Hotel Elevator “Security” — Yay Or Nay?

Filed Under: Hotels

I’m traveling with my mom this week, which is always an adventure. I just had a conversation with her about hotel security that I thought was interesting, as we’ve stayed at a few different hotels over the past few nights, and they’ve been significantly different (and no, it hasn’t even been intentional mattress running).

I’d like to think I’m borderline paranoid when it comes to hotel security. Every single time I enter a hotel room I check the closets, under the bed(s), etc. That’s only the beginning, though I won’t get too much more into that here.

However, I was a bit surprised when my mom brought something up earlier — “I don’t like that this hotel doesn’t make you put your key in the elevator. Anyone can get in the elevators at this hotel.”

Grand-Hyatt-Shanghai - 5

That’s interesting, because as much as I’m very conscious about hotel security, that’s a feature I actually find sort of annoying. Half of the time the elevator key scanning system is difficult to use or doesn’t work correctly, and often I’m carrying things and don’t have a free hand, so having to swipe my key complicates things even further.

If someone wanted to get onto any floor of the hotel they could just take the stairs, or get in the elevator behind someone. So it’s something that I perceive as being security theatre, rather than an actual security feature.

But perhaps I’m in the minority there.

Do you feel safer when hotels make you scan your key in the elevator, do you find it annoying, or are you indifferent?

  1. I’m kind of annoyed by it because I dont think it’s that much safer as well as for the reasons you listed.

    On another note and out of curiosity, are you planning to write about this trip with your mom?

  2. I’d rather have a key card required for the elevator than be worried that something is hiding out in the closet. To each his own I guess.

    But I find it more annoying than helpful. Some hotels activate the key card at night.

  3. Here’s a new one this week. The Holiday Inn Express Glasgow elevators need a key card to get from your floor back down to the lobby. Now THAT’S annoying.

  4. I kind of like it. I feel like it is pretty much standard in newer city hotels, probably in reaction to the Mumbai hotel attacks a while back where the attackers took advantage of ready access to all parts of the hotel. But as you point out, there are probably other ways to get access, especially for a group as organized and motivated as the attackers in Mumbai.

    But then, it very well might successfully deter petty thieves and other less prominent types of crime, which are probably a problem for hotels in vastly higher volumes than terrorist attacks are.

  5. I think part of it depends on how they implement it…for example, while I agree that it’s mostly security theater, if the key card only allows access to your specific floor, its better than just allowing access in general. But then again, someone could get out with me on that floor and it’s not like I’m going to ask them what their room number is or something…

  6. And keycard or not, I believe the best security I’ve seen was in Las Vegas (I think it was either the Rio or Luxor, but this was many years ago) was that you had to show a key card to a guard before entering the elevator area. But the card was not scanned for validity, so this exercise was about as useful as the San Jose TSA Pre-check at 10am, when they seem to go on an “off-peak” coffee break.

  7. Half the time it seems like the elevator key card thing isn’t working at hotels I stay at. Seems like a waste of effort for minimal security.

  8. @askmrlee I think Vegas hotel do that as a way of trying to prevent you from bringing escorts back to your room. My friend and I were both asked to show or room keys at the elevator every night but it wasn’t scanned either

  9. It’s annoying.

    And given the number of times hotels have given me keys to rooms that were already occupied by guests, it’s comical to think that it is a security feature.

  10. @David W In Vegas it’s mostly a deterrent for non-hotel guests(casino guests and others) to access hotel part of the casino. In reality it does not work. I have flashed other cards besides room key and wasn’t stopped or questioned. Also, it makes that escorts can’t just come up to room like any other city, you have to go down and get them yourself.

  11. I will agree with this …. “I’d like to think I’m borderline paranoid when it comes to hotel security. ”

    Lucky is borderline paranoid on many things! 🙂 Hotel security. Doesn’t like sleep on hotel mattresses — when he thinks of strangers who have slept there before him … slept, and done other things. Doesn’t like sleeping so close to strangers on a plane without an almost-cocoon pod around him.

    Bubble Boy Lucky! 🙂 I’m surprise he leaves home … and is in a work environment that causes him to interact with so many strangers.

  12. The first time I saw the elevator security key cards was in Israel. I like the hotels that make you insert your card and select the floor before you get into the elevator. It is an extra step and they keycards sometimes do not work but I appreciate the extra layer of security.

  13. It really depends on the class of hotel, I like ordering food and other stuff from outside and I find it a PITA to go and get them myself. I like them to either have direct access or have them escorted up. Ritz Carlton is very good with this.. so are hotels in that sort of range.. St Regis… MO etc… but anything else they would refuse to let the person up and you would have to go get them… which is a PITA……….

