What is the difference between at a hotel and in a hotel? The NYTimes seems to be using both of them. I looked up the ngram on google and it seems in a hotel is used more often than at a hotel, which is kind of surprising to me.
I think in a hotel is more specific. It means being inside the hotel. When you use at the hotel it can be both inside our outside.
In a comment responding to the original post, Eduardo advises the poster to add a verb in front of the phrases "at a hotel" and "in a hotel" to obtain a more precise idea of which phrase is more common. I ran Ngram-based Google Books searches for three pairs of verbs + the phrase "in/at a hotel" over the period 1850–2005 First, "met at a hotel" (blue line) vs. "met in a hotel" (red line):
Second, "stayed at a hotel" (blue line) vs. "stayed in a hotel" (red line):
Third, "stopped at a hotel" (blue line) vs. "stopped in a hotel" (red line):
Clearly, the choice of verb has a considerable effect on the choice of preposition, assuming that all other factors remain effectively equal. But that's a major and probably unjustified assumption.
One major further complication involves the presence or absence of a noun following "hotel" in the phrase. In all three verb phrases that I tested, the "in" phrase was likelier than the "at" phrase to draw a following noun.
For instance, in the Google Books/Ngram results for "met at a hotel" versus "met in a hotel," in the first ten results for the 1987-1998 time period, "met in a hotel" was followed by a noun—suite, elevator, bar, room (three times), or restaurant—seven times. In contrast, "met at a hotel" for the 1938-1998 had only one following noun (suite) in the first ten results, although subsequent results offered such additions as garden brunch, swimming pool, and resort.
The phrases "stayed at a hotel" and "stayed in a hotel" were far less often followed by a noun in the Google Books results than "met at a hotel" and "met in a hotel" were. In fact, I didn't see any examples of a following noun involving "stayed at a hotel"; in contrast, "stayed in a hotel" did occasionally show up as part of "stayed in a hotel room." The Google Books search couldn't find any examples of "met at a hotel room," "met at a hotel lobby" "met at a hotel bar," or "stayed at a hotel room." It found "in" versions of all of those phrases.
These results lead me to hypothesize that, overall and in everyday usage, the phrase "in a hotel" lends itself to further narrowing by a following noun (especially room) to a significantly greater extent than the phrase "at a hotel" does—and that this phenomenon muddies the waters in any effort to determine by means of a simple test which simple phrase ending in the noun hotel ("at a hotel" or "in a hotel") is more common.
I think hotel is a place where we can use preposition 'at' or 'in' . Examples- 1. He will have dinner in a hotel. 2. (At a hotel) So, you can use 'at' or 'in' infront of Hotel in a sentence.
Well, for me, "at" and "in" have distinctive difference. You can say, "I am now in the hotel" and "I am now at the hotel entrance."
When you say "in" you are generally inside the hotel. While "at" should be more specific. At what place in the hotel you are in?
More than 3 decades ago I learned that if you are accommodated in the hotel the preposition "in" is used. However, if you are visiting someone the used preposition is "at". Simple as it.
I think both can be used given the sentence. They both have the same meaning. I know that some may say that "in" is more specific, I disagree. It is a hotel. Everything is "in". It is more about personal preference and sentence flow.
I am staying in the DoubleTree in Times Square. (sounds like I am trapped the hotel and to me doesn't sound right although I would not say it is wrong either)
I am staying at the DoubleTree at Times Square. (sounds much better to me)
I was interested in a specific case where I would say in a dialogue that "I am staying at the hotel" (staying at the time of speaking, and the hotel is specific). Google Books/NGram search with "the" and present continuous is much different:
So I would agree with RyeɃreḁd, in that "at" sounds much better to me in this specific case.
A hotel can be thought of in different ways. One way is as a building, in which case "in" is appropriate. Another way is as a location, in which case "at" is appropriate.
The choice of which to use depends on the context, there's no wrong or right answer. As others have pointed out, the hotel's location includes the outdoors and indoors parts of the hotel, and so "at" would be appropriate for the more general case.