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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?


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and for small business owners:

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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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  • Dubious says:

    Interesting review Rob. I have often wondered about these mobile keys and how/who make use of them.

    In terms of missed elite benefits/welcome gifts, I get the impression hotels follow a process that starts with a back office team reviewing all reservations/arrivals due during the day ahead and prepare the rooms accordingly. However this initial review step gets skipped when people use automated check-in services. I have had a number of similar experiences at Accor Hotels when using ‘online check-in’ where the front desk are not expecting ones arrival and don’t have the paperwork on hand unlike those people who did not check-in online. (To the extent that I have stopped using online check-in).

  • ChrisC says:

    No need to steal a key from anywhere.

    Just use your Nectar, Waitrose, Morrisons, M&S, old BA baggage and status cards.

    • Mike says:

      I’ve used train tickets in some hotels.

    • Mike says:

      The lights will burn brighter if you use your BA Gold Card

    • Andrew. says:

      Nectar is potentially far too valuable to lose by leaving in a hotel. I usually have around £50-£100 points available to spend in store, there’s no secondary check if you’re carrying the card when you spend.

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        I don’t know if it’s still possible but at one time you could set Nectar cards to earn only so you couldn’t spend in store, the backend systems changed a few years ago though so that facility might not be present anymore.

        It dated from the time when you could have different Nectar cards for family members and the last 3 digits were different. The purpose was so some family members could earn but not spend. I don’t think this is possible anymore so the facility to block cards from spending may have also vanished too.

    • GM says:

      Yes! Always have an old loyalty card or something, so it doesn’t even matter if it gets left behind. For every hotel trip for the last decade basically.

      • BuildBackBetter says:

        The metal plat Amex that was cancelled long ago.

  • Bagoly says:

    Old loyalty cards usually work too.
    While I cut up old credit cards, I keep old loyalty cards – they also work very well for scraping candle wax off glass table tops.
    Although at one hotel I did find that it had to be the hotel key (some chip in it?) rather than any piece of plastic of the right size, in order for the lights to work.

    • Andrew J says:

      I usually travel with a couple of old keycards in my luggage. I don’t like to have to turn the lights and AC off when I leave the room so find it annoying when the actual key is used to activate. (Key cards also work well as a makeshift shoehorn for tight shoes if you forget to pack one).

      • Thegasman says:

        Leaving aircon & lights on permanently… You’re definitely off Greta’s Christmas card list!

      • john says:

        I’m quite good at leaving the key card in the slot so it’s good to leave a different one in there!

  • A Traveller says:

    A couple of years ago I made the mistake of signing up for mobile key at a Marriott hotel.

    Returning to the room after an enjoyable evening of drinks with friends I felt… a level of urgency… to use the facilities, shall we say, but at the door to my room I found my phone had no signal and it couldn’t lock onto the hotel’s wifi, despite my increasingly frantic tapping into various settings screens, turning on and off aeroplane mode, etc.

    I found myself locked out of my room, at the worst possible moment.

    I ran down several flights of stairs to the front desk, which thankfully wasn’t dealing with another guest, too ashamed to fully explain my predicament, rudely snatched the physical key card proffered after some checks, and sprinted back up the stairs to my room. Just in time.

    Never, ever again.

    • John says:

      No toilets on the ground floor

    • sayling says:

      Shame you didn’t turn on Bluetooth in your drunken stupor…

    • RussellH says:

      A perfect argument against trying to combine a thousand and one functions inside one piece of expensive electronic kit.
      I would much rather keep things as simple as possible and stick to one function per device as far as possible.
      I would much rather have a credit card sized phone for phoning, credit cards for payments, room keys for doors, thank you.

      • QFFlyer says:

        I’d rather not have to carry around a separate phone, camera, iPod, etc., etc., so having a million functions in one (well designed) piece of electronic kit is fantastic!
        NFC for Hiltons would be better than Bluetooth though, they could even (maybe) somehow get it set up so it works for a while when the battery’s dead (like how touching on/off public transport with a dead battery works).

      • mvcvz says:

        Absolutely

  • Tonei Glavinic says:

    I like having the mobile keys as a backup, but find them too annoying to use as my sole key most of the time – finding the app, waiting for it to open, tapping the button to activate the key, and then waiting for the door to read it takes far too long, especially at properties where you also need to use the key for elevator and/or building entry access.

    • Tonei Glavinic says:

      (If hotels add Apple Wallet support I expect I may use them more frequently)

  • TimM says:

    I would have thought a better self check-in solution would just allow your registered bank card to open the door and switch on the electric, working like contactless payments. Requiring a mobile device with a limited battery life, especially, if as suggested by A Traveller, you need a data connection too, is going to be inherently unreliable.

    No water? I thought you meant there was no water in the taps. Really, you should be ashamed of yourself. All tap water in the UK is drinking water, as indeed it is in most of the World, and do you really want to pollute the planet with unnecessary plastic bottles? Hopefully this hotel chain has ceased supplying bottled water to all.

    • Andrew J says:

      Tap water? No thanks.

      • John says:

        Don’t usually agree with Tim but you should be ashamed of yourself.

      • TimM says:

        I know a lot of London water is supplied from Wales and the Welsh tend to hate Londoners. London water is rather unpleasant and this also partially explains why beer in London is unpleasant. I live in Yorkshire, surrounded by reservoirs, and Yorkshire tap water is better than anything you can buy in a bottle. Plus we have the best beer in the World.

    • Rob says:

      Glass bottles. You can see them on the desk if you look the review of my April stay.

      Whether I wanted it or not isn’t the point (I doubt I would have drunk it, given my 9.30pm arrival and 5.30am departure). It’s why it happened that is more interesting.

      There is a bigger discussion about linking payment cards to other stuff. Why can’t I just link my Tesco Clubcard to my bank cards so I never need to scan a Clubcard, for example?

      • Andrew J says:

        You can link your payment card to your Clubcard and use Pay+.

    • Ian says:

      Absolutely agree with you.

    • RussellH says:

      Bank card open the door? No thanks.
      It would only be a matter of time before someone hacked into the door locks and stole the card data.

      • memesweeper says:

        Perhaps, but most of us carry something with RFID/NFC, and most systems that use them require you to carry yet another one around. It’s vanishingly rare for any operator to ‘learn’ an existing device, yet it would save everyone money and could improve security.

  • Ian says:

    Have used mobile keys around the globe. These are obtained before our arrival at the hotel.

    It has never affected upgrades.

    However, we also get a physical key as well on arrival.

  • kt1974 says:

    So, it *is* quite handy, even if you do need to go to the front desk to check in, because it’s one less thing to carry / forget when leaving the room. eg it’s handy at resorts not to have to bring physical key when going to the pool/gym/beach

    However, my last couple of Marriott stays, they could never get *both* the mobile key and any room keys to work at the same time, which was inconvenient if eg multiple people staying in a room, so I ended up defaulting to the room key. YMMV…

    • Rob says:

      Interesting. That would be a deal killer for me then on family stays if you can’t mix and match.

      • Alex Sm says:

        But you can share a digital key with your co-travellers. I’m sure your 14-yo will appreciate that more than a piece of plastic 🙂

    • John says:

      A plastic card is easier than a phone… But yes if you’re going to bring your phone anyway

      A lot of the problems here seem to be Marriott problems, most of which aren’t problems with Hilton. Often have digital and physical keys at Hiltons

      • CamFlyer says:

        Plastic card keys can also go into the pocket when swimming on the beach, out for a jog, etc, when one might not want to carry a phone.

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