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Hotel, Motel, Resort – What’s the Difference?

private resort room with pool outside window

When planning a vacation, it can get confusing trying to decide where to stay. Is a resort better than a hotel? Should a motel be an option? What are the differences between each one?

The main difference between a hotel and a resort is that a hotel is typically designed as a place to sleep before heading out to activities such as a conference or sightseeing in a new city. Resorts are for those looking to relax, typically for vacations. There are usually more amenities onsite such as restaurants and recreational activities. Motels can be considered budget hotels. But don’t expect the quality or amenities you’ll find at a hotel or resort.

But let’s talk in more detail about the differences. Knowing what separates hotels and resorts will help when deciding where to stay when you take vacation.

What Are Hotels?

Hotels primarily target business travelers, conference attenders and people visiting other cities. Hotels are ideal for people needing a home base while conducting business or other activities during the day.

Weddings are another 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.

A funny coincidence is that after the wedding, couples tend to go to a resort for the honeymoon. We’ll talk about why in the next section.

Another thing hotels are known for is providing meals for guests. It’s not uncommon for a hotel to offer breakfast. Some hotels offer breakfast buffets with made-to-order omelet stations and waffles.

Others might have a restaurant that offers a sit down-type meal for breakfast. Hotels with restaurants will usually offer lunch and dinner services as well.

Because people who stay at hotels usually have other business they are handling during their stay, entertainment is almost always non-existent. The exception is if the hotel has a bar or lounge.

In this case, it wouldn’t be surprising to have a musician or singer performing while guest enjoy a drink.

If the hotel is trying to show themselves different from the competition, they may offer something like karaoke or comedy in the lounge. But in most instances, don’t expect it.

What Are the Four Different Types of Hotels?

bright luxury hotel room
Grand Millennium Hotel Premier Room – Image Credit Grand Millennium Hotel

At this point, we should talk about the four different types of hotels. That’s because all hotels are not created equally. We’ll categorize these hotel types as:

  • Budget
  • Affordable
  • Business
  • Luxury

Let’s break them down.

Hotel TypeCost/nightRoom QualityBreakfastRestaurants
Budget$10 – $30basicnonenone
Affordable$40 – $70basic to goodcontinentalnone
Business$80 – $300good to very goodhot/basic buffetpossibly
Luxury$200 and upexcellenthot/high quality foodalmost always
Expectations from hotel types

Budget Hotels

Budget hotels are just what the name implies. They’re for people who have a limited budget but need a place to sleep. Don’t expect to have any amenities at all in a budget hotel.

Expect prices for budget hotels to be anywhere from $10 to $30 per night.

(Note that descriptions and price ranges in this post are for the United States. Because of exchange rates, it is possible to stay in luxury hotels in some countries for the same price as budget hotels in the United States.)

If you book a room in a budget hotel, don’t expect anything extra at all. You are literally paying to have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head.

Then again, people who gravitate to budget hotels aren’t looking for the extras that come in the other three hotel types.

We don’t want to generalize too much, but because of the price point, a budget hotel may not live up to the standards of cleanliness you are accustomed to.

There is also the strong possibility that a budget hotel will have long-term tenants. Because of the low price point, some people use them as apartments.

This comes with its own set of challenges.

For example, at budget hotels, you may find more police activity than you would care to experience. There may also be drug activity in or around these establishments.

If safety is a concern, you may not want to put a budget hotel on your list. If keeping costs down is necessary, check out the reviews of the hotel on a number of different review sites.

My recommendation when reviewing any hotel or resort is to read the worst reviews.

Almost no establishment will have only 5-star reviews. But what you’re looking for aren’t general complaints.

You want to see if enough people are complaining about the same thing. If they are, you probably want to stay away from that hotel.

Affordable Hotels

Affordable hotels will cost a little bit more than budget hotels. Expect to pay between $40 and $70 per night.

While your mind won’t be blown by the decor of an affordable hotel, you should expect it to be cleaner than a budget hotel.

