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What Info Is Actually Stored on Your Hotel Key Card?

By Bennett Kleinman
Read time: 3 minutes

Hotel key cards may just be tiny pieces of plastic, but they’re an essential part of a safe hotel stay. These cards are designed to allow access into one room and one room only, keeping unwanted intruders out. But you may be wondering how such key cards work and whether any sensitive personal information is stored on these pocket-sized passes. Here’s what type of data is actually stored on your hotel key card.

How Hotel Key Cards Work

Hotel guest using key card to enter room
Credit: Branislav Nenin/ Shutterstock 

The majority of modern hotels use either key cards with a magnetic stripe that the guest swipes along the lock, or RFID-enabled cards that utilize radio frequencies to unlock a door by tapping. Both of these technologies rely upon the same basic information to grant access to the card holder. There are some older hotels that still use archaic hole punch technology, with key cards that are specific to each lock and don’t rely on any virtual data, but hole punch key cards are quite rare these days.

What Information Is Stored on a Hotel Key Card?

Hotel receptionist handing guest key card
Credit: Kamil Macniak/ Shutterstock 

When you check in to a hotel, the front desk clerk takes a blank card that’s been wiped clean of any data and loads it with two specific pieces of information: the room number and the dates of your stay. Once programmed, the key card will grant you access to the room until your checkout date, at which point the card will automatically deactivate. You may have heard some people claim that key cards contain personal information, such as your name, credit card number, and other sensitive details. This is an urban legend — none of those details are necessary for room access.

What To Do if You Lose Your Card

Hotel guest signing paperwork at check-in
Credit: Prostock-studio/ Shutterstock 

It happens: Sometimes you lose your key card. However, if that’s the case, you needn’t worry about someone hacking into the hotel’s computer system and stealing your identity. The more pressing concern is someone using the card to access your hotel room. Fortunately, there’s no way for that person to know which room is yours unless they go door-to-door trying to unlock each one. If you lose a key card, head to the front desk as soon as possible, and they should be able to invalidate the old card and issue a new one. If you’re particularly anxious about the situation, you can always request to change rooms if a similar one is available.

Other Key Card Safety Tips

Person putting hotel key card in wallet
Credit: Antonio_Diaz/ iStock via Getty Images Plus 

First, you should never take a marker and write the hotel room number on the card itself. If you do that and you end up losing the card, the person who finds it will know exactly which room it belongs to. Similarly, you should never store the card in the default paper sleeve you receive at check-in. That sleeve usually contains information like the room number and your last name. 

Should You Turn in Your Key Card?

Hotel guest rolling suitcase through lobby
Credit: Anchiy/ E+ via Getty Images 

Some people return their hotel key cards upon checkout, while others keep them as souvenirs. But is there any reason that you should do one or the other? Not really. If you return your key card, it’ll be wiped clean and nobody will have access to your personal info. But if you keep the card as a memento, nobody at the hotel is likely to come after you and demand that you return the card. It all comes down to personal preference.

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