How One Motel 6 Charges Almost $500/Night & Regularly Sells Out

by SharonKurheg

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the radio commercials for Motel 6. They were full of folksy music (a tune composed by Tom Faulkner, performed by him on guitar and Milo Deering on fiddle) and Tom Bodett ending the spot with “I’m Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we’ll leave the light on for you.” Here’s one of them:

By the way, Tom Bodett never really worked for Motel 6. He’s a voice actor (and an author, woodworker and radio personality) who was hired to do these commercials for the chain in 1986 and is still going strong at them. Go figure.

Brief history of Motel 6

Anyway, Motel 6 got its start in 1962, in Santa Barbara, California. A budget motel from the start, they charged a whopping $6 per night. That’s how they got the name Motel 6, by the way.  Oh, and that $6? That’s about $62.05 in today’s money. Sounds about right.

The chain was started by William Becker and Paul Greene. Their goal was to compete with other low-cost hotel chains of the time, such as Holiday Inn, which were starting to inch themselves up in quality. Motel 6, meanwhile, advertised itself as a “no-frills” motel brand, with rooms that featured coin-operated black-and-white television receivers (most other motels by that point were offering free color TV), along with functional interior decor to reduce the time it took to clean the rooms.

Four years after the first Motel 6 opened, the chain was up to 25 motels. They were doing very well, with an 85% occupancy rate (the industry average was significantly less than that at the time), so Becker and Greene decided to sell the chain in 1968.

The chain changed hands again in 1985 (to investment company Kohlberg Kravitz Roberts, who upgraded the chain with telephones and color TVs in the rooms), 1990 (to Accor) and 2012 (the Blackstone Group).

Through the years, the chain, now 1,400 motels strong, has had its ups and downs. Although amenities vary from location to location, they’re generally pretty bare bones. Some locations may have a pool/hot tub, laundry facilities, or blackout curtains, but many don’t (the Motel 6 in Anaheim – Convention Center touts private bathrooms! Yay!). Motel 6 is still considered a “cheap” motel (and one that generally doesn’t get good reviews. It was listed as the #15 of 20 hotels in a small study last year) and prices for rooms generally range from the $60s to the $80s per night.

The one outlier

Despite that, there’s one Motel 6 that typically charges close to $200/night and over $400/night on popular nights. It turns out to be that original location in Santa Barbara—you know, the one that charged $6 when it opened 60-something years ago, LOL!

Want to stay there for the night of Wednesday, May 29th? Need a flexible rate? That’ll be $184.99, please.

a screenshot of a hotel room

Are you more of a summer person? OK, no problem. That same room with a queen-sized bed will be $308.99 for one weeknight in late July.

a screenshot of a computer

Can’t get out of work so you want one night on a weekend during the summer? Your queen-sized room will set you back a cool $428.99, please and thank-you. FOR A MOTEL 6!!!

a screenshot of a hotel room
What it offers

The Santa Barbara Motel 6 was refurbished in 2020. However, its amenities are still pretty basic (from Tripadvisor):

Property amenities:
Free parking
Vending machine
Pets Allowed ( Dog / Pet Friendly )
Non-smoking hotel
Sun terrace
24-hour front desk
Room features
Air conditioning
Flatscreen TV
Complimentary toiletries
Room types
Ocean view
Non-smoking rooms
Family rooms
a room with two beds and a desk
And this budget hotel, rated as 2-stars, has an average 3.5 stars on Tripadvisor, with most reviewers giving them Excellent, Very Good or Average reviews. Here are some examples:
  • “Lovely motel very close to the beach, literally just a 2 minute walk to the stunning beach. Rooms were nice, very clean, modern, apart from no coffee/tea facility. Car parking great, didnt use pool but it was tiny.” – May, 2024
  • “A great place to visit. I chose this motel for 3 nights in our California trip because it was a very short walk from the sea and had a small outdoor swimming pool (enclosed by glass walls. Pretty basic but comfortable and a coffee machine in the foyer. Close to a bar/restaurant on the promenade and a hotel bar just down the road” – Jan, 2024
  • Exceeded my expectations for a Motel 6. Check-in was easy, front desk staff was friendly. Room was great, incredibly clean. Nice set up. Parking was convenient. The pool looked amazing, super clean. Looked like a great place to lounge or go for a swim. Best part was LOCATION! One block from the beach. You can see the ocean from the front of the hotel. – Nov. 2023

Why is it so expensive?

Being the chain’s “first” location probably has a bit to do with the price – nostalgia. But the main reason? Location, location, location.

You saw all 3 reviews we quoted; all mentioned the location – it’s a block away form the beach. Santa Barbara is also a tourist town that has good weather almost all the time.

a building with a lot of parking lot and palm treesWhat does the owner say?

This particular Motel 6 is privately owned by Sanjay Patel (undoubtedly part of the “Patel Cartel” of Indian-Americans who own hotels in the U.S.LOL!). He’s chief executive of Sanj Hotels, a family business based in Los Angeles. They already owned 5 other Motel 6s but purchased the Santa Barbara one for $14M from the Blackstone Group in June, 2022. He told the Wall Street Journal that the high room rates in Santa Barbara are mainly due to market factors.

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