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I finally try a hotel ‘Mobile Key’, and this is what I found

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It has been a number of years now since the major hotel chains started allowing you to enter your room by using your mobile phone, rather than a key card.

Despite this, I had never done it. Last week I was back at Courtyard Gatwick Airport, which I reviewed here, and decided to give it a try.

This is what I found.

Using Marriott mobile key

Why had I never tried mobile key before?

Good question.

There are a number of reasons:

  • if I am reviewing a hotel for the site, I want to see how the front desk operates
  • ‘mobile key’ tends to work better for repeat visits where you already understand how a hotel works, and I rarely do repeat stays at the same place – staying somewhere fresh lets us review a different property
  • because you lose control over room selection, there is a view that elite members either won’t be upgraded or will not receive the best possible upgrade (Hilton has recently dealt with this by removing upgrades from hotel control and automatically allocating them five days in advance)
  • and, to be honest, I’m a bit of a luddite at heart – I’ve no doubt my 14-year old would be all over this given the chance

It’s also worth noting that, when travelling outside the UK, you often won’t be allowed to use mobile key because of a legal requirement for the hotel to take a copy of your passport.

How does Marriott mobile key work?

Why did I try it on this trip?

There were three key (sic) reasons.

The first is that I had used a ‘soon to expire’ Marriott Bonvoy suite upgrade certificate, received for hitting 50 nights back in 2020 and extended to June 2022. I was pre-upgraded into a Junior Suite and that is as good as it gets at Courtyard Gatwick Airport. I wasn’t going to get a better upgrade at the desk. I also knew how the hotel operates from my previous visit, including where the lifts are.

Secondly, I wasn’t going to review the hotel because I did so back in April. I didn’t need to see how good the front desk team was.

Thirdly, I was arriving late – 9.30pm – and getting up early, and I didn’t want to waste any time.

How does Marriott mobile key work?

How does it work with Marriott Bonvoy?

It is a slick process, you can’t argue with that.

You go into the Marriott Bonvoy app and, assuming that mobile check-in is offered, you simply press the button. Around an hour later I received a message to say that it had been activated and what my room number was.

Whilst it may be slick, however, there were two obvious problems:

  • Your payment card is, unsurprisingly, set to be the default card you have stored in your Marriott Bonvoy account. There seemed to be no way of changing this during the mobile check-in process. If you were planning to check-out at a desk in the morning then it wouldn’t be an issue, but it would be if you were simply planning to walk out in the morning (you can use the app to check out although you can’t see your bill).
  • Your elite benefit is pre-selected for you – bonus points. This is the cheapest option for Marriott and the hotel (my choices were 500 points worth £2.50 or £7.50 to spend on food and drink in the hotel). You cannot change this during check-in – you need to go to the front desk on arrival, which defeats the point.
How does Marriott mobile key work?

How did it work in the hotel?

I must admit I felt a hint of smugness as I entered the lobby, walked past the queue of people waiting to check-in and headed up to my room.

Opening the door was very easy. I had already activated Bluetooth on my phone (it is normally turned off because it is a battery drain) and it took only a few seconds to press the key button in the app.

Even though my phone was about 10cm away from the door lock, it still triggered.

I then hit a snag ….

Courtyard Gatwick Airport is one of those hotels where you can’t turn on the lights unless you put your door key into a slot inside the room.

Except, of course, I didn’t have a key.

Credit cards are the same size as a door key so I had no problem finding an alternative. There is clearly a risk that you forget your credit card when you leave the hotel, either during the day or at the end of your stay.

I am guessing that experienced users of ‘mobile keys’ steal a spare key from another hotel stay and keep it in their wallet or purse for situations like this …..

I also had no water in my room. I had some on my last stay. It’s not clear if this is an elite benefit or not, but there were two water glasses in the room on the desk …. just no water.

Was this due to using ‘mobile key’? It could be, if Marriott allocated my room and not the hotel, so the hotel didn’t know until I checked in – just one hour before arrival – which room I would be in. If ‘mobile key’ gives me the room that the hotel had already pre-allocated for me in the system, of course, there is no reason why some water wouldn’t have been provided as it was already known where I would be.

Conclusion

The actual process of using my mobile phone to open my room door was, I must say, slick. It also saved me some time on arrival.

On the downside, at least as far as Marriott’s mobile key is concerned, the inability to swap your payment card or your elite benefit in the app removes some of the value.

It’s also worth saying that using ‘mobile key’ meant that the human element was entirely removed from my stay. I did not speak to a single hotel employee during my, admittedly short, stay. Is this really progress?


