How Do Digital Hotel Keys Work? - A Quick Look
Have you ever looked at your digital hotel card and wondered, "how do digital hotel keys work?" Well, you are not alone! Many travelers have marveled at the technology behind digital hotel keys and might think they are highly secured and perfect for the modern hotel landscape. However, the truth is that the popular digital hotel room key is quite outdated, and many hotels need to modernize their digital key systems.
This article will tackle the technology behind digital hotel keys, what you need to know about them to secure your key, and how this technology's future looks.
The Technology Behind Digital Hotel Keys
The first question is, how do digital hotel keys work? Well, most hotel keys these days use plastic cards that have a magnetic stripe on them. These keys contain the basic information of the hotel guest, particularly which room they are staying in.
Once you check-in, the hotel personnel will input your user information in the digital hotel key card, including your room number and how long your stay will be. The door lock on the corresponding room will then read the key card information, verify the information with the hotel's server, and unlock the room for you.
Besides your room, hotels with digital keys may program your keycard to be accessible to other common areas in the hotel, such as the gym, spa, or a business center. Suppose the room has amenities that require additional payments. In that case, the staff inside can use your digital hotel key to automatically charge the services to your bill so that you won't need to worry about carrying cash around. Some hotels will restrict a guest's access to only their floor to ensure that all the guests are afforded peace and privacy as much as possible.
Common Types of Digital Hotel Keys
There are generally three types of digital hotel keys: magnetic stripe cards, RFID cards, and smart cards.
- Magnetic stripe cards
This technology is the oldest type of digital hotel key. It is still in use in many large hotels because it is affordable and easy to integrate into any existing system. But how do digital hotel keys work, especially in this type of key? The magnetic stripe card typically needs to be swiped through a magnetic reader to complete the verification process, and the guest is granted access. However, there are two major problems with magnetic stripe cards. First, the information inside the card is not very secured. Many hotels have had issues with guests complaining that their magnetic stripe card is not working. Second, magnetic stripe cards tend to fade quickly, or the striped surface can get scratched. Either way, this will result in your card not being read by the magnetic card reader.
- RFID cards
RFID cards are also known as proximity cards because they don’t require the same swiping motion as magnetic stripe cards. Instead, these cards use radio frequencies to give guest access. Even simply placing your card close to the reader is enough to allow the terminal to "read" the information stored in the card and give you access to the hotel room or other amenities.
- Smart cards
This is the newest type of technology for hotels with digital keys. They are durable and can store a lot of information about a guest, making them perfect for guests with loyalty programs. Instead of the data being stored inside the card, these cards have microchips that interface with the hotel's main guest registration system to store all the information stored in the hotel database. Typically, smart cards are reusable because they can be reprogrammed for each new guest. While this technology might be expensive initially, many hotels consider them as an investment so that they don’t have to keep buying new digital card keys.
Busting The Most Common Digital Hotel Key Myth
Many people mistakenly believe that their digital hotel keys contain their financial information since many hotels allow people to use their key cards to charge amenities and additional purchases to their room. Well, they don't; however, a majority of key cards – especially magnetic stripe and RFID cards contain the following:
- Guest check-in date
- Guest check-out date
- Guest number (if applicable to hotel system)
- Room number
The main reason that hotels will not put any more sensitive information on hotel key cards is to prevent misuse. Imagine the problems that you will face if you lose your key card (a common mistake), and some other guests will use it to rack up charges! What's worse, what if that hotel guest gains access to your room? While digital hotel keys are not immune to misuse, hotels will still minimize the amount of information on your card to prevent these instances as much as possible.
The Future of Digital Hotel Key Cards
Now that you know how do digital hotel keys work, you might also have noticed that more and more hotels are moving away from using them. Many hotels are now shifting to allow guests to use their own mobile phones as their digital key card!
Once a guest checks in, they will receive a unique code from the hotel management to use around the hotel. Alternatively, they can also download the official hotel app (if the hotel has one) and receive their digital key card information on the app. However, this method is still infrequently used, and you'll generally only see it in the most expensive or luxurious hotels. Find out more about hotel tricks.
So, how do digital hotel keys work? The answer will depend on the technology on the cards. They can range from an old technology (magnetic stripe) or the newest one (mobile phones). However, it will be a long time before using mobile phone technology for digital hotel keys will become the norm, so you can still expect to encounter magnetic stripe or RFID cards for the foreseeable future.
November 2, 2020
By: Rudy Aims
One of the first things you recognize when you step into the hotel is the front desk. Although most hotels keep walls bare, some boutique and small hotels have a creative backdrop of pictures or keys that make a hotel seem less commercial and homier.