Most travelers have had at least one instance where they are issued a hotel room key and it doesn’t work or they simply lose the key card and they need a replacement.
But what is the best method to take when this happens and how can you ensure that you can get back into your room quickly?
In this article, we will break down what to do when you lose your hotel room key or it simply doesn’t work.
How to get your hotel room key replaced and get access to your room
Properly identify yourself to the front desk
The first step to getting your hotel room key card replaced is to verify your identity with the front desk.
No hotel should give a guest a key card unless they verify their identity because that’s a major security concern.
Anybody could impersonate someone and tell the front desk that they are in room “123” and then get room access if identity verification was not being enforced.
It’s not hard to imagine how that could end up in a disaster….
Typically, you would prove your identity by showing a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license or passport.
If an agent at the front desk has seen you before then there is a chance that they will recognize you and will not request for you to provide an ID.
In the event you don’t have one of those you may be able to show credit cards with your name on it or perhaps a photo of your ID if you have it on your phone.
You might be able to negotiate with the front desk and ask them to accompany you to your room if your ID is in the room.
You can then show them your ID as soon as you get access to the room. But if the hotel is busy and short staffed they may not be able to do this for you right away, so try to be patient.
Be aware that some hotels have policies that require them to treat you as someone trespassing if you repeatedly refuse to provide an ID!
Asking help from housekeeping
Sometimes you might realize that you don’t have your key card when you are just outside your door and you may see housekeeping down the hallway, just a couple of rooms down.
In the past, I have asked housekeeping to let me into my room because I don’t have a room key and they have let me in on a few occasions.
It’s possible that they could have seen me walking through the halls earlier that day or on another day and so they knew I was not trying to sneak into a room.
Or, they could have just assumed that I did not look like a criminal and they felt sure I was just a regular hotel guest.
But generally, that’s a security risk if housekeeping allows someone access to a room without them proving their identity. Don’t be surprised if they don’t do it.
Related: Should You Tip Hotel Housekeeping?
Why doesn’t my hotel room key card work?
If your hotel room key card does not work, there are several scenarios to consider.
It does work
Some hotel doors are not very intuitive the first time you use them.
They have an awkward handling or mechanism that just does not feel right.
It can be difficult to know how to unlock these doorhandles when you first encounter them and as a result you may think that the key card is not working when it actually is.
So try to be patient.
Try swiping your key card faster or slower because sometimes you need to swipe it just the right speed for it to work.
Also try moving the handle every direction that it can go and give the lock enough time to unlock before you try moving the door handle.
Most of all, don’t storm down in an angry rant to the front desk because if the problem is just that you could not figure out how to use the door, you’ll be left in a pretty embarrassing situation.
One of the most common reasons why your room key does not work is because it got demagnetized.
Many hotel key cards use mag stripes which contain microscopic iron particles that get magnetized in a specific pattern so that they can be recognized by readers.
But if you expose the magstripe to a magnet that pattern can be affected so that the reader is not able to recognize it.
This often happens when you keep the room key close to something magnetic like a TV in your hotel room. There is debate about whether or not phones can demagnetize a hotel key card but given the recent prominence of magnets they probably can.
Even if the magnet is weak, if the magstripe is exposed for an extended amount of time that can cause it to be demagnetized.
Got worn down
The magnetic strips on hotel key cards are not typically as durable as the magnetic strips on credit cards because they have less “coercivity,” maybe only about 300 Oersteds (Oe) compared to a credit card strip that would have 2,750 Oe.
In other words, magstrips on hotel key cards are more susceptible to erasure or damage.
For this reason, they can get worn out and fail to work more often. Sometimes, they could get worn out during your stay and the only thing you can do is replace them.
Coding or hardware problem
It’s possible that whenever the agent at the front desk is creating your key card that something goes wrong.
For example, the encoder could be in need of a cleaning or the key card contains the wrong code so it will not work on your door. There also could be an issue with the reader on the door or perhaps the lock is on low battery.
Using the wrong hotel card
If you’re doing a lot of traveling it’s possible that you may have multiple hotel key cards stashed in your wallet and you could be swiping a card from another hotel. (Not that that’s ever happened to me before….)
Late check out
If you are ever given late check out then a lot of times the room key will stop working at the standard check out time.
This is why I always make sure to stop by the front desk on my way out if I know I’m going to get late check out. It saves me a trip later on because they are able to extend the validity of the key card until my late check out time.
Related to the above point, if you had separate reservations that you linked together then there is a good chance that the room key will stop working after check out and that you will have to go and get a second key issued or your key card recoded.
Sometimes a hotel may have screwed up your reservation dates or not programmed the dates properly and that could be why your key card is not working. Or, maybe even you have the dates wrong!
Will the old room key work after you get a new one?
Hotels use different types of systems to manage their key cards, so the approach to dealing with lost key cards is going to vary.
But a common approach is for the locks on the doors to no longer recognize older keys after the newer keys are used.
There are some layers of complexity to this that I might get into in a later article but what it basically means is that when you are issued a new key, the old key that was lost could still be used to open your door until you use the new key to unlock the door.
This is why it is a good idea to immediately use a new key when it is issued to you.
Something else you can do to improve your security is to not walk around with the sleeve that holds your room key.
That’s because the sleeve usually has the room number on it and if you lost it, somebody with bad intentions would know exactly where to try your room key.
Having a key card that does not work or losing your key card is a pretty frustrating experience.
But you can easily get back into your room by verifying your identity which is why it is always good to carry around an ID with you when making your way around the hotel.
When you don’t have your ID you may be able to work something out but just be patient because hotels have to make sure they are not creating a security risk by allowing unidentified guests to access and occupy rooms.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.