Because of the increased price point of affordable hotels, you won’t tend to find long-term guests staying at affordable hotels. With the reduction of long-term guests also comes a reduction in drug activity and crime.

Just like with budget hotels, some affordable hotels may not meet up to your standard of cleanliness. It may also take a longer time to get your room cleaned than it would at the hotel types we’ll be talking about next.

Don’t expect anything extra at affordable hotels. If breakfast is offered, it will likely be fruit and mini boxes of cold cereal.

Business Hotels

You’re actually familiar with business hotels. They’re the ones run by the big chains that advertise on television and in ads on your mobile device.

As you’d expect, that advertising costs money. And the company is going to get it back in the rates of the rooms.

For business hotels, the prices span a wider range than the others we’ve discussed so far.

When booking your room, it won’t be uncommon to pay anywhere from $80 per night to as much as $300 per night depending on location and activities going on for the dates you book.

These numbers are not by any means set in stone. Multiple factors are at play when determining room rates for these hotels.

Generally, these types of hotels will be near business centers and in the heart of metropolitan areas. So if there is a convention or some other special event taking place, room rates will be impacted dramatically.

I have to add a disclaimer at this point. And the reason involves Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is a special case when it comes to business hotels. That’s because Las Vegas hotel deals are directly determined by the events in the convention capital of the world.

What’s funny about Las Vegas room rates is that prices can range from budget hotel prices all the way to luxury hotel prices. There’s a reason for this. I’ll get into it in more detail in the section “Why Do People Choose Resorts”.

But let’s get back to our discussion on business hotels.

In these hotels you’ll typically find hot breakfast available to you. The better ones have hot proteins like sausage, bacon, and eggs. Potatoes or hash browns will usually be in the mix. Along with mini waffles.

You still will likely not get omelet stations. There is a greater possibility that the hotel will have a restaurant and a bar or lounge where you can order alcoholic drinks.

Luxury Hotels

This is where things get interesting.

Luxury hotels get to the point where they can start to bleed over into being a resort. This is particularly true with luxury hotels in African countries.

As far as pricing goes, expect to pay anywhere from $200 per night and up. There really is no upper limit when it comes to luxury hotel pricing.

At these hotels, the quality of the food rises tremendously. The restaurants are top notch. The buffets go from simply serving hot food to becoming a dining experience.

The rooms you book will be of the highest quality. From the bed and bedding to styling of the room, the goal is to wrap you in luxury. You’ll receive complimentary bath robes and slippers; some may have a signature scent that is pumped through the halls and public areas.

Your check-in experience will also be elevated above the other class of hotels. Almost anything you ask for will be granted.

There’s a saying in the luxury hotel industry, “Difficult we can do immediately. Impossible may take a minute.”

What’s meant by that statement is that the hotel will do everything humanly possible to accommodate your needs.

To that end, you’ll find a concierge that can help you with everything from booking hard to claim theater tickets to directing you to the best pizza slice in town.

It should be noted that these are the things you will generally find in these categories. For example, there may be some budget hotels that will offer things that affordable or even business class hotels offer. And some business class hotels don’t have features we describe as being in business class hotels.

Summary of Hotel Types
  • Budget Hotel– Very low costs. No amenities. Potential for criminal activity.
  • Affordable Hotel– Slightly more expensive than budget hotels. Potential for improved bedding. Less criminal activity
  • Business Hotel – More expensive. Upgraded bedding. Located in metropolitan centers and near business centers. Upgraded styling of the room. Limited amenities.
  • Luxury Hotel – Most expensive. Upgraded rooms and bedding. Intense focus on guest satisfaction. High level of amenities.

Why Do People Choose Resorts?

private outdoor patio with infinity pool palm tree and ocean in background
Beachfront suite, Anantara Lawana Koh Samu, Chaweng, Thailand – Image credit: Anantara Resorts

People gravitate to resorts because they tend to be located in places that people want to take vacations. Because of the activities and amenities, people tend to choose resorts because they can enjoy a vacation without having to incur extra costs of leaving the property.

