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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 (June 2024)

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.

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

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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)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Scott says:

    I’ve used it twice at Hiltons, the last time being the HGI Hatton Cross, and both times it worked once. I then had to queue at the desks for a keycard.
    Will not use it again.

    Did get the option on a recent stay, where thr hotel said they would let me know when my room was ready, but they never did.

    Do wonder of status benefits get missed out. Had zero from the HGI I.e. water in the room (rather than picking it up at reception).

  • Andrew J says:

    I use mobile keys for one night stays, like quick airport hotel overnights – they are usually basic hotels with not much of an upgrade anyway and can have a queue to check in and out. I also like that you can select the exact room you want like an airline seat map – and you can select one that isn’t an adjoining room and one with a preferred view etc.

  • masaccio says:

    “I had already activated Bluetooth on my phone (it is normally turned off because it is a battery drain)”

    Luddite indeed – turning off Bluetooth on a modern phone will not make an appreciable difference

    • Andrew J says:

      And to have you turn Bluetooth on every time I use my AirPods would be annoying.

    • John says:

      Does Luddite mean someone who doesn’t buy a new phone every 2 years? Because it does make a difference on my phone which is 5 years old. It didn’t when it was newer but the battery has lost capacity. Well, I carry a battery pack around anyway so it doesn’t really matter

      • Yuff says:

        Absolutely, only buying a phone every 2 years….
        They are released yearly 🤣🤣🤣

      • jj says:

        A five year old phone is unlikely to offer security updates. I hope you don’t use it for online banking, managing credit cards or anything else that matters.

        • Panda Mick says:

          This ^^^^^^…. ESPECIALLY if it’s an Android where you’re unlikely to be getting updates two years after sales, even less if it’s a mobile carrier munged android

          (note: This isn’t an android vs iphone argument).

          • qrfan says:

            I don’t know where you’re getting 2 years from. The Samsung S8 received security updates for 4 years. The S10 still gets quarterly updates 3 years on. Some newer samsung devices get 5 years: https://security.samsungmobile.com/securityPost.smsb. I’m sure some chinese android suppliers are less concerned about security updates but don’t broad-brush based on operating system.

          • RussellH says:

            None of my mobile phones have ever received an ‘update’. When I last got a new mobile ‘update’ meant a new handset, not a new OS.
            Interestingly, it is the older phones from Nokia and Motorola that just keep on working. The newer ones have all long since failed.

        • jeff77 says:

          My dad’s does and it still works perfectly well, hence no need to buy a new one.

          Mine is three years old and there’s zero reason for me to buy one as it works almost as welll as when I purchased it.

    • RussellH says:

      I had read that if you have bluetooth on permanently you get constantly hit with advertising.
      But then I stopped keeping my phone turned on at all when I retired.

  • NigelthePensioner says:

    Used phone as key on several occasions at Hilton’s in the US. Works very well and can be used on 2 phones for 2 occupants.
    When checking in on line, Hilton (Diamond) allow you to choose your room (including upgrades to suites) at the time by showing you floor plans and all the rooms in pretty large scale that you can choose. Click on it, confirm, and it’s yours!
    Pretty simple really.

    • Littlefish says:

      So, do you need ‘data’ working as you approach the room door for the first time (in US). Being Hilton I’d suppose the password for Hilton’s wifi is known at that stage but will it work before you operate the door for the first time?

      • @mkcol says:

        Yes you only need bluetooth on to open the door in Hiltons, no data at all at any time to enter the room.

  • KenC says:

    I tried the mobile key option at two Hyatt hotels, the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham and the Great Scotland Yard in London. Complete disaster. At the first hotel the Hyatt app said “We are currently preparing your mobile key”. It remained like that four hour days till we left. At the Great Scotland Yard, I asked about the key and reception told me “We have no idea how to activate a mobile key”.

    So, I am none the wiser!!

  • JohnTh says:

    Worked really well at Hilton T2 LHR recently to avoid long queue at checkin. Also we knew when the room was actually ready as key became active. Hilton allows you to change payment card for stay prior to online check-in in My Stay as well as seeing if being upgraded. Needed for lift too but it knew where you were. However will also get key card too when reception not busy.
    PS I thought it used NFC not bluetooth?

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      No, it’s Bluetooth unfortunately. NFC would be more like a real key and like Apple Pay could integrate into your wallet so you don’t need to open the app, just tap on the key reader (or hover close to it).

      When Hilton released digital key all smartphones had Bluetooth but few had NFC

      Some hotels that still have the old magnetic stripe keys have upgraded their locks to accept Bluetooth, but the keys are still the old style. These locks don’t have NFC capability. Hopefully when these locks become more rare then the Hilton digital key will go NFC

  • Karl says:

    I’ve recently stayed in two Moxy hotels that insisted I presented photo ID at check-in. I asked what would happen if someone didn’t have any, as I’m sure many people don’t walk around with driving licence/passport for a domestic stay, and was told they couldn’t stay. Mobile check-in was available at both places, an obvious flaw in this rigid ID policy.

    • R says:

      In Marriotts where this is the policy it says you need to visit front desk to show ID before digital key gets activated.

      • Karl says:

        Kind of negates the major advantage of mobile check-in then if you still have to queue at the front desk.

  • Luke says:

    Sounds like a not so elegant solution to a non existent problem

    • Mike says:

      Rather like press button start for cars – No one ever said I find it to tiresome to turn the key in the ignition

      • Rich says:

        Hands-free lock/ unlock and start/ stop is the feature I never knew I needed until I had it!

      • jeff77 says:

        Also makes it easier to steal (I use an old fashioned steering wheel lock and put my keys in a signal blocking pouch but I can’t imagine many others do)

        • Mike says:

          A chap a work has a Landrover Defender with a removable steering wheel

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