  14. I think it’s pointless security theater. Some key card systems are definitely more advanced than others. However, elevator controllers typically work by reading the room number from your key, and letting you activate that floor’s button. All it takes is faking a card with a room number and a valid expiry date and you can get in the elevator. This is significantly easier than faking the correct code for your room lock. Obviously some hotels use networked systems that actually validate the key code of the card centrally when swiped at any lock. In most cases, though, it’s like the TSA: there to provide the appearance of security.

  15. In my expérience, hotels I’ve been to have stairs only as fire exits and they don’t open to the hallways on the floors with rooms, just the other way round. Also swiping the key in the elevator only allows me to press the button of the floor of my room, no other floor. This definitely isn’t “security theatre”, as you like to call it.

  16. I am sure you will love this anecdote. We are not hi-falutin travellers; most of the time we end up staying in budget accommodations.

    That said, because of financial blogs such as yours, we have the IHG card – and get the annual benefit. Recently, we managed to get to overnight at the Intercontinental Double Bay in Sydney. We did not spend much (any) time in the hotel other than sleeping, so we were not really used to the elevators. Next morning, we had a taxi called in for 7:15 am to take us to the airport. At 7:10, we are scrambling to get ready and down in time to avoid waiting charges and/or getting to the airport late.

    We walk to the elevators with our carryon and check-in luggage. Doors close behind us and we are frantically trying to press the buttons to go down. None worked. We open the doors and go to elevator #2. Same actions same result. A brainwave strikes me – maybe we need to use the key. Back into elevator #1. Flash the key at what I think is the right location, and press the button. No reaction. In the meantime, elevator #2 has been in motion. So, we decide, elevator #2 it is. Wait for it to come back up, and repeat the actions with the key this time. Still nothing.

    I panic! Rush back to the room and call room service complaining about the elevators not working. Am told they will send someone in a few minutes. Meanwhile, the clock has already ticked past 7:17. I run back to the elevator, maybe someone will stop by and I could seek help. No one. I say, let’s make one more attempt to get the elevator moving – go back in and start pressing floors at random. Sure enough, the elevator starts moving. When it stops at level 1 or 2 (I forget what the number was), I realize what I was doing wrong. The hotel has level L, which I assumed to be lobby. But for some reason, my key does not let me go there.

    The check in is located at one level higher than the ground, and so we had to take a different elevator to go all the way down (when we had checked in, we had walked up to desk). D’uh!!

  17. If I am entering an elevator and the only person is a single Causcasian lady I note they look terrified. I tend to wait and take the next elevator. But when the elevator requires a key it alleviates the tension a single lady might feel when a male guest with a different skin tone is also a passenger.

    Yes I know it’s not an issue for most readers of this blog but you might be surprised how often it is an issue for me….

  18. As long as my room key works and the door is secure with a deadbolt lock then I’m good to go. Come to think of it, I stayed in a hotel last week and never opened the closet even once to look inside. If the walking dead were in there I guess they decided to leave me alone.

  19. @Fjord B – The last few hotels I’ve been to had stairwell doors that opened from both sides. I know this because I often take stairs to get to an ice machine that’s 1 or 2 floors away (tall narrow hotels have ice machines only every few floors). It’s easier than waiting for an elevator. I also know people who like to walk up to their rooms on higher floors for fitness. Locked doors would make those people stay somewhere else next time.

  20. I don’t mind it at all.

    But last week I was at a high-end hotel in Dubai that had security people stationed at all the elevator banks on the ground floor. Several times they asked me if I was a guest at the hotel and what my room number was. Once, the guy looked up my room number on an iPad, and then asked my last name. I told him, and he said that didn’t match the name on the room. I said, “well, here’s my room key, I’ve been staying here since Wednesday.” He seemed confused but he said “ok” and I went up to my room. Seems to defeat the purpose of asking me in the first place.

  21. “the only person is a single Causcasian lady I note they look terrified”

    If each and every single Caucasian lady in an elevator who has ever laid eyes on you has looked terrified, maybe the problem isn’t the color of your skin…

  22. @ Rico – It must be a Scottish thing. The Holiday Inn Express – Royal Mile in Edinburgh also requires you to insert you key card to go down to the lobby. You also need it to open the door to use the stairs.

  23. Ben’s mom for the win. As a woman we are programmed to be hyper aware of the strangers around us. Having that feature feels like an extension of that therefore it makes us feel safer. I’ll take my safety over your annoyance every time.

  24. Rhonda, guys are programmed to want convenience so I’ll take my convenience over your false sense of security….every time.

    Sounds kinda selfish, doesn’t it.

