People Can Get A Key To Your Hotel Room Just By Asking, Here’s How To Protect Yourself

A Cleveland man was sentenced to two years in prison for attempting to break into a coworker’s hotel room. But he didn’t force entry. He used a key. And he’d been given that key by the Courtyard by Marriott Independence, Cleveland.

The Frito-Lay employee was at a work event and got the key to his colleague’s room at the front desk even though he wasn’t a guest at the property.

The victim explains that she was settling in for the night when she heard noises at her door and saw it opening. She began video taping, alerted the hotel, and called the police. The video turned out to be crucial evidence, since the hotel had no cameras in its hallways.

There was no identity verification by the front desk agent before handing over the key. Social engineering is the biggest security vulnerability, whether in-person or online. The hotel’s general manager offered a vague statement that lacked details on security upgrades, additional training for employees or installation of security cameras.

  • Always double lock your door
  • Use the security chain or latch, attached to the door frame, which hooks onto a track on the door, allowing the door to be opened slightly for viewing or ventilation while still providing a measure of security against unauthorized entry.

Another trick to address long tail safety risk is to roll a bottle of water under the bed when you arrive in your hotel room – if it comes out the other side then probably no one is hiding under your bed, lying in wait according to a KLM flight attendant.

@esthersturrus What is the first thing you do? #myklmmoment #klm #klmcrew #crewklm #klmairlines #klmroyaldutchairlines #flightattendant #stewardess #cabincrew #cabincrewlife #cabincrewgirls flightattendantlife #aviationlife #aviation #uniform #royalbue ♬ girls like me don't cry (sped up) – thuy

Although I’m not sure the last time that actually happened, someone just waiting under a bed for someone to check into a room?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I was staying at an HGI in northern Virginia a few months ago — checked in with the app, got my room assignment, but stopped by the front desk to get a standard cardkey as backup. I gave the undertrained college kid at reception my room number and he slid a cardkey across to me without further questions. Giant security / liability issue that magnifies with the deprofessionalization / shrinkage of hotel staff.

  2. Wouldn’t it be easier and safer to tell reception that no one gets a key unless they offer a security password. Like kindergartens or schools look for when people turn up to take kids out of school?

  3. When a guest asks for a replacement key with no ID in hand, It would be better if the hotel asked a couple of questions about the reservation beside the room number and name on the reservation — things like card/last digits of card number on file with the hotel + full physical address and email address with the account/reservation. It wouldn’t eliminate all unscrupulous access to rooms by those pretending to be someone else, but it would limit the chances of it working.

    Either way, when in the room, best to use a door stopper as well as the typical lock features the hotel room has. Nowadays, it’s also pretty easy for a guest to put their own security camera in the room to watch the room in the guest’s absence.

  4. Maybe I’ve just been lucky or stayed at hotels with reasonable security procedures but every time I’ve asked for a key (lost, quit working, need an extra, etc) I had to give room number and show ID. A couple of times I locked myself out without my ID (on way to gym or ice maker usually) and, in those cases, someone from the hotel went back to the room with me, used the new key to open the door and then didn’t give it to me until I showed my ID.

    Retired now but worked in IT for almost 40 years (including at CTO and CIO). It is amazing how many times passwords are given out or reset with absolutely zero validation that the person is who they represent themselves to be. There are easy ways to validate this but many companies either don’t have well defined policies and procedures or employees don’t follow them. BTW, my understanding of the MGM hack was it was accomplished through social engineering by getting a password when the recipient wasn’t validated so this happens all the time, even at the largest companies.

  5. This happens all the time … far too often. You leave your room for ice or to get something from housekeeping and don’t grab your key. I’d say at least 50% of the time the front desk just hands over a new one. Hotels that do this should be fined some big money. If managers are too lazy to train their people, if front desk people just don’t want to ‘confront’ a guest by asking for ID, perhaps a monetary penalty might wake them up. This is a VERY simple problem to solve, but nobody seems to care. As for guests who don’t use the safety mechanism on their doors … I have no words to describe how dumb that is.

  6. @jsn55, the correct procedure here is to escort the guest to the room and once they are let inside, produce an ID. I’ve seen it done, but my guess is that most hotels don’t bother.

  7. Another security failure I’ve seen is a couple of weeks ago I forgot to add my wife as second guest and she was locked out of the room while I was away from the hotel. I called the hotel from my cell phone, gave them my name and room number, and asked them to add her as second guest. It could have easily been anyone else calling and adding themselves as second guest, then showing up at the property with their ID to ask for a key. Hotel should have asked a couple of questions about the reservation or asked me to come in in person.

  8. When I walked out of the hotel room with my phone still inside, so I couldn’t get back in, a maintenance person agreed to help me, but required me to tell them in advance where my phone was and that they would hold on to it while I biometric unlocked it as proof. I told them as somebody with an IT career that I really appreciate the confirmation proof that if I can tell him where to pick up a device that I am able to unlock then that pretty well proves I should have access to the room and the device itself.

    I actually reported her to management for a customer compliment!

  9. @Michael Car rental companies do this. I wanted to add a family member to the rental because my flight was delayed. Could not do this online or over the phone. We both had to appear at the desk to do this. Could not cancel and rebook because they were sold out.

  10. I always use whatever extra locks there are when I’m inside my hotel room. I take the card with me when I get ice. I have looked under the bed. Some beds have a hard surface. There is no open space under the bed. I have started doing this since I watched Friday the 13th.

