and Resort?

When planning a vacation, a common question arises: What’s the difference between a hotel, motel and resort? While all have some things in common, there is a big difference. 

The main differences between a hotel, a motel and a resort depends on why you plan to stay.  

  • Resorts are for vacations. Not only are you provided a place to sleep, restaurants, entertainment and other things to help you relax, they are provided on-premise.  
  • Hotels are good for those attending conferences or exploring a new city. These individuals need a place to sleep and pick up something to eat before heading out for business. Continental breakfast or even hot breakfast is usually offered. The hotel may have a restaurant for lunch and dinner. But no entertainment (pianist playing at dinner doesn’t count).  
  • Motels tends to be for very short stays or those that don’t need the frills of a hotel. There are none of the extras that come with a resort or even a hotel. In most cases, if you do get breakfast, it won’t be hot food. Modern motels (the current trend is to call them “Inns”) by the look and price are becoming closer to low-end hotels. Motels tend to be booked by people needing a place to rest their head that costs less than a hotel. 

Are there advantages of staying in a motel vs a hotel or resort? Yes. And you might be surprised by the reasons. 

Hotels 

Let’s start with hotels since they’re the most common. Hotels range from basic to ultra-luxurious. In view of this, what things does every hotel have in common regardless of class that makes it different from resorts and motels? 

As we stated above, hotels target primarily business travelers, conference attenders and people visiting other cities. Hotels are for those who need a home base while conducting business or other activities during the day. Perhaps there’s a convention a person is attending. Weddings are a popular reason people stay in hotels. It gives them a comfortable place to rest for the night so they can be ready for the nuptials the next day. Sometimes the wedding takes place in one of the banquet rooms in the hotel. This makes it easier and convenient for the couple and guest to make it to the wedding and reception. 

Another thing that hotels are known for is providing a place for guests to enjoy a meal. Usually this is just breakfast. But depending on the star level of the hotel, lunch and even dinner may be offered. Some of the fancier hotels may offer a breakfast buffet with a made-to-order omelet station. Others a little lower in star rating will have hot food with the option to make your own waffles.  

Regardless of whether only breakfast or all 3 (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are offered, these options typically are provided by one restaurant. 5-star hotels may provide more than one restaurant. Nonetheless, the average hotel offers limited choices when it comes to dining. 

Because people who stay at hotels usually have other business they are handling during their stay, entertainment is almost always non-existent. There are no singing groups, no activities that involve audiences (think karaoke or comedy) and no one to babysit the kids while you explore your surroundings. 

In short, hotels provide a place to stay while travelers take care of business elsewhere. Food may be provided in a restaurant. And no vacation-type activities are offered. 

All Hotels are Not Created Equally 

If you decide that a hotel stay would better suit you, you’ll have to decide which hotel to book. There are differences between hotels depending on the experience you expect. Do you want luxury? Does your hotel have to be “nice” but not to the level of luxury? Does the experience even matter with your hotel choice? 

To understand where I’m coming from, consider the following hotels: 

The Ritz-Carlton 

Ritz-Carlton New York hotel suite overlooking Central Park
Ritz-Carlton New York

This is hotel opulence to the maximum. Everything at a Ritz-Carlton hotel is premium. Available to guests are restaurants, bars, a spa, and gym. But don’t expect this level of pampering at most hotels. The cost for one night at The Ritz-Carlton can cover a week’s stay at a premium resort in Cancun, Mexico

Embassy Suites 

Courtyard Embassy Suites Miami International Airport
Embassy Suites Miami International Airport

I just had to include Embassy Suites. I am biased toward them. It was where my new wife and I stayed the night we got married before heading off to the honeymoon. Here’s why I like this hotel chain so much. 

Every room is a suite. That’s literally why it has the name. And while the level of luxury isn’t to the degree of the Ritz-Carlton, it is an affordable premium hotel. It’s one of those that I mentioned provided a hot, buffet-style breakfast with omelet station. The on-premise restaurant serves the same high-quality food guest enjoyed in the morning. If your team is playing, grab a seat at the bar and your favorite drink and enjoy. 

