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If you want to implement a key card access control system for your hotel, upgrade your current key card setup, or just order new key cards, this guide can help. Within this article, we discuss the current use cases for hotel key cards and the types of key cards available, including specific proprietary options. We also look at some possible considerations you might have when picking hotel room access key cards for your establishment.
Hotel key cards primarily serve as a secure access control system for hospitality environments where customers and employees come and go at all hours. RFID key cards are programmed at the front desk and handed out to guests when they check into their hotel so they can access their hotel room without a traditional key.
Magnetic stripe hotel access cards have been around for a few decades but are now more widely used across the entire hotel or resort premises. Hotels can secure amenities like bars, lounges, pools, gyms, breakfast bars, business centers, stairwells, parking areas, and more with RFID cards. This level of access control promotes a sense of safety for visitors and helps hospitality staff ensure that only paying customers can use their amenities. Hotel staff can receive their own key cards with access to staff-restricted areas, like offices, kitchens, laundry facilities, break rooms, etc.
Key cards are easier for hotel staff to manage, allowing for a quick check-in process. Most hotels code their cards based on the customer’s length of stay, so they automatically expire during checkout. Visitors may or not need to return their keys at check out, as this depends on the hotel’s policy. If a customer reports a lost key card, the hotel staff can program another card for that room and deactivate the lost card.
There are two classes of hotel key cards: magnetic stripe and RFID. Within these two classes are further subtypes. Continue reading to learn the differences between these different classes of cards before we move on to discuss what type of key card is the best for your hotel:
Magnetic stripe key cards are inserted into a slot at the top of a door handle reader or swiped along a side slot. The card has to pass over a sensor so that the sensor can read the information encoded in the magnetic stripe.
This type of key card has been popular in hotels for decades because they are practical and cheap. But magnetic stripe cards can sometimes become demagnetized, locking customers out of their rