How Do Hotel Key Cards Work

How Do Hotel Key Cards Work

It is common that you will get issued a small card as you check into a hotel room. The card is mostly the size of a credit card so carrying it can be easy. That is basically a hotel key card that grants you temporary access to your hotel room for your booked duration.

In the past, most hotels used metal keys to lock the doors of their respective hotel rooms. However, such had their downsides. With that came the evolution to using hotel key cards. The first option was the use of magnetic stripe hotel cards. They were better and more effective than metal keys. They are still in use in many hotels around the world.

Well, other than the magnetic stripe key cards, there are also the RFID key cards. This is the latest technology for hotel cards, and we will look at them deeper below. This is to help you understand the evolution of the key cards to what they are now and how hotels benefit from this type of technology.

Types of Hotel Key Cards

The chances are you will be issued with either a magnetic stripe card or an RFID key card. It is important to understand their differences so that you know how each works.

Magnetic Stripe Cards

These cards have a magnetic strip on the card’s back. The strip contains the guest information and the details for unlocking the door. Once the guest is at the door, all that is needed is to insert the card into the given slot and retrieve the information, unlocking the door.

These cards are quite simple for the guests and hotel staff. We also like them for being low cost. Such affordability is what has made many hotels consider it as an option. Since they are widely used in hotels, many guests are familiar with how they work.

However, these cards have a few downsides to know about. They can be vulnerable to demagnetization, thus making them useless. Also, they offer limited data storage to do much. That is why they can only be used for opening doors.

RFID Key Cards

RFID key cards are an improvement to the magnetic stripe cards. This is because they are contactless and can make access to the room faster. Simply wave or tap on the RFID reader on the door to unlock it.

These key cards are better in terms of the security features they offer. This includes encryption, which is vital for protecting the guest details. Also, it means cloning is harder as compared to the magnetic stripe cards.

The RFID key cards can also last long because there is no physical contact. This leads to less wear and tear.

Nevertheless, the hotel would have to spend more on RFID infrastructure to set it up. Also, the older door locks do not support RFID cards, thus needing upgrades.

How Hotel Key Cards Open Hotel Room Doors

Now that you know more about the different hotel key cards in the industry, the other question that comes to mind is how they work to unlock hotel room doors.

Whenever the guest checks in, he is given a hotel key card at the reception. The card works specifically for a certain room. Sometimes encoding is necessary for RFID cards to ensure they work for the specific door.

In the case of magnetic stripe cards, the guest would simply insert the card into the given slot on the door lock, thus making contact with the card reader. The card reader will check the stored information to determine whether the card is authorized.

RFID key cards, on the other hand, are contactless. The guest simply needs to hold the key card close to the reader for the process to start. The reader emits electromagnetic waves, which are used to activate the card so that the information stored on it can be read.

The RFID key cards feature an antenna and chip. The antenna transmits information to and from the card for authentication. The chip is responsible for processing the reader requests and sending the requested information.

Common Hotel Key Card Security Challenges And Solutions

Common Hotel Key Card Security Challenges And Solutions

As much as hotel key card systems come with several advantages and convenience, there can be some issues. Even with such issues, there are several solutions available. Below, we look at the potential security challenges and solutions to expect.

Key card cloning

It is possible that there are individuals who may attempt to clone the hotel key cards so that they can have unauthorized access to the hotel rooms later.

The solution to such a problem is having robust encryption algorithms for storing and transmitting the data securely. This is vital to make it hard for the cloners to replicate the card details.

Using unique identifiers

Unique identifiers can also be part of the RFID key cards. Such a feature means that only one hotel key card will work for a certain hotel room. Any duplicate cards cannot work with the same credentials since the unique identifiers vary.

Lost or stolen key cards

Sometimes, the guests can easily lose their key cards. This can be either by misplacing them or being stolen. This can lead to unauthorized access.

How do you solve such?

The first solution would be remote deactivation. Hotels should easily deactivate the stolen key cards so they cannot be used for unauthorized access.

Also, sometimes hotel staff can be required to initialize guest identification before reissuing the key cards. This is to prevent thieves from posing as guests.

The card can also have an expiration date. For example, the card is only valid for your stay at the hotel.

Privacy and data protection

It is not new to find people worried about their data and privacy. In this age of RFID key cards, solutions such as data encryption should help eliminate the features that their data would be easily stolen.

Also, a hotel needs to have strong data retention policies. This means that there should be policies to determine how long the hotel can keep the data and still minimize the chances of data breaches.

The Future Of Hotel Key Cards

The hospitality industry is expected to continue to grow in many ways. This includes the hotel key cards so the user’s needs can always be met. That is what we want to see below, and we anticipate how well this technology will grow over the coming years.

1. Biometric authentication

In addition to hotel key cards, biometric authentication methods are expected to increase. You could use your fingerprint or facial recognition to access the hotel room.

The reason for biometric authentication is because of enhanced security. The key card systems are good, but an additional layer of such security makes it even better. Those with unauthorized access will not get into the room.

Still, such a method means the guests have frictionless access to their rooms without needing physical cards.

2. Blockchain-based key system

Although this is a reality, it is something that the industry is also exploring to enhance the security of hotel rooms.

Blockchain technology can offer immutable records where getting a copy of the card transactions is not easy. This increases the trust and accountability of the hotels.

The technology also offers decentralized management of the hotel system. The result is a reduced risk of central system failures.

3. Better mobile app features

Since more hotels are opting for hotel key systems that also involve smartphones, it is important for such apps to have better features.

Such features can include more customization options. This means the guests can have more control over the room settings. You may find changing the temperature, lighting, and more easy.

The hotels can integrate their services into the app also. This includes room service, concierge, and more. The aim is to ensure there is the best guest experience.

4. Integration with smart room technologies

The hotel room key cards can also work quite well with other smart room technologies. A good example is IoT integration. In this case, you can do many things with one key card in just one room. It can include entertainment, controlling light, calling for room service, and more.


Hotel key cards, once pieces of plastic, have now evolved into sophisticated technology, including RFID cards with more technology. We have seen how each type of hotel key card works and how they can make managing the hotel easier. If you are interested in RFID hotel key cards, JLTcard can help you get high-quality options in the market.

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