Hilton To Add Mobile Check-In And Room Keys

Filed Under: Hilton, Hotels

Hilton announced some mobile innovations today which seem long overdue for the hotel industry:

In a first for the hospitality industry, Hilton Worldwide today announced its guests will have unprecedented choice and control over their entire hotel stay with the ability to check-in and choose their exact room from digital floor plans, as well as customize their stay by purchasing upgrades and making special requests for items to be delivered to their room, on their mobile devices, tablets and computers.  Guests also will be able to check-out using these personal technology devices.  By the end of 2014, digital check-in and room selection will be available at more than 4,000 Hilton Worldwide properties across 11 brands in 80-plus countries via members’ Hilton HHonors accounts.

On one hand it’s amazing that it took so long for this to happen in the hotel industry. At the same time, it does raise some interesting questions.


First of all, here’s how the process of selecting rooms works:

Once a room is booked, the process for guests to manage their stay is simple:

  • Room selection: At 6 a.m. the day before a booked stay, Hilton HHonors members can sign into their account via their mobile device, tablet or computer to check-in and choose their preferred room through floor plan maps or lists populated from the hotel’s available inventory. Photos of rooms are also available to help with their selection. Hilton’s digital lobby function is updated in real-time, so guests no longer have to wait until they are physically in the hotel lobby to be assigned a room.
  • Special requests: After choosing a room, guests can further customize their stay at full-service hotels by purchasing upgrades and requesting specific amenities to be delivered to their room before arrival.
  • Room key: Next year, the company will begin to equip its hotel rooms with the technology for doors to be unlocked with guests’ smartphones, enabling them to go straight to their rooms upon arrival. For now, once they arrive on property, guests simply pick up their room key from the front desk, a streamlined process since the guest’s payment information and other details are already verified through their Hilton HHonors account prior to arrival.
  • Check-out: Guests can bypass the front desk upon departure as their bill will be automatically sent to their email address.

While a few hotel chains have offered electronic check-in for a while now, I never really got the point, since you wouldn’t be assigned a room, get a room key, etc. The check-in process wouldn’t change, so I’m not sure what purpose it served.

Under this new system you’ll be able to assign yourself a room, which is great news. And by next year you’ll be able to use your phone to unlock your room, which is even cooler — skipping the front desk altogether is great, and in many ways makes the hotel front desk as obsolete as airline check-in counters.

I do have a few general thoughts and questions, though:

Does this mean you won’t need an ID to check into a hotel?

Usually you have to show an ID when checking into a hotel, so does this make it easier for people to stay under someone else’s reservation? I’ve written in the past about staying at a hotel using someone else’s status, so does this make it easier? Or conversely, is this a safety concern? In other words, if you can figure out someone’s name and reservation number, does that mean you can get into their room by getting their room key onto your smartphone?

I’ve had people cancel my airline reservations in the past, and certainly would be kind of concerned if all that someone needed to get into a hotel room was the reservation number, which can easily be retrieved by calling the hotel.

Does this present potential issues with turning around rooms?

While hotels have published check-in times, they’ll usually let you check-in early if a room is available. This is obviously done by minimizing the “downtime” of rooms. In other words, if someone checks out of a hotel at 10AM, housekeeping cleans it by 11AM, and someone wants to check-in by 12PM, they’ll usually let you check-in.

But will it still be possible for them to do this efficiently if so many rooms are blocked the day before? In other words, if I chose my standard room the day before I checked in and the person in it the night before checked out at 6AM, does that mean it will sit empty until I arrive, even if I only check-in at 10PM? The room could have probably gone to better use by going to someone that wanted to check in early, while I might get a room from someone that checked out late.

Will it still be better to check-in the old fashion way as an elite member?

I do wonder to what degree elite benefits will be integrated into the mobile check-in process:

  • Can you request late check-out by phone?
  • Can your phone be programmed so it gets you access to the club lounge?
  • Can you select your welcome amenity by phone?

And that doesn’t begin to consider the possibility of an upgrade. My guess is that the app won’t automatically offer upgraded rooms, so as an elite member there will still be some value in going to the front desk.

Bottom line on mobile hotel check-in

This is an awesome innovation, and I’m very excited about it. Not only is the functionality itself exciting, but hopefully it also shortens lines at the front desk. The above are just some thoughts on potential challenges associated with this, though none are deal breakers.

But it may be a case where as an elite member you’re still best off checking in the “old fashion” way.

What do you think about mobile hotel check-in and keys?

  1. That is great for mattress running! You can book a cheap room somewhere thousands of miles away and do a mobile checkin and checkout.

  2. I don’t think mattress running would be possible. They’d be able to tell if you ever actually entered the room using your phone.

  3. “In other words, if you can figure out someone’s name and reservation number, does that mean you can get into their room by getting their room key onto your smartphone?”

    >… the guest’s payment information and other details are already verified through their Hilton HHonors account prior to arrival.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the requirements of using your phone as a key would be having to log in to the HHonors app, allowing the key to be pushed to the phone. This is why check-in desks aren’t obsolete: people who don’t have or want to use smartphones, folks checking in to rooms booked for them by someone else, etc.

  4. Except, depending how they implement the key, it might be more of a pain to get out your phone, open an app, login, press unlock, than to just swipe the card like you do now. I love technology, but sometimes newer isn’t necessarily better.

  5. I won’t skip the front desk. Being nice to them, usually results in getting some nice goodies and upgrades.

  6. And if somebody hacks the system and gains access to your room by waving a ‘phone’ at your door? Think I’ll avoid any hotels with that technology.

  7. A chinese hotel chain called Hanting Inns&Hotels (NSDQ:HTHT) has started offering the same service years ago.
    The other concern I have is the “Space-Available Upgrade” How do I get my upgrade if I already checked in online. And I have also found out the Hilton’s IT department is not that reliable. You always get problems when using their website. If you take a look at your points at status, you will usually find out that you are missing points or you get downgraded to blue but when you come back later, everything comes back to normal.

  8. So, does this mean that you could hypothetically book a room at a great rate for a mattress run and then just check in online and let it run? Or will they want to see that the room door is actually opened for it to go through…?

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