How Do Hotel Key Cards Work?

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How Do Hotel Key Cards Work?

Most, but not all hotel management systems in hotels, use hotel key cards. You may have a hotel access card more than once in your life to access a room. You may also have some questions about how they work and how safe they are.

Some hotels use access cards with magnetic strips, popularly abbreviated to magnetic stripe cards. Magnetic stripe cards are also known as magnetic cards. But there are also other alternatives to accessing the hotel, such as proximity cards or radiofrequency cards (RFID), access cards with holes, photo identification cards, bar-code cards, and smart cards.

Magnetic or sliding stripe cards are a cost-effective option in common use, but tend to wear out quickly and are less secure than some of the other options. RFID cards are more durable and more expensive. The hole cards (punch) are based on a mechanical method that requires that the holes in the card fit into the mechanism of the reader. These cards are less common.

All cards are based on different technologies, but offer more or less the same functions for door access control. Smart cards can include a lot of additional information. With a smart card, the owner can not only access your room, but you can also use other services, such as a restaurant, a public service or a laundry in the hotel to obtain a joint record of all the invoices in one place. This helps with financial management and makes the user feel like a welcome guest.

Hotel access cards are used with door card readers that are installed in each door lock and can be programmed to open specific doors in defined periods of time.

Modern hotel access management systems allow grouping door locks with several users, providing access to the same group, as well as an audit trail of who opened the door and when. For example, a group may have access to open the hotel lobby door or staff restrooms, but only within a certain period of the day. In most cases, only the guest card, the hotel staff and the room maintenance service have authorization for the card.

How Do The Hotel Doors Work To Unlock?

Magnetic stripe cards have a magnetic layer or a band that contains minimal information for the user. Normally, the user’s access number is the most identifiable information. The staff at the hotel reception will print the user’s information at the time of check-in and usually set a time limit for use until check-out. The door lock is activated once the card reader on the hotel door reads and verifies the magnetic stripe. As a general rule, the movement is completed by sliding the card through the magnetic reader.

RFID or proximity cards do not require a sliding movement. They use radio frequencies to allow access from a short programmed distance (therefore: proximity cards). Radio frequency cards are part of the group of contactless cards. If you get a proximity card, you should almost touch the RFID reader to unlock the door.

Smart cards are also contactless cards. They use microchips to store data and, although they are more expensive, they are the predominant alternative in today’s hotels.

Another alternative to hotel access cards is the NFC technology integrated into mobile phones. Hotel guests receive a hotel management code and can access their rooms by bringing the NFC phone function closer to the NFC reader or entering the code as an access code. This method is quite new and less frequent.

Hotel Cards Myths

The myths of common key cards are related to the information stored in them. The user continues to listen to fictional stories that do not always include the absolute truth. A typical myth of access cards is that the cards contain confidential user data, such as personal or financial information. The fact is that most hotel key cards only store room numbers and dates of stay. The additional information that can be stored in an access card is reduced to four key data:

  • Room number
  • Date of access granted
  • Access date removed
  • Guest number (sometimes)

Hotel key cards are access cards with the least privilege, which limits the possibilities of misuse. However, that does not protect users from stealing the card and accessing their rooms, which is why this is a priority concern compared to the theft of card information.

While it is true that hotel access cards are not bulletproof, modern data protection regulations prevent this from happening. It’s worth keeping in mind that not all geographic locations have the same privacy rules. If you travel abroad, for example, in Europe, your card can store financial details, such as credit card numbers.

The technology behind the hotel access cards provides the best protection against the misuse of hotel access cards. Smart cards, which are increasingly used in hotels, are not as easy to reset and read as magnetic stripe cards. Magnetic stripe cards record and store information about the principles of encryption. You need to have decoding readers to be able to interpret what is in them. The practice of standard ISO cards provides data storage on three tracks in the magnetic stripe, while the hotel’s locking systems use a patented coding pattern to encode the data on the third track.

Other possible risks associated with key cards, which cannot be classified as myths of the key cards, are those derived from external providers integrated into the same guest access management system. However, these systems are also based on strict compliance with the rules, so infractions are not something that should be expected. To access your room, it is much easier to steal your card if this happens, you must inform it immediately and the card will be canceled along with the access privileges.

Also, do not panic when you get home and discover that you still have the key to the room. Famous hotels understand that guests keep them as a reminder of their stay, although they are not ideal for that!