My Experience With Keycafe: A Cool Way To Exchange Keys

Filed Under: Travel Technology

Recently I spent a weekend in Los Angeles, and I was staying at a friend’s apartment while he was out of town. This seemed like an ideal arrangement: he wasn’t using the place, so I could crash there and water his plants for him (I made sure he was fully aware that previous plants left in my care haven’t fared well: the only way I would ever have a green thumb is if I someday develop gangrene).

Figuring out how we would exchange keys was logistically tricky. Sure, you can leave it under the mat, but that obviously poses a security threat. My friend was also thinking about mailing it to me… but it seemed absurd for the keys to travel across the country twice. There had to be a better solution.

Luckily, I found Keycafe. I had never heard of this service before, but basically they are little safes where people can store keys to be picked up using a secure code. These safes (or Keycafe SmartBoxes, as they’re called) are located in cafes, bars, convenience stores, and other places with long operating hours (some are even open 24/7). It seems like a good idea for exchanging keys with cleaning services, and for AirBnB hosts to provide access to guests.

As of now, Keycafe is available in 10 U.S. cities (including LA) and 5 international ones. The person who owns the keys is responsible for the payment. They offer three different payment plans. The Pay As You Go plan charges $6.95 per key pickup, and 50 cents a day for storage. However, new users get two free pickups, which made this a no-brainer for my friend and me.

My friend called the location nearest his house, which was a bar in Hollywood, to ask about how it works. The person who answered the phone had no idea what he was talking about. Not a great start. But he didn’t give up: he found a location at a cafe near his office in Downtown LA. He visited, found the SmartBox, and left the key.

I received an email from Keycafe with a code in it that I could use to pick up my key.

When I arrived in LA, I went to the cafe. It was crowded when I got there, but I found the SmartBox right near the entrance. It was mounted to the wall, and was about the size of a chess board (I don’t know why I was expecting it to be bigger).

The screen prompted me to answer a few questions and type in my code.

Then, out popped the key. It was actually really simple and took less than a minute.

Keycafe users can request that the person who picks up the key return it via Keycafe, or can specify another return method (like leaving it in the apartment).

I want to say this worked out great for me. In truth, the Keycafe piece of it did work out really well! What didn’t work out so well was that the damn key didn’t work. I stood outside my friend’s apartment door FaceTiming with him and trying to open it for about a half an hour before I finally gave up. I ended up staying with another friend for the weekend, who was gracious enough to accommodate a desperate last-minute guest.

Let this be a lesson: if you’re going to lend spare keys to your friends, always test them first!

Has anyone else used Keycafe? How was your experience?

  1. $6.95 to pickup a key and 50 cents per day storage? Use it while you can. This is a company that will be dead and gone soon. Nobody is going to pay that.

  2. $6.95? Pretty sure you can buy a key lockbox that you can secure to your front door (or elsewhere on your property) for less than $10. Give the code to your friend to unlock the box and get to key to get in and voila.

    This service seems highly unnecessary and inconvenient.

  3. Public keypad lockers are ubiquitous in Japan, where people use it to exchange items (for sale, to friends, clients, etc).

    In the US, its been frowned upon because they can be used to facilitate illicit trade or store explosives (why South Korea doesn’t have them in airports or rail stations).

    Its a great concept, not having to facilitate times and places to meetup. Should be much more prevalent in the US but authorities nitpick.

  4. Q: Why would anyone pay these rates for an inconvenient service when they could just use a normal lockbox like people have been using forever?

    A: When they’re Airbnb’ing their place illegally and don’t want the neighbors/landlord/condo association to find out.

    Make no mistake about the target customer for this service.

  5. No, haven’t used it but I would. I like the idea. Sorry you went through all that figuring it out then it didn’t work.

  6. @Louis – probably a new key that was cut and not tested. Can’t count the number of times I’ve had to return a key to have it cut again … key cutting, not a perfect science it seems.

  7. I love the service. It’s great if you are running an AirBnB set up in an apartment/condo where some of the other readers suggestions like “rocks with hidden key slots” and “put it in the ground” are not feasible.

  8. This is fantastic! A lockbox doesn’t work for me living in a tightly managed high rise where I need to leave a key and fob for visitors who often arrive before I am home from work. And there happens to be a location a few blocks from me. Thanks!

  9. Why not just get a realtor key lock box? You can find them for < $20 online, and there are versions you can get at your local hardware store too.

  10. “Figuring out how we would exchange keys was logistically tricky.”

    LOL millennial problems. Flowerpots and doormats just aren’t good enough for key storage, so let’s just build a business around a problem solved decades ago and try to get VC. ROFL.

  11. @Alvin Seoul Station has public keypad lockers on the opposite side of the station from the airport express, by the exit for metro trains. Quite reasonable rates for storing luggage while in the city for the day, but it’d be expensive to use as a way of exchanging something. Last I was there, it had been fitted to authenticate with fingerprints, but the reader was a bit unreliable, and the receipts had a code to use to unlock in case of problems.

  12. Tried using this service when in Vancouver, Canada last year. Wound up not working to claim key or drop off key. The convenience of this idea was negated by the fact that these are independent of the establishment they are in. They key cafe I visited was in a 7-11 and the people behind the counter could not assist me when the machine malfunctioned. A customer service number on the machine did nothing as well – stressful when you are trying to leave for the airport to make a flight. Airbnb host had to come and drop off key and come pick it up. Luckily, they were local to area.

  13. Kēvo? August? Smart locks have been around for a few years. I just send someone an e-key and they get in with Bluetooth on their phone.

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