  11. @AC, maybe we’ve been lucky. I’ve been traveling extensively for the past 35 (averaging 50 nights a year) and have NEVER received a key or re-key without an ID. And yes, when I don’t have my ID on me, an employee comes with me to verify my ID in the Room.

  12. There you go again, looking for competence in staffing when you know perfectly well that is not relevant. Only diversity is. For proper diversity, the employer must hire stupid, semi-literate people in proportion to the population. Unfortunately, the percentage is on the rise.

  13. I guess one should look under the bed, but I dislike getting grossed out by how little cleaning is actually done by housekeeping.

    Somethings I’d rather not know…as it raises too many other issues

  14. Recently I forgot what room I was in and told the front desk I needed a key for 323 when I was staying in 223…. She just handed it over, and at first I thought someone had stolen my laptop from the desk until I realized there was a suitcase that wasn’t mine.

    I’ve been checked into rooms that already has someone chrcked intonthem too.

    Fortunately so far I haven’t found an actual person in an incorrect room yet.

  15. This reminds me of the time I was “seeing” a guy who was in the Secret Service and on Ronald Reagan’s protection team. We had met in Scotland, where he was preparing for Reagan’s visit to see the Queen. (And we had a wonderful time!) I had not seen him since then. I was coming to Washington for a work related event, and we agreed to meet at my hotel. I think it was the Marriott W, which was pretty close to the White House. I didn’t have any messages when I arrived, so I went up to my room. I was surprised to see the guy SLEEPING AWAY IN MY BED!! Those SS agents have some pretty long hours, so of course he was tired. LOL. I never asked, but I guess he got a key at the desk just by flashing his badge.

  16. Dixieboz,

    Sounds like the US Secret Service employee misused his position for personal benefit, unless he was a legitimately added secondary guest on the reservation for your room or you on his.

    Also, the USSS’s involvement in identity theft and other fraud investigations of sorts does inform what kind of shenanigans are possible and then some have been known to engage in wrongful action at times using their experience/knowledge and credentials.

    As part of intelligence operatives training, one of the often used challenges by the CIA was to require “clean” access to hotel rooms without the trainees getting caught. Having law enforcement credentials to present makes it easier to access targeted rooms? Well, that’s one way in given the tendency of people to defer to symbols of authority without great skepticism.

  17. I’m calling bs on the others that claim this has happened. I have spent 250+ nights a year at hotels since 2019 and I have never had this happen. The staff knows me by name at some of these hotels and when I have forgotten my key I was still required to show ID. No, I don’t get mad, I understand why the policy is there. Sure this might have happened once, but it certainly isn’t common.

  18. April 8 of this year Alaska Airlines put me up in Comfort Inn Sea-Tac. I used the first key card to open the room and saw shoes on the floor, then heard a man and woman shout “Who’s that?” Back downstairs, reception gave me a second key card. I knocked first, but a guy answered from inside. Third time, the last key card got me an unoccupied room. I’m glad I wasn’t attacked.

  19. Brandon,

    Just in the second half of this year, I have seen two major chain hotels in capital cities provide replacement room keys to guests without asking for ID. I suspect that part of it was that the hotel sees women with young child/children in tow at breakfast time and lets their guard down more than if say someone looking like Senator Fetterman but with Senator Menendez skin melanin level tried to do the same thing alone at 11pm at night.

  20. @Brandon

    While in a NYC hotel, someone came into the room as I slept and my travel partner was up reading. The intruder stated he was in the wrong room by mistake. The front desk acted like nothing had happen. Learned my lesson the hard way about locking the door.

  21. Exit Row Seat,

    At its most innocuous, perhaps the “intruder” was accidentally assigned your room by hotel staff as a result of the hotel not keeping proper track of which rooms had been assigned and reassigned in inventory for the night. Have had this happen more with hotel stays where I get early check-in or am doing late check-in, and it can be embarassing for both the “intruder” and the intruded while the hotel may barely flinch about the issue despite the hotel’s failure negatively impacting the guests’ stays.

  22. My experience is that ‘usually’ they ask for your ID in resorts if you ask for en “extra” key. Also check for bed bugs as this as been in the News lately. The smallest of visitors can be a pain and hard to get rid of!

  23. Some of you will hate this but what you’re talking about is “white man’s privilege.” I have never received a key to anything where in person contact is necessary without showing some form of ID. One of this days it will happen. Stay vigilant, always latch the door and check the room.

  24. If I get ID’d asking for a new key I thank them for the good security. Most places don’t ask. (I lose my keys so often I started always asking for 3 at check in)

  25. Always throw the deadbolt after entering your hotel room. All major brand hotels have standards that require locks that keep the deadbolt from being opened from the corridor side with anything but an Emergency Key, which should be only 2 or 3 kept in high security locations, i.e., the GM safe and the fire key ring in a lockbox.

  26. Two years prison on attempted burglary…dude either had an extensive prior criminal history or he got the book thrown at him on account of this making the news. Doesn’t bother me, but would be interested to know if this is about the circumstances leading to the sentence. Can’t really assume and punish for what he might have done had he gotten in the room.

    There’s plenty of full-blown burglary cases, with grand theft, property damage, etc. added in which don’t get this kind of time. Around here, first timers will typically get off with straight probation. Bigger risk is getting blasted by the homeowner.

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