We like Embassy Suites so much that for our 5th anniversary we used it as a home base for the entire weekend

Marriott 

Private balcony at Marriott Station South Beach hotel overlooking the beach
Marriot Stanton South Beach Fl Guest Room Overlooking Beach

The Marriott brand of hotels has a variety of styles of hotel depending on location. The Marriott we’re focused on here is the Marriott Stanton South Beach. It’s a beautiful hotel right on the beach. There’s an incredible restaurant with a warm, inviting atmosphere. And it’s an incredible place to hold a wedding. You can have an island-style wedding without the expense. 

Motels  

Motels are very similar to hotels in that guests usually don’t spend a lot of time in motels. When it comes to amenities, they basically don’t exist. You are provided with a room that has a TV, perhaps a microwave and all the things you’d expect for hygiene. 

On the dining front, options are very, very limited. If you get a snack machine, you’ve found a decent motel. That’s because people who stay in motels many times are just “passing through”. In other words, they’re heading to a destination and realize they might not make it in the time originally anticipated. Because of fatigue, it’s unsafe to drive. So a motel is a cheaper option to a hotel. It’s also safer than sleeping in the car on the side of the road. 

Another thing that separates motels from hotels is that – unlike a hotel – access to rooms from the outside the building. Simply go from your car right up to your room. Motels can be very convenient for a weary traveler.  

This is not always the case. Many motels (called “Inns” by some hospitality chains) provide access to rooms from inside the building, just like a hotel. Some even have a breakfast station. None, however, have restaurants. 

There’s another selling point for motels. Many people like to bring pets with them on vacation. Particularly those that enjoy outdoor activities when away from home. The average hotel doesn’t allow pets. You can find them; but it will be difficult.  

With motels, many allow pets to be in the rooms. When we moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, we were one of those travelers who were getting tired on the road. We had our cat with us. None of the hotels in the vicinity allowed pets. So we stopped at a Motel 6 that had access to the rooms from the inside. That’s why I said earlier that motel rooms are “almost” always access from the outside. We were able to get some sleep and get moving again. 

Price is another thing that separates hotels from motels. Because you’re only being provided a room and a bed, the cost to book a motel will be significantly cheaper than booking a hotel room. Although that is changing since some motels are that in name only. And the price reflects it. If you don’t have a problem not getting breakfast provided in the morning and don’t mind the possibility of strangers walking past your door from the outside while you sleep, a motel might be an ideal choice for the traveler on a budget. 

Which Motel Is Right for You? 

Motels have gotten a bad reputation. That comes from the days before they were taken over by larger companies. Motels are no longer seedy places that you’ll be afraid to spend the night. In fact, motel chains have put forth an effort to differentiate themselves from other chains.  

Let’s look at what might help you choose one motel chain over another: 

Motel 6 

Motel 6 Atlanta Northwest Marietta in Marietta, Georgia
Motel 6 Atlanta Northwest Marietta, Marietta, Georgia

I listed Motel 6 first because it’s the one we stayed at when moving to another state. The weather was horrible, raining so hard we could barely see 10 feet in front of us. Motel 6 gave us a good price, a nice room and allowed us to bring our cat with us.  

Don’t expect the plushness that the hotels I listed have. You will, however, get a room that will allow you to sleep comfortably and not worry about fees because of something your pet might do.  

Super 8 

Super 8 motel near AT&T Stadium
Super 8 Arlington, TX near AT&T Stadium

One of Motel 6’s direct competition is Super 8. Like Motel 6, there’s not a lot extra that comes with the room. But it’s a good choice if you need a home base while you plan your outdoor activities. 

The Super 8 pictured here is in Arlington, TX near AT&T Stadium. That makes it a great place to stay if you’re in town for a Cowboys game and want to tailgate. This is a perfect example of why a motel might be a better choice than a hotel. 

Resorts 

What can you expect when you go to a resort?  

