The Hotel Key from Hell

During the two week conference I recently completed, most of my hotel stay was lovely. Nice room, great breakfast, etc. But there was one thing that frustrated me every single day, and that was my hotel room key.

Now, I have checked into a lot of hotels, and I almost always get the same warning. “Keep the key away from your phone or credit cards, as it may demagnetize it.” Sure, no problem. I never keep my key in my wallet, but in a specific pocket of my purse. In the past, this has generally been enough precaution, as I’ve rarely had an issue.

But in Tampa, I had an experience that I’ve never had before. Literally every day I was there, I had to have them re-do my key. In fact, the first time I tried to use it the darn thing was demagnetized. I don’t know if they have special super sensitive keys there or what, but by the end of the conference it was making me CRAZY. Every day at the end of the conference, I would go upstairs (to the 16th floor, which at a conference hotel took forEVER since everyone else was on the elevator at the same time), try my key which wouldn’t work, and go all the way back to the ground floor to get it fixed. I tried keeping the key in different places away from my purse, various pockets in my clothing, and my nametag holder. Nothing would work. One night I even had maintenance come up to make sure my lock wasn’t malfunctioning in some way. They couldn’t find anything.

Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back: after a brutal 18 hour day involving serious work frustrations and hideous back pain, I went up to my room, which took 20 minutes due to huge lines at the elevator. I limped down the hall, hoping I would make it through the door before my back just gave out. (Plus, being six months pregnant, I really, really had to use the restroom.) Of course, the key didn’t work. At this point, the tears started flowing. I tried, I truly did, to keep them back, but hormones and frustrations insisted on having their way. As I made my way back downstairs, I gave myself a talking to. “Now RW, you know that whoever is at the front desk is not personally responsible for this $%*^% key being so %*#($ difficult.” It didn’t work. When I got to the front desk, I explained exactly why I was so frustrated, in no uncertain terms. Of course, I probably looked pretty pitiful, with tears running down my cheeks. She apologized profusely, gave me a new key, and sent me back upstairs. After directing me to the lobby restroom.

From that point on, I kept the key away from all metal, and I didn’t have any more problems. Of course, the only place on my person that was away from all metal was…. My bra. Oh well. I guess we all do what we must. Of course, I’ve stayed at a few places since then, and I haven’t had any issues…..

Readers, have you ever had repeated issues with a hotel key not working? How did you finally solve it?


  1. I always keep it in my wallet and rarely have any issues. When they fixed it for you each day, were they using the same card, and just re-running it? It could be the card you had was worn out if it was the same one.

    A few years ago I had a work project where the hotel I stayed in never could seem to make me a key that was activated for the entire stay. Every trip I’d show up and get a key that deactivated after the first night. I finally started making them re-make the key when I checked in (they always had it in the envelope waiting when I arrived) and punch in the correct number of nights on the machine.

    It is frustrating. Nothing is worse than getting back to the hotel at the end of a long work day when you just want to get in your room and rest, and discovering that you’re locked out and have to go back downstairs.

  2. I have a tory burch purse, not sure what it’s called but it’s a dark navy and small enough to fit into the business note I use as my second carry on (I fly Southwest). The purse is unique, in that it’s divided into three sections. A large middle section, with two interior pockets for phone/bb holds “everything.” The front pocket holds whatever I need to separate from the main section — sunglasses, sometimes id and boarding passes, whatever. And, the third pocket I use only for my hotel key card. So far so good. Like you, I’ve had a couple of long, frustrating days (minus the six months pregnant, though, I salute you for not going postal), capped by a malfunctioning room key. This purse is my go to solution.

  3. <–born/raised Tampa

    I've never had an issue w/ room keys and always keep them in my wallet, so as to not lose them.

  4. I have found several reasons…same as Steven, then key cutting computer not upgraded, and then those that are working for job security by keeping busy cutting new keys! Also, there was the new scarf that was full of static and the new shoes that caused static on the new carpet in the hotel hall. I vote for finger print key entry!

  5. On a visit to Kathmandu recently, the problem wasn’t with my hotel door, but with the door of the hallway. I wasn’t the only one whose card key worked for their room door only; people left the hallway door propped open, which only defeats the purpose!