  25. It’s kind of like setting your house alarm or locking your doors. It’s not going to make it completely impossible for someone to commit a crime, but it’s an added barrier that the next hotel might not have. I prefer to stay in hotels that have the elevator room key requirement.

  26. I LOVE the way it’s done in Japan, touch your room key to the pad and the elevation automatically selects your floor!

  27. Elevator key card systems are, in my opinion, almost as important as having a door that actually locks. “Taking the stairs otherwise” is something that will not work in most hotels – doors are usually locked from inside the staircase (so they can be opened only from the outside), and entry/exit doors might be alarm secured.
    The real security theater is the door chain/2nd door lock, which usually is really easy to destroy or circumvent.

  28. I agree it is security theater. I have no problem with the tech, but people do struggle with them. I’ve been to several places that have people at the elevators just to show them how it works. Seems like the opposite of improving things.

    The other day as a test I walked up to a random house cleaner and tried the old, “oops I locked myself out of the room” routine. I had never before tried this and to my amazement I literally just said that, she asked which room and waled down and opened it right up for me! I was actually shocked, I never, ever, expected that to actually work, thought that was only books and movies.

    I guess I have an honest face, regardless I thought that was much too easy. I then tried at the front desk and they asked for my room number which I gave them, and they asked for my last name, boom, instant key. I could have sat around the front desk and listened for a bit and had all the info I needed to get in someones room. No ID or any other questions.

    I may well try this more often, it was fun. Surprising, but fun and or scary depending on how you look at it.

  29. As a woman traveling alone often I have the following thoughts that may not match other people’s way of thinking.

    First the Vegas flash the key is hilariously silly. I get why they are doing it. Someone can’t order hookers to come right to his room, but don’t tel me they don’t just have cards from previous visits to flash, it isn’t like they change the card styles daily. So it does nothing for security other than making you feel like they are doing something. It just happened at the Aria and there was a huge throng of people. I went with the crowd purposely not showing my card. He said maam, maam, and I just pretending not to hear him and went to my elevator bank.

    Next, I do like the hotels where you have to use the card at the lobby to select your floor. You can then watch to see anyone that didn’t do it and if they get on you can just wait. My office has these so I know to watch for which # elevator to use but many don’t and get confused when they get on an elevator with no buttons inside.

    Lastly for all elevators if I’m the last one on and another person is with me (and I was the one who hit the button), when the doors open I let them go first. If they refuse no matter how politely they did, I’ll act all flustered, say I forgot something and I have to go back down to the lobby.

    It may seem like a lot to others but it really isn’t effort, just paying attention to my surroundings and taking reasonable precautions.

  30. I am all for lift security. And your room card should give you access only to your floor (plus the shared areas of course).

  31. Hotels that have key-access elevators (lifts) invariably have stairwells that are either locked (from entry from outside) or require key access as well. Sometimes, though, the lifts will allow a downward travelling passenger access to any floor which somewhat lessens the security.

  32. The issue I would see with thieves in hotels would be going up onto the floors during the day while housekeeping was cleaning rooms. They would walk the hall and see a room being serviced, walk into the room pretending to be the guest running in to “grab” something real quick, and then leave.

    Random people getting into elevators and going onto floors at nighttime was very rare, actually I don’t recollect that ever happening. Most undesirables ended up in lobby restrooms or ballrooms, easier access and away from people. So the key system is a deterrent, but as stated certainly not the end all.

  33. “First the Vegas flash the key is hilariously silly. I get why they are doing it. Someone can’t order hookers to come right to his room, but don’t tel me they don’t just have cards from previous visits to flash, it isn’t like they change the card styles daily”

    A $20 tip to the guard always works.

  34. The near-field RFID room keys that you just touch to unlock or activate the elevator are annoying, but not super inconvenient. It’s the keys that require you to insert it into a reader that doesn’t work until the 4th try that’s super annoying. I believe its mostly security theater and a big fat placebo to make people feel better, like a hotel’s own version of the TSA

  35. Wasn’t it you Ben that had some creepy elevator experience not too long ago? Maybe I’m thinking of someone else!

  36. I agree with Paul re call girls. It’s much less hassle to book them and wait in your room. Also when girls are operating incall from hotel rooms, it’s easier for their guests.

  37. I would like to see a more comprehensive article on your room check routine. I have a pretty extensive one and at one point when I was staying at lower end or more rural locations even carried a small black light to ensure things were clean.

    I stay at nicer hotels now so ditched the black light but still curious about your routine and what you do / react to certain findings over cleanliness, maintenance, or security.

  38. It’s kabuki. It keeps honest people out of the club lounge and that’s about it.

    If I want to get to a floor I’m not “allowed” to, lack of a key card isn’t going to stop me.

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