However, much like hotels, there are generally 3 types of resorts:

  • Economy
  • Specialty
  • Luxury

We could get more detailed in listing the types of resorts that exist. There are all-inclusive resorts, dude ranches, ecotourism resorts, golf resorts, casino resorts (think the Las Vegas Strip), amusement part resorts. The list goes on.

Nonetheless, all these subcategories of resorts will fit into one of these three resort types.

Let’s look at the differences between these resort types so we can help you plan your vacation.

Economy Resort

Economy resorts aim to be easy on your budget.

Many timeshares could be considered an economy resort. Economy resorts tend to have things to keep the kids occupied.

There’s usually a pool, kids play areas, basketball and tennis courts, mini golf, and other things to pass the time.

Don’t expect to find restaurants in economy resorts.

Although that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just don’t go thinking a restaurant will be on premise. Depending on the resort, there may be a place to get burgers and hot dogs.

If you want more than that, you need to go to a specialty resort.

Specialty Resorts

Specialty resorts are just that – special. Included in specialty resorts would be theme park resorts like Disney and Universal. Ecotourism resorts, dude ranches, golf resorts, and casino resorts would fit into this category as well.

Your experience at these resorts will be elevated above what you’d get in an economy resort. Everything from the quality of the room to the dining experience will be on a higher level.

There’s also more to do at a specialty resort. And that’s by design.

Let’s say you want to stay at a golf resort. Everything about your stay is designed to make your visit and your primary activity of golfing an unforgettable experience.

If you plan to stay at an amusement park resort, you’ll have everything from water rides to movie experiences. And there will be more food than you can possibly consume. For dining, there are restaurants that cater to kids as well as adults.

When staying at a specialty resort, there will be plenty to keep both the adults and the children occupied.

Luxury Resorts

Remember what I said in the luxury hotel section? Luxury hotels start to blur the line with luxury resorts because, from the standpoint of the room, they’re almost identical.

Rooms in luxury resorts are so amazing that you’ll never want to leave the room. The beds are top notch as are the bedding.

A feature of luxury resorts, particularly luxury resorts in Southeast Asia and luxury resorts in the Caribbean is that many of them are situated right on the beach. Now, it’s not a rule that luxury resorts are on the beach. But it’s very common.

The same thing you’d expect from a luxury hotel is what you’ll find in a luxury resort when it comes to dining. Restaurants in luxury resorts aren’t just meals. They’re experiences.

Ditto for the activities.

Many luxury resorts offer activities you simply won’t find in other places. This is partially due to where luxury resorts tend to be located.

We’ve sifted through some of the world’s best luxury resorts.

Our criteria included only 4-star resorts and higher with amenities like airport transportation to the resort, spas, private beaches and the option to stay in your choice of suite. If you’re planning a vacation at a luxury resort, you definitely want to check out this list.

Summary of Resort Types
  • Economy Resort – Low cost. Basic recreation activities. Unlikely to have restaurants on-site. Basic room and bedding.
  • Specialty Resort – More expensive. Specialized recreation activities. Restaurants on-site. Upgraded rooms and bedding.
  • Luxury Resort – Most expensive. High quality rooms and bedding. Restaurants (usually multiple) on-site. Unique amenities like private beaches, spas, etc.

What Are Two Good Reasons to Stay at Resorts?

clawfoot tub in luxury bathroom
Image Credit: Thailand Na-Nirand-Romantic Boutique

We’ve talked a lot about what hotels are and what resorts are. We also went into detail describing the different types of hotels and resorts.

So, aside from the name of this website, why would I encourage you to stay at a resort instead of a hotel when you go on vacation?

If I had to give two good reasons to stay at resorts, they would be 1. Everything you would want to do on vacation is available onsite. And 2. Pricing packages are available to make staying at a resort affordable.