That all depends on where your resort is located. Resorts in Bali, Indonesia will provide different activities than a resort in Mexico or Jamaica. When you begin investigating resorts in the United States, things can get even more complicated.  

Here’s why. 

Are you looking for a resort near the beach? Perhaps you want one in the mountains where skiing is popular. Or maybe you want one in the mountains but not focused on winter sports. Did you know that many of the large hotels in Las Vegas are actually resorts? Yeah, it can get confusing pretty fast. 

So what things universally identify a resort regardless of where it is or what its main draw is? 

The biggest difference between resorts and hotels/motels is the reason why a person selects a resort. People who go to resorts are going on vacation. While the room may be the same quality as some hotels, it’s what is available on-premise that makes the difference. 

Let’s begin with dining.  

Resorts want to pamper you so that you’ll be compelled to return on another occasion. Key to helping you make that determination is providing dining establishments that go beyond the typical “continental breakfast”. In many instances, you’ll have more than one place to choose to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

After you’ve finished filling your belly, you’ll want to be entertained. Resorts tend to have activities day and night. Exactly what activities will depend on the type of resort it is. Some resorts in Las Vegas, for example have Cirque du Soleil shows. Others have roller coasters that run through the hotel from the outside (sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true).  

On the other hand, resorts in the Caribbean and Jamaica have watersports at your disposal. In the evenings, it’s not uncommon to enjoy live musical or theatrical performances. 

Picking the Right Resort 

Picking the right resort starts with knowing what you want out of a vacation. Let’s look at some very different resorts to show why understanding your vacation preferences is important when picking the right type of resort. 

Treasure Island – Las Vegas, NV 

Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas Nevada
Treasure Island

What many don’t realize about Las Vegas is that most of the large hotels on the Strip are actually resorts. And as such, expect to pay a resort fee. In most instances, you’ll get a coupon book and a few free things thrown in here and there. But it’s really just a way for the hotel to siphon extra cash out of you. All the hotels in Vegas do this. So expect to pay about $35/night in resort fees. 

Back to Treasure Island Las Vegas. Most think of Las Vegas as just a casino town. And yes, casinos are a major part of the landscape. My wife and I do not gamble at all. Yet, during one stretch, we visited Vegas every year for a week at a time for 5 years straight! That means there’s more to do in Vegas than just gamble. 

The awesome thing about resorts on the Strip is that they’re all resorts! However, the reason I selected to tell you about Treasure Island is because it’s right next to the Mirage. This is a big deal. If you’ve ever tried to walk from one Strip resort to another, you know it’s a lot farther than it looks in pictures and video. And that doesn’t count the walking you’ll do once inside. 

Being right next to the Mirage, there is a tram that connects the two properties. TI, as it’s also known, is a little less expensive than Mirage. Because of the tram, you can enjoy all that Mirage and TI have without having to move your vehicle. 

Since this is a resort, you’d expect resort type things. Here’s what you can enjoy at Treasure Island: 

  • A+ List comedy shows 
  • 8 named restaurants (this doesn’t include room service or smaller finger-food shops) 
  • Spa & salon 
  • Mystère by Cirque du Soleil 
  • Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. 
  • Pool & cabanas 

And that’s all on premise! Remember, you can enjoy everything Mirage has without moving your car. Plus, everything else on the Strip. 

Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa 

Infinity pool at Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort
Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort Infinity Pool

Anytime a resort is rated a solid 4-stars on TripAdvisor from over 11,000 reviews, it must be a great place to stay.  

What makes this resort so special? Having a private beach and rooms with private balconies is a good start. Throw in free breakfast, free wifi, seafood restaurants, and incredible décor, and you might have a hard time leaving. The Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa is the epitome of what a resort can be. 

Which Is Better? 

Which is better – a motel, hotel or resort? The answer is, it depends. Are you looking to spend some time away from work and relax? Then a resort is probably what you want. Are you going on a business trip, conference or exploring a new city? A hotel is probably the better option. Are you driving on a long trip and need to break up the trip? Or is your version of a vacation spending time outdoors? The lower cost and no-frills aesthetic of a motel is likely for you. 

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