How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (May 2022)

There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.

You can apply here.

American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 bonus points and 15 elite night credits Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.

Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for as long as they hold the card?  It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

The Platinum Card has doubled its sign-up bonus to 60,000 Membership Rewards points, which convert to 90,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, if you apply by 1st June 2022.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points (SPECIAL OFFER) and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:

and for small business owners:

The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Marriott Bonvoy points

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (105)

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  • 40 weeks per year says:

    Perhaps I used Mobile key when they were still getting the bugs out, but in my weekly hotel experiences back in 2016-2019 it would rarely work so I just stopped doing it. It made no sense to check in with the app, and then getting the notice on your app to “see the reception” for your key card when I tapped “get mobile card”.

    And the few times it did give me the mobile key and I did get to skip reception there would be at least one time in my stay when it doesn’t let you into the room (either first time or next time or in the morning). So then I would have to go to reception and they would then give me a key card. Again, this was pre-vid so maybe they took the two years to fix issues.

    And in the US, the water/food offering at reception is a hit/miss situation with Marriotts. As a result, I simply only do Gold Status with them anymore, moved on to better loyalties.

  • BuildBackBetter says:

    I did not speak to a single hotel employee during my, admittedly short, stay. Is this really progress?

    Do you stay at hotels so that you can speak to staff? Not sure how that is a big issue. First time perhaps.
    Labour is one of the biggest operating costs, so no wonder hotels are promoting mobile checkin.

    What would help is providing 500 (or whatever is reasonable) points to encourage mobile checkin. Similar to bonus points provided long ago for reducing frequency of housekeeping.

    • Rob says:

      Unless you’re under 18, I don’t think having less and less human interaction in your life is necessarily a goal you should be happy to be working towards!

      • Callum says:

        18 is a bizarre cut off to choose, but I’d say there’s a sizeable difference between “human interaction” and inane chit-chat with someone paid to pretend they’re interested in talking to you.

        In my brief stint as a hotel employee, I can count the number of people I actually had any interest talking to on one hand. The other staff were generally even less interested and only saw guests as the source of a potential tip!

    • John says:

      But it doesn’t really save labour unless they go to kiosk only, they still need to have one staff there all the time. If some people use mobile keys, it will reduce queues if the hotel is one where lots of people always arrive to check in at the same time, without needing to roster extra staff for that busy period, yes.

      I don’t think people refuse to stay somewhere again just because they had to wait a long time to check in if everything else was ok – and most people choose on price anyway for average middle-end hotels

  • Chas says:

    Re the ability to change the payment card, and “If you were planning to check-out at a desk in the morning then it wouldn’t be an issue, but it would be if you were simply planning to leave your key in a box by the door as I was” – you were planning on leaving your phone in the box were you Rob…?! 😉

  • the_real_a says:

    As for Hilton and sub brands – i don’t feel its an either/or decision. Provided your profile is updated on the system you can use mobile key on hotels.com or third party bookings. I turn up at reception, receive the plastic card and then “request” the digital key on my phone. Very useful to leave power on in your room, or if you forget your key or if you are like me somehow manage to frequently demagnetise/unprogram it.

    • John says:

      When was the last time you used a magstripe key? I don’t think I’ve had one since covid. Although I have had a few stays with a huge metal physical key in some rural bits of mainland Europe.

      How do you manage to deprogram an RFID card key, and *frequently*??

      And as mentioned power can be left on with a nectar card or whatever

      • Nate1309 says:

        The key deprogramming is an issue for me too. My “wallet” is attached to my phone and has a metal plate that I use to a magnet in the car. I suspect its the magnet in the car deprogramming keys but I’m most likely to need google maps driving when away from home.

      • Callum says:

        I’ve stayed in numerous places where the keys were so sensitive, keeping them in the same pocket as a phone or contactless credit card can corrupt it.

        Presumably it’s poor card design as other places have very few issues.

  • flyertalk29 says:

    I used it on a Hilton booking via Expedia (added the booking to the Hilton app with the reference number from Expedia) – all seemed well and the mobile key worked, except I got automatically billed by Hilton at rack rate with the payment card saved on my Hilton profile – front desk were very apologetic and said it was a known bug whereby third party bookings triggered a second check-in when using the mobile key, as the hotel had already allocated a different room. I got the refund promptly but beware!

  • LEWIS says:

    Why would you use a credit card? Use a tesco club card or something that wouldn’t be so bad if you lose it

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