Which Door Lock is Right for Your Hotels?

Your hotel lobby, front desk reception, and guest rooms all set the tone for your guest experience and share a property asset that can have a surprisingly big impact on that experience – your hotel door locks. 

Do your guests have to wait in line to get their key? Do the locks add to the aesthetic of the hotel interior design, or look clunky and out-of-place? Are the keycards secure? Do they work every time? 

Going back to the front desk to replace a malfunctioning keycard is guaranteed to leave a bad impression. And now, the hotel industry is adopting contactless keyless entry systems, giving guests the option to skip the front desk altogether and seamlessly access their hotel rooms with their mobile devices. Essentially, if you’re guests have to think twice about your hotel door locks, that’s two times too many. 

For many hotel owners, upgrading your locks is a once-in-a-decade investment, so finding the right fit is paramount. To help you sort through your options, we’ve put together an overview of the lock technology, types, and major providers, so you can choose which is best for your portfolio – and your guests.

Hotel Door Lock Technology – What’s behind each locking system?

Anything beyond the physical access mechanisms of the traditional metal key and lock will incorporate some kind of technology. This technology is what authenticates the key, triggering the hotel door lock to open and close, with the various options mainly differing in a few ways: how the “key” is encoded and how it then communicates with the hotel room lock’s reader. 

Each option comes with its advantages and shortcomings. But the locking system you choose will determine the electronic lock types and providers available to you, and so its the best place to start.   

Magnetic Stripe Card (Magstripe)

Magnetic key card technology came onto the scene in the 1970s and represented a giant leap forward in lock technology. Like a credit card, this thin, plastic keycard has a magnetic stripe that is encoded to work with a specific guestroom lock. When the magnetic key card is swiped in the magstripe reader on the correct guestroom door, it is unlocked for a set interval, usually several seconds. Like other electronic hotel locks, the magstripe reader has a battery power supply and typically last between 12-18 months before batteries need replacement. 

Pros: Magstripe keycards can be single-use at their price point, and it has been the industry standard locking system for decades. Chances are your guests are very familiar with this option. 

Cons: Demagnetization is a frequent problem. If a guest places a magnetic key card next to something with an electromagnetic field (like a smartphone or TV), the encoding can be degraded causing malfunction (and a trip to the front desk for a replacement). Lock operation can also be affected by dirt and dust accumulation in the card reader slot. Magstripe cards are rarely reused by hotels, creating an avoidable recurring expense and ecological concerns around their disposal.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)

Hotel door locks using RFID technology appeared in the early 2000s. Instead of swiping to access a room like magstripe keycards, RFID keycards using NXP’s Mifare solution only need to be held up within a few inches of the lock. The locks contain an RFID module that broadcasts a signal over modulated radio waves that prompts an in-range keycard to communicate its unique encoded guest access information and then the module authenticates the key’s encoded information to unlock the door.

Pros: RFID keycards and locks were designed to avoid the common pain points of magstripe locking systems. RFID keycards can also be reused by hotels.

Cons: RFID keycards are costly – hotels can spend over $2000 a month replacing not returned, lost, or stolen keycards (which can also pose a threat to guestroom and hotel security). 

BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)

BLE technology is what powers today’s mobile key solutions. Like RFID and NFC locks, these locks constantly broadcast a signal that awaits interaction with an encoded key, though in this case, the key is digital. However, initial Bluetooth locks were not efficient for hotels, often requiring battery replacement within six months. So in 2014, Bluetooth Low Energy locks were introduced, which sit in standby mode until “woken up” when guests use their mobile phone to access an encrypted tokenized key that is read by the lock for room access. This is the locking system first widely used by major hotel industry brands like Hilton and Marriot.

Pros: BLE locks have a battery life between 12-18 months and contain both BLE and RFID modules, allowing the lock to operate via proximity card as well as digital key. RFID-only locks can also be easily and affordably installed with BLE module lock upgrades. Digital key providers like OpenKey use the additional security of 128-bit encryption, a bank-level standard that’s essentially uncrackable. Hotels don’t have to continually replace keycards with BLE, while guests spend less time waiting at the front desk as mobile keys enable contact-free check-in. Guests also access digital keys through hotel mobile apps, which provides a direct marketing channel to drive additional revenue for hotels. 

Cons: For the first several years of BLE locks and digital keys, hotels had a hard time getting guests to download their hotel mobile app for digital key access. In 2020, however, this trend abruptly changed course as guests expected more contactless services and surveys reported 73% of travelers would download and use an app that would enable them to open their door with mobile keys.

Hotel Door Lock Types – What’s the hardware on the room doors?

After you determine the locking system technology that is ideal for your hotel and guests, you have a choice in the lock type. That is, the physical shape and arrangement of the electronic lock hardware on the guestroom doors. There are two standard hardware options that will affect both operation and appearance (and in some cases, price) of your hotel room locks. 

Full-Body or Unibody Locks

As the name implies, this type of lock is a single piece, which includes the reader and door handle within one structure affixed on the room doors. Most are made from stainless steel and offer different finishes. On typical hotel door types, the battery power supply is stored on the back (guestroom) side of the lock.

Primary Benefits:

  • Easy to install
  • Minimal modifications to door needed
  • If upgrading from magstripe locks, this lock type covers a similar surface area

Separate Component Locks

These separate the reader and lock handle for a more minimalist design. Again, these are made of stainless steel and have options for finishes. For standard door types, the batteries are stored within the door itself.

Primary Benefits:

  • Contemporary look fits a range of interior design styles
  • Hardware housed inside the door
  • Minimal lock footprint for versatility in future upgrades

Hotel Door Lock Companies – Who makes the locking systems you want?

The final component of your hotel door lock purchase decision is the technology partner. Look for a provider who offers the features you want at the price you want with the quality of service you need. In most cases, installing a guest room lock system doesn’t end with the installation. There can be ongoing adjustments and improvements required, and you want a company that offers the best support options for your staff.

Here are the major hotel door lock providers to look into for access control solutions that can enhance your hotel experience: 

ASSA ABLOY: Offering access systems solutions for several markets, ASSA ABLOY Hospitality is directed toward the hotel and hospitality industry.

dormakaba: Also catering to multiple markets, dormakaba provides a range of security systems solutions. 

MIWA: Based out of Japan, MIWA focuses on electronic RFID locks. 

Onity: Familiar to hotel management in major hotel chains for their energy management systems, Onity also offers electronic locks for a variety of markets.

OpenKey: Providing RFID/BLE locks, BLE module upgrades, mobile app development, digital key management platform, and PMS integration, OpenKey strives for versatile, affordable, and comprehensive digital key solutions for independent and boutique hotels.

Salto: With an eye for total property security, Salto offers back-of-house security locks as well as wireless electronic guest room locks.

Your Hotel, Your Doors

Hotel guest door locks have come a long way from the now-old-fashioned mechanical lock and metal key. Today’s options for hotel door lock technologies and hardware can drastically improve the guest experience at your hotel – one door lock at a time.

Ready to upgrade your locks? OpenKey is the only leading hotel door lock provider that can give you a complete solution – from the guestroom doors to your guest’s smartphone. Schedule a demo to see for yourself.