  6. Sometimes I wish we still had good ole fashioned keys to open our hotel room doors.

  7. I thought I was the only one who had this happen on more than one occasion. I now get two keys at check in and for the recent conference kept one in my purse and the other in my name badge with business cards that I was wearing all day. Other times I keep both in handbag different places. I also use the house phone on the floor and have had them bring a new key up rather than doing the elevators each way

  8. I experience this far too many times. I was furious at one point as I went through 5 key cards in one day! I certainly alerted the front desk and called to complain at this particular Sheraton. I visit this hotel regularly and have actually made a game of it and have counted how many keys I’ve received in a 7 week period. I’m at 35. I’ve done everything from asking for 3 keys and keeping them in 3 different places including one in the console in my car. Nothing beats not being able to open your door as you just check in and have all of your luggage with you and briefcases along with your purses. Needless to say, I feel your pain.

  9. NYC Hilton, 100 steps from elevator to room door. Your situation is pretty awful but dragging all my luggage back to the lobby -twice- stunk!

  10. yep – similar problem, westgate timeshare Orlando, in a different bldg from main bldg, each afternoon had to get new key. Finally got three eys made hoping one would continue to work for duration. it did. sure got tired of having to go to oher bdg.

  11. I used to work in hotels. It was rare, but occasionally a guest who had repeated key trouble would just stop by the desk before they even went up and tried it to avoid having to come back. They should be able to test it/remake it if need be. Hopefully that’ll help in the future.

  12. I’ve experienced this a few times too many. If I’m staying more than a single night, I gently DEMAND a NEW, freshly programmed card at check in. If it is BIG hotel I t ell them up-front that I’m not hauling my cases back down to the desk it it fails and that they’s better have a runner ready and I get a front desk direct number into my cell phone before I ever start up. Always polite, but still very firm. I’ve had to use the Front Desk Call a couple of times, but in most cases a fresh program on a NEW card, held in a breast pocket usually does the job. One common error that I’ve discovered is that a five-day stay may be programmed onto your card, but with day one as the programming day. Many large hotels do this a week or more in advance and you can imagine the chaos! This one is mostly a personnel training issue. And, if those cards are so sensitive, why to they stuff 500 pre-programmed cards into a shoebox, in such close proximity to each other? That one is a vendor and mamagement practices issue. Heck yes it is a problem. Too long here… see next reply

  13. See prior reply. In better/best hotels, one usually gets an escort to the room, with bags or not. The SMART hotel/Bellman will first try your access card. WHen it fails, he will use his own, hard-coded master to get you in and then arrange for a replacement for your use. (Yes, in good houses, most bellmen are cleared and bonded and are issued employee-specific access cards that they sign in and out for ever shift.) If nothing else, it saves the guest another trip to the desk. I’ve seen this procecdure in action several times and appreciate the grace. Key card access is not new technology, it has improved and it is getting better. In the end, the success (or failure) of these systems depends upon how well the house understands them and now well the use them. Not all houses apply the variable features with the same degree of skill. Your mileage may vary.

  14. Intermittent cards are sometimes a sign of a weak battery in the door lock. I’ve insisted on getting it replaced and that sometimes solves the problem. Also, if the card is already not working, I rub it on my shirt. I’m not sure if that cleans it or adds static energy, but it sometimes works.

    By the way, I carry my key in my back pocket, with nothing else there. Same spot all the time, easy to find. I also get two keys at checkin, the spare goes in my wallet.

  15. I used to work as the front desk manager at a Starwood property, and invariably this becomes an issue. We never made keys days ahead of time, but for whatever reason they stop working after the first use. We’d try new keys, we’d reset locks, but sometimes it just wouldn’t work. I never could get a good explanation from Onity or our on-site engineering department. This was one of those small things that, built throughout a guest’s stay, could mean revenue losses for us in the form of “guest resolution” adjustments and freebies.

  16. I’ve had issues like this too with key cards at Ramada. For some reason you have to time it right when inserting and removing. I had to put the key on the slot and wait half a second before pulling out. The speed of inserting and removal also affected it as well. Very confusing. I don’t stay in hotels much so maybe I just don’t have the movement down, so others may have different problems.

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