What should I do if I forgot to turn in a hotel room key card after checking out?

  • I recently stayed at a hotel and received two room key cards to access the room: one for me and one for my brother. They are like credit cards with a magnetic strip to swipe into the door lock. My brother did the check out and turned in his room key card, but I forgot to turn mine in and didn't realize it until I was already at the airport.

    What do I do about this? I'm not sure if it still works or not, or if it has any value to the hotel. Do I mail the room key card back to the hotel? Or do I just recycle the card?

    The card is coded for your checkin only. It won't work for the same room when the next guest checks in.

    Just throw it away unless they charged you a large deposit (and if so, call and explain what happened, and they'll likely waive the charge). When I worked for a hotel, we bought the card-keys by the thousands...even with full color printing, we paid less than 25 cents a card. RFID cards are a bit more expensive, but still usually under 50 cents in bulk. About 75% of guests returned the cards. Sometimes they'd return a card from a different hotel (which we just trashed). And a few times they "returned" their credit card in the drop box (they're usually embarrassed when we called to tell them)

    Nothing. Those things are made from a much cheaper (and flimsier) stock than credit cards, and are essentially disposable.

    Interesting comments. One time I stayed at a hostel that required a $10 USD deposit for a key card. If the card actually costs about $1, then I think the $10 amount is too punitive.

    I like to keep them as souveniers

    @Nayuki In my college we have similar magnetic cards. In the T&C they state you have to pay a fine of about 40€ if you lose/break one. We found out that the exact cards they are using costs 0.40€ each without buying them in bulk of hundreds. We also found out that their security is completely broken so is more cost effective to buy a machine that clones them and use the clone if you lose it than paying the fine and get a new official one...

    Another reason they don't work after another person checks in, even if you were to check out early, is that the new key card cancels any previous keys automatically when it's first used.

    I've sometimes received a keycard with my name printed on it.

    @Nayuki: just speculating, another reason may be to indirectly charge you for failing to check out, which is something they want you to do. So they hold your $10 and use it to reward you for checking out, with the card as a polite pretext. It could also be they think that should you actually *lose* the card, $10 is a reasonable fine for you leaving a key to their hostel lying around somewhere in the city, and presumably not notifying them (so they can cancel it) until you get back that evening. There's a lot going on besides the price of a plastic card...

    Also, if they tell you you can trash it, put in a small bath of acetone and look at the plastic disolve and reveal the RFID chip and antenna. You'll feel less guilty about it once you realize how cheap those things really are.

    I know someone who thinks that a guest's credit card information is also stored on those key cards. She always keeps the cards and cuts them up after returning home. I kid you not. She has yet to be charged anything for this.

    I collect those cards, I have a stack of about 100 of them as souvenirs because I like to remember the various hotels on my travels. Never met punishment because of it.

    @SteveJessop 1. The cards are automatically invalidated at the time that you are scheduled to check out. If you decide to stay another day, you go to the desk and have them revalidate the card. 2. The cards carry no information about what room they are keyed to. So, AFAIC, charging a deposit for one of these keycards is a low-class money grab. Any decent hotel wouldn't stoop to that, instead overcharging for room service, etc. Of course, it could be that Nayuki is talking about the older punch card keys, in which case all of your concerns apply.

    @BobRhodes: I don't know the hostel in question, but if the card gets you into shared areas then they don't want people leaving them all over the city. Even though someone who finds one doesn't know which specific room or dorm it works for, it may well be a small (worth a $10 fine to reduce the rate of it happening) security risk. Or to put it another way, if you run a hostel, why not intentionally leave keycards in a nearby coffee-shop? Because that'd be stupid ($10 worth of stupid), is why not.

    Mind you, if the staff are conspicuously absent for the period of time between breakfast and the first bus out of town, so that in fact you *can't* check out and recover your deposit, then sure, I'd go with your theory that it's a low-class money grab :-)

  • Peter M

    Peter M Correct answer

    5 years ago

    Recycle the card however you wish. Those things are ephemeral and can't be used anyway after you check out and the hotel probably buys them in bulk.

    And by "can't be used", I mean that your checkout date is encoded onto the card key and the room locks will reject any attempt to open the door past an expired checkout date in the same manner that you can't open someone else's door while you are at the hotel (or your own effin door half the time while you are still checked in).

    That does not mean these keys can't be re-programmed with new room or checkout information. If you pay attention you will see the desk clerk shove the room key into a small box with a numeric key pad and hit a few keys et voilà you have a freshly programmed key ready to use (again). However if the key is physically damaged and won't take the reprogramming then the next stop is for it the rubbish bin. Here is a random link that claims to explain how these keys work Hotel Card Key Systems Explained

    This of course raises the question of how easy it is to program a key in order to enter a room that is not yours. The funny thing is that while obvious, this question is actually moot as it is trivial to attack the lock itself with a simple electronic tool that exploits a fundamental design flaw in the how the locks themselves are programmed. Such a tool allows you to open all such locks with ease. I'll leave tracking down that exploit to the interested reader

    Hotels are aware of this flaw, but it is going to be a long time before they roll out new door locks for every door that uses this style of pass key. Especially as a lot of hotels can't even seem to keep up with regular maintenance of normal in-room equipment.

    @StephenOstermiller: I'm not that sure. Write-once electronic memories certainly exist and can be quite a bit cheaper than rewritable memories. (mostly because the latter have to be carefully guarded against accidental wipes)

    That's one heck of a footnote!

    Footnote font is too small. It would be better to just use an hrule (`---` in markdown) to separate the optional-reading with more details section.

    @MSalters Standard magstripe hotel keys are not write-once. They can be reprogrammed, such as if you extend your stay (the checkout date on the card needs to be set longer) or the clerk accidentally programs your card for the wrong room, or accidentally programs your card so the elevator won't recognize it, or accidentally checks you into somebody else's occupied room, or accidentally gives you a key that expires too soon. (All things that have happened to me at various times. I swear I'm very nice to hotel staff and don't think I do anything that would make them do this to me on purpose.)

    @PeterCordes Font size is subjective, arbitrary and freely changeable in the browser of your choice :D

    @PeterM: Doesn't change the fact that you're using inappropriate markup and deliberately making 90% of your post hard to read by default...

    @LightnessRacesinOrbit My original post did not contain the footnote, and it was complained about because of my use of "can't be used" (yet was already garnering up votes). The footnote explained my usage and I added a bunch of stuff that is irrelevant to the OP's question. So 100% of my post as initially written *is* readable

    @PeterM: We're talking about the post how it is now; don't really care how it used to be :)

    I assume they probably recycle the cards by putting the next person's checkin info onto the same card.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM