08 Mar Digital Room Keys – Innovative or Unnecessary?

I have never been handed a plastic hotel room key and thought to myself, “how inconvenient!” Man lugging this thing around is going to be such a hassle…

Well, in the past couple years in an effort to fix a problem you never thought you had, hotels began implementing “keyless entry” or “digital keys” in order to replace the plastic keycards we know and love! I am just not sure digital hotel keys serve a purpose, provide an advantage, or are really even necessary… other than for the hotel property to be able to state “We have digital hotel keys!” for anyone that may care about that?

I won’t be giving up on these bad boys any time soon!

We live in a digital age…

I get it! Keyless and touch-free offerings are on the rise and are only climb as time goes on! The idea of a hotel key on your mobile phone was all the rage a couple years ago, but in current practice (led by Starwood and Hilton programs) I think they flop hard and have failed to ever really catch on.

And while I am currently unsure on digital hotel keys, just to prove that I am hip and cool with other mobile offerings – I am all for…

Digital Boarding Passes – I am a BIG FAN ever since 5 years back when I lost my boarding pass going through security in Atlanta as I was rushing to a catch a flight! I was able to pull up my boarding pass on phone while riding the ATL “Plane Train” and have been all mobile boarding pass ever since!

Starbucks touch free payments… OH YA! Link your rewards card, load money onto your account, and scan your phone with each purchase. Simple, easy, fast – my cup o’ tea… er coffee!

Apple Pay (and Other Touch-free Payments) – ApplePay… meh, for me so far, but I recognize the potential! That said, what is the point of having METAL credit cards if I am not able to flash them during checkout and impress the unsuspecting cashier!?

MY CARD IS METAL = I AM IMPORTANT (in my own mind)

Do Digital Keys Provide Efficiency?

Touch free should be more efficient… right?

The driving thought behind big brand hotel;s mobile check-in and digital key offerings is (or at least should be) improving traveler efficiency – especially as it relates to business travelers. Guests should be able to bypass the check-in counter altogether and have no interruption from curbside to hotel bed!

But, if you never encounter a hotel employee (like you would at a check-in desk)… What about room upgrades? And what about free water bottles for elites? What about DoubleTree cookies!?


Do Digital Keys Provide Security?

Are digital hotel keys more secure that the traditional plastic keycards? Great question! I am not a security expert and really don’t have a definitive answer…

In Hilton’s case, the digital keys operate via Bluetooth signal sent between the lock and your smartphone. In the FAQ Hilton goes on to says that this Bluetooth signal is “super secure,” so it seems that they believe the security to be on in line or better than standard practice.

How secure is “super” secure, you ask?

Image courtesy of the DoubleTree Hotel Livermore

My Experience – Digital Keys are Unnecessary

I recently traveled to California on business and had the pleasure” of staying at the Doubletree Hilton in Livermore. It was a basic no frills Doubletree, but it happened to offer Hilton’s digital check-in and digital room key!

I took advantage of both, not because I wanted to, but because I thought it might be interesting to see what it was all about!

It wasn’t.

While the mobile check-in and digital room key features seem to have worked… I just couldn’t bring myself to fully trust the effectiveness of the mobile check-in, so I ended up at the check-in counter despite the “efficiency”offerings…

PLUS – I wanted a free Doubletree cookie! (Which are delicious… and also over 300 calories apiece! Who woulda thunk!?)

And was even given a spare plastic hotel key card – “in case the digital key didn’t work…

Spoiler Alert – The digital key worked just fine.

Final Thought – Will Digital Keys Ever Catch On?

The in person check-in/plastic key card paradigm is going to be a tough one to break. Only when we see the cost of maintaining digital key systems and security dip below the cost of thousands of plastic key cards, then I think we may actually see significant shifts in the key space…

I’ll try anything once (within reason and legal parameters), and did in the case of digital keys during my recent Doubletree Hilton Livermore stay. I have no desire to use it again.

Am I missing some value-add here? Does anyone out there actually use digital key offerings? Or are digital keys just an unnecessary offering/change provided by hotels?

Happy Touch-free Travels!



  • Tim A.
    Posted at 16:04h, 08 March Reply

    I can answer your question about free water bottles for elites, at least where I’ve stayed. They put them in your room when you choose a digital key. And if you also stop by the front desk, you’ll get double…

    So far, I love the digital key. One less thing to keep up with. No more “You must have put your key in the same pocket as your cell phone” nonsense.

    I’m a fan.

    • DW
      Posted at 16:09h, 08 March Reply

      Thanks for the input! Nice to see someone is putting them to use! And nice hack on the free water bottles 🙂

      What about DoubleTree cookies though!?

      • Tim A.
        Posted at 16:52h, 08 March Reply

        Yeah, I forgot to mention that my experience is with Hilton. Have done it at Hampton Inn Downton San Diego and at Hilton Miami Airport.

  • Michael
    Posted at 16:17h, 08 March Reply

    i don’t know if it’s just me, but i find those cookies to be phenomenal and have a REALLY hard time not eating them…between that and the inconsistency of the hotels (see http://thegate.boardingarea.com/what-is-a-conversion-brand-and-why-you-might-want-to-avoid-it), i really try to avoid Doubletree!

    • DW
      Posted at 16:20h, 08 March Reply

      Tell me about it! DT is generally not my go to… but I knew I wanted Hilton given my status, but when in Livermore, California, your alternatives are limited…

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