Do Hotels Charge You for Not Returning Key Cards?

Traditional keys are rarely used by many of today’s hotels. Upon checking in, it is likely for you to be handed a key card instead of a key that’s out of metal.

It can be tempting to keep a key card, rather than return it when you check out, as it makes for a fantastic souvenir that can serve as a reminder that you once stayed in that hotel. However, you fear that the hotel may charge you for not leaving it in your room or at the front desk.

So, do hotels charge you for not returning key cards?

Because key cards are cheap when purchased in bulk, many hotels do not care if the guests do not return key cards. However, some hotels require the guests to return them by placing a jar at the front desk, and some hotels may charge their guests for not returning key cards.

Before you decide whether or not you should keep your hotel key card after checking out, keep on reading. Below you will come across some of the most important things that you need to know about this matter.

Why Traditional Keys Were Replaced

It was back in the 1990s when many hotels went from traditional keys to key cards.

For hotels in North America, one of the reasons for the big switch is to get AAA approval, which can help boost their image and reliability. AAA is regarded as a top-notch hotel rating program.

To become AAA approved, a hotel must be able to meet certain essential requirements. There are 27 of them that need to be met by a hotel, to be exact. Some of those are security and safety.

Currently, about 32,000 hotels in the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean have AAA approval.

Traditional keys are not the safest tools for unlocking hotel room doors. It is for the obvious fact that they bear the hotel name, address, and room number. If your hotel room key falls in the hands of a crook, it is likely that your vacation will go from fantastic to traumatic easily.

On the other hand, except for the hotel name, pieces of information on a key card are invisible to the naked eye. A crook who steals your hotel room key card will need to have a key card reader uncover its details.

For many people, this can be a terrifying matter. Other than having access to their hotel room, they believe that their key cards can also reveal their credit card information and home address, which is why they feel that they should take their hotel room key cards and shred them at home. Keep on reading to know more about this issue.

Many Believe That Key Cards Contain Personal Details

Some people deliberately do not return their hotel room key cards because they make for excellent souvenirs. Others accidentally forget to leave them in their hotel room or at the front desk.

But then there are also people who refuse to return their hotel room key cards to safeguard the important pieces of information allegedly written on them.

If you are one of those who think that a hotel room key card holds details that the hotel or a crook may use, here’s great news: a hotel key card contains your hotel room number and check-in and out dates only.

Needless to say, the idea that a hotel key card contains all sorts of personal details is just a myth.

It all began back in 2003 in Pasadena, California when some detectives were investigating a scam. They were able to retrieve a key card, which belonged to a major hotel chain, as a piece of evidence.

When the detectives used a key card reader to take a peek at the pieces of information stored on it, they thought that they saw the hotel guest’s home address and credit card number, among other details.

The detectives informed some Pasadena police officers about this matter. The said police officers then shared the story with their family and friends.

The problem was that the claims of the detectives were unverified.

Not One of the Amenities That You Can Take

There are some things in your hotel room that you may and may not bring home. If truth be told, most hotels expect their guests to take shower gels, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, toothbrushes, pens, and notepads.

This is especially true for those that bear their names as they can serve as advertisements.

However, many hotels won’t hesitate to charge their guests for stealing items that they should leave in the hotel room. Some of them include towels, robes, hangers, comforters, mattresses, wall clocks, and electronics.

If you search online for listings of hotel room items that you may take and should leave behind, it is rare that you will come across something that mentions a key card.

Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is cheap. For instance, when key cards are purchased by a hotel in bulk, each piece costs 10 cents only.

Some hotels use key cards that come with smart chips. Despite being more advanced than those with magnetic strips, each of them costs only a dollar.

Here’s proof that key cards are cheap: if you lose yours and ask for a replacement, the front desk is likely to give you another key card at no cost.

But as always, there are exceptions to the rule. Some hotels may charge you a minimal fee for losing your hotel room key card.

Needless to say, these hotels will also charge you if you forget to return your key card after checking out, whether deliberately or by accident. Always keep in mind that it is a case-to-case basis.

The Cost of Taking a Hotel Room Key Card

Some hotels do not mind at all if their guests take their hotel room key cards. No one can blame their guests for doing so as they make for fantastic souvenirs.

For instance, on a forum site where someone asked if anyone keeps a hotel key card after checking out, one participant claimed that she has more than 100 hotel room key cards!

However, some hotels prefer their guests to return their key cards. After all, the pieces of information on them will expire after check out, rendering them pretty much useless until new details are recorded on them with the use of a key card writer.

In many instances, hotels have a jar at the front desk where the guests may leave their hotel room key cards.

However, the presence of such a jar doesn’t necessarily mean that the hotel will charge you if you refuse or forget to put your hotel room key card in it.

Just keep in mind that some hotels charge their guests for not returning their key cards, and they usually tell everyone about it on their website.

As an example, the website of a hotel in the Philippines states that there will be a charge amounting to 100 Pesos (about 2 dollars) for not returning a key card.

Especially if you want to keep your credit card bill free of surprises, it is a good idea to check out the hotel’s website or ask the front desk about the establishment’s stance on keeping key cards as souvenirs.

Before You Stash a Key Card in Your Bag

Different hotels have different policies, including one that has something to do with guests deliberately or accidentally taking their hotel room key cards.

Although it is highly unlikely that the hotel will charge you with an exorbitant fee for not returning your key card, there is a possibility that you will have to pay a small amount of money.

If you are taking a once-in-a-lifetime kind of vacation and you want to make your hotel key card as a souvenir that can remind you of the experience, don’t be too shy to politely ask the front desk if you may have it as a keepsake.

Related Questions

Can my cell phone ruin my hotel card key?

As much as possible, refrain from placing your cell phone, and hotel card key next to each other as your phone’s magnetic field may erase the data on your key card.

Can I use my hotel key card for accessing certain facilities after checking out? 

There is a possibility that you may be able to access the pool, gym, and other key card-secure areas with your key card after checking out.

Photo credit: © Kneschke

Reed Harris

Reed is a traveler and blogger. He's planning to visit all states in the USA. He's been in 31 states so far.

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