What is Hotel Room Keyless Entry and Should You Use It?

a hand holding a phone
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Checking in to a hotel used to require going to the front desk, showing ID and providing a credit card for room charges and incidentals. Once you were confirmed and had all of your questions answered, the host or hostess provided you with a key for your room and pointed you in the way of the elevators or led the way personally.

All of that changed when hotels started rolling out digital check-in, where you could skip the front desk and go straight to your room. Hilton, Marriott and Starwood were all quick to test and then launch that benefit. In addition to checking in, you could request extra pillows, choose your room from a map and order drinks right from your phone. Marriott even threw a surprise party for the 1 millionth mobile check-in guest which you can watch here –


Now the latest buzz is keyless entry. Starwood introduced something called SPG Keyless back in November, and a few days ago Hilton joined in with their own version called Digital Key which will be available at over 250 properties in the US by early 2016. When Marriott brings Moxy hotels to the US in 2016 they’ll have keyless entry too. Pretty cool, right? Theoretically you wave your smartphone in front of the door and it magically opens, no keys to fumble with.

Here’s how it works

Once you have downloaded the SPG app or Hilton app, you register or enroll your phone via the app. You enable it to accept notifications, and on the day of your arrival you’ll receive a message once you’re checked in. Tapping on the app, an encrypted file is sent to your device with your room number and you can head straight there when you get to the hotel.

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Is it expensive for hotels?

When it comes to the cost to install the new technology, it can be reportedly high, upwards of $150 per door. It is being justified by hotels not only by having a new technology feature to offer but also with the possibility of the hotel connecting with more customers via the app. Since you have to enable notifications when enrolling the app, the hotel is then free to send you communications while on property. Robert Cole, founder of hospitality tech consultancy RockCheetah said, “If you’re down in the lobby by the bar at 10 o’clock, they can suddenly ping you with a two-for-one on Guinness, because you love Guinness. …That’s powerful, so I think that wins out over, ‘We might be inconveniencing some guests who are old-school and don’t have this stuff.’†Now that the Apple Watch is here, keyless capabilities exist there as well.

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Can plastic key card rooms accept the new technology?

The process to turn regular plastic key card rooms into keyless involves adding the mobile technology to each individual lock, which still accepts older plastic key cards so the appearance is the same on the outside. When hotels were first testing the locks they only outfitted a few rooms, and no one could tell which were the test rooms from the outside.

What about security?

Because the mobile key and room number is sent to the guest’s phone over the internet using encryption, they are specifically tied to each user’s phone and room, so they cannot be used for another room.

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A drawback to this is that only one digital key is created for each room, so if you’re traveling with a spouse or friend they cannot get a key on their phone too. They’d have to ask the front desk for a plastic key. One room, one digital key.

This leads to potential security concerns too. What if you left your phone somewhere? There’s a lot more personal information available on a phone than plastic room keycards, so if a thief was able to get your name and somehow rustle up your room number from someone they could gain access to your room. Highly unlikely given that front desk staff rarely gives out room numbers without ID, but there’s still a slim chance.

Some have also wondered if a housekeeper might be given a master electronic key. If so, extra care would have to be taken that they don’t walk by rooms and have them automatically unlock when they shouldn’t.

Some of my thoughts

I love airline mobile boarding passes, and the idea of being able to use my phone to unlock my room without having to carry a key as well. However, reports of keyless entry with Starwood have been less than great. Starwood’s keyless system works via Bluetooth, as does Hilton’s. In addition to technological fails, what happens if your phone runs out of battery? You have to go back down to the front desk to get a key, and may not have your ID on hand then.

One thing is for sure. Keyless entry avoids the issue of having my room key stop working at some point, so I’ll definitely give the new keyless entry a try. However, I hope it doesn’t become like the automatic lanes at the supermarket. You know, where so much money is put into the technology of self-serve lanes that staff numbers are cut and then when you want face-to-face interaction the lines are twice as long.

What are your thoughts on keyless entry for hotels? Will you/have you tried it?

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  1. if the application hangs or goes down, what is the backup? or what if the hotel security is compromised? or if the receiver on the hotel suite lock refuses to pair with a person’s smartphone?

  2. Dumb\Shallow question:

    How does the mobile check-in process affect my chances of a possible upgrade if I’m part of the hotel’s elite program? Do I lose the chance to be upgraded if I use a mobile app like the one mentioned here?

    1. Future-VX-Traveler, that’s actually a really good question. The mobile check-in process is not supposed to affect your upgrade chances at all. That being said, I find that even when I use a check-in agent they still sometimes need prompting to find a suite or better room type when I’m eligible. Thanks for reading!

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