Everything Is Onsite

As I outlined earlier, when you stay at a resort, just about everything you might want is available on location. This is true from economy resorts all the way up to luxury resorts.

A person who wants to stay at an economy resort isn’t concerned about all the extras that come with a luxury resort, for example. Nonetheless, all the other things they need to enjoy a vacation are available to them.

For luxury resort vacationers, there is a certain expectation for the room. And while it’s true that a luxury hotel will more than adequately satisfy this requirement, it’s the extras that will be found on the property that make it appealing.

Pricing Packages Reduce Costs

I list pricing packages as the second reason to stay at resorts because resorts have an advantage in this regard.

Since hotels make it easier to explore the immediate vicinity and pricing can fluctuate greatly depending on what is happening in the area, resorts make better economical sense when planning a vacation.

Prices for resorts tend to be more stable. Yes, prices will increase during peak season. But these pricing changes are predictable.

Unlike hotels where a price could be good on day 1, increase dramatically the next 3 days, then go back down for the following 4 days.

Resorts also know that the only reason you’d come is for personal pleasure. Said another way, there is no functional or business reason to stay at a resort. Therefore, they have to make it compelling for you to spend your money with them.

For this reason, resorts will offer vacation packages. Many times, the package will include reduced airfare if you use their preferred airline.

Depending on the type of resort, you may be able to bundle in excursions at a reduced price when you book your stay.

Believe it or not, Las Vegas hotels on the Strip are actually resorts. Vegas has the unique positioning of being a vacation destination and a major convention city.

So the properties serve the function of a hotel. And with all that’s available to do on these properties, they also qualify as resorts.

One thing you’ll have to be cautious about when book a Vegas resort are resort fees. They can dramatically change the amount your vacation can cost.

What’s the Difference Between Motels and Resorts?

I saved motels for last because most people are considering either a hotel or a resort when planning a vacation.

By definition, a motel could be considered a budget hotel. There are virtually no amenities. And the quality of everything from the bed to the bedding will be basic at best. A resort has more thing available to you in terms of recreation.

One key feature of motels that separates them from hotels is that in most cases, access to motel rooms is from the outside. That is to say, the only thing separating your room from the outside is your motel room door.

Contrast that to a hotel, where you come into a lobby then up to your room.

For some, the exposed feeling of a motel is a turnoff. For others, the ability to come and go without having to interact with other people is ideal. It all comes down to personal preference.

Which Is Right for You?

Which is right for you – a hotel, motel, or resort?

That depends on why you are traveling.

For those planning a vacation – particularly with a family – resorts become appealing options. The vacation packages offered coupled with dining and entertainment on site makes resorts a popular choice when planning a vacation.

To make your resort search easier, we’ve created some helpful resources for you. Southeast Asian resorts are very popular. And we’ve created a list of our favorite Southeast Asian resorts that we think you’ll like.

Maybe you’re not sure what part of the world you want to vacation in. If this is you, then check out our list of the best all-inclusive resorts in the world broken down by country.

If you’re goal is to visit a large city and take in the sights, a hotel might be a better option.

There’s no need to concern yourself with entertainment since you’ll probably have plans to enjoy the local entertainment in the city you will be visiting.

The same is true when it comes to restaurant options. You’ll probably want to eat at an establishment you can only visit while in that city.

That leaves us with motels.

Am I saying that motels don’t serve any purpose?

Absolutely not!

In fact, motels are perfect for people who like active, outdoor vacations.

All the extras that come with hotels and resorts aren’t necessary for someone who wants to vacation by hiking in a national park. You really just need a place to go to sleep and stow your belongings while you’re out.

And for this, motels are perfect!

The lower price of motels for these travelers means they can spend more of their money on the things that will enhance their vacation. And most of that will be in the time they spend away from the motel.

As you can see, there’s something for everyone when deciding what type of place you want to stay in on vacation.

Which choice is right for you? Let us know in the comments. And if you found this post valuable, share it with your friends on your favorite social media platforms.

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