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How to Choose a Motel

Find the Motel That's Right for You

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Your motel choice can make or break your trip. If you choose well, you’ll have a clean, affordable place to stay. Unfortunately, some motel customers discover that their room isn’t clean or that its walls are paper-thin. When you’re faced with a list of choices and you’re traveling on a budget, how can you choose the right motel?

Typically, people who stay in motels fall into one of several categories: budget-conscious travelers, sightseers, families, businesspeople and travelers in transit. Motel chains, always aware that travelers have a choice, are increasingly offering more amenities at competitive prices. These extras, ranging from wireless Internet access to loaner books to exercise rooms, are designed to appeal to all types of travelers. Your job is to decide what features are important to you and to base your motel choice on them.

Let’s take a look at factors that might affect your decision.

Cost

Motel prices vary drastically from place to place. In New York City, $200 doesn’t go very far. In some areas of the U.S., however, $200 will buy you an extremely comfortable room at the best place in town. Researching lodging costs for a particular area will help you decide how much to spend on your motel room.

Many travel websites, such as Kayak and Travelzoo, can help you compare motel prices and shop for the best deal. Guidebooks, which often contain useful maps, can help you find the safest part of town or the neighborhood closest to the sights you plan to visit. Use a combination of websites and travel guides to determine which motels fit your budget.

Motel Chain / Brand Loyalty

I’ve been lucky enough to have stayed at several excellent motels in the last few years. I tend to book future stays with the chains that please me and avoid staying at chains where I’ve had bad experiences, regardless of cost or amenities. Most of the time, this strategy pays off. If the motel chain in question offers frequent flier miles or some other kind of traveler rewards program, that’s even better.

Distance to Sights / Destinations

If you’ve set your heart on spending the day at Washington, D.C.’s monuments and memorials, you’ll be very disappointed with a motel 50 miles from the National Mall. Always consider the distance and travel time to the sights you want to see when you choose a motel. You may pay a little – or even a lot – more to stay near your top five sights, but you won’t have to worry about getting to your must-see spots on time or fret over where to park your car.

Safety

In large cities, safety considerations are extremely important. Never skimp on accommodations if doing so puts your safety at risk. If you aren’t sure where the safe areas are, get some guidebooks and read about your destination. Don’t trust online advertisements; ask friends who’ve traveled to your destination, read independent reviews or talk with a travel agent before booking your room.

Motel Features

Most travelers have “make or break” lodging requirements. For me, a nonsmoking room is a must-have. Make a list of motel room features that are important to you. If you can’t get information on motel features from guidebooks or websites, call the motel you’re considering and ask the front desk staff to describe their property.

Motels offer a variety of amenities, including:

Is parking free? Can you see the parking lot from your room, or do you park underground?

If you use a wheelchair, does the motel offer rooms that meet your needs? (Tip: Call each motel to learn about doorway widths, bathroom sizes and other important factors; each motel chain’s definition of “accessible” is different.)

If you’re traveling with grandchildren or enjoy relaxing by the pool, consider a motel with an indoor or outdoor pool. Splashing around or swimming a few laps can be a great way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.

If you’re traveling with your beloved dog, ask if pets are allowed. Websites such as PetsWelcome and DogFriendly can help you find motels that accept pets.

If you prefer nonsmoking rooms or if you need a room with twin beds, you’ll need to ask about specific room availability. Some amenities, such as rollaway beds or infant cribs, may be available on a “request only” basis. Be sure you understand the motel’s policies before you book your room.

Increasingly, travelers look for Internet access when they’re on the road. If you need wireless access to stay in touch with your family or communicate with your office, don’t forget to ask about Internet access. You may want to discuss this topic directly with the motel's staff.

Many motels offer a late check-in option if you guarantee your reservation with a credit card. Of course, if you don’t show up, the motel will bill you anyway. Late check-in is especially helpful if you’re traveling a long distance or in bad weather to get to your motel. You’ll have peace of mind knowing your room will be held all night if necessary.

  • Parking
  • Accessible Rooms
  • Swimming Pool
  • Pets
  • Bed / Room Selection
  • Wireless Internet
  • Late Arrival

Motel Reviews and Recommendations

There are several ways to find out about motel quality. AAA publishes hotel / motel guidebooks. If you’re an AAA member, you can visit a local office and pick up a TourBook, which is filled with motel and hotel listings.

Online reviews, such as those at TripAdvisor and Hotels.com, can be very helpful when you’re trying to decide which motel to choose. You may find that certain individual reviews are extremely positive or negative. It’s important to consider all reviews when selecting your motel, since some travelers are very particular and others will give any decent room a top rating.

Don’t forget to ask family, friends and colleagues for their recommendations.

The Final Decision

In the end, it’s up to you to decide which features matter most. If you have questions, call the motel's front desk and discuss your concerns with the manager. Carefully read the motel's cancellation policy before you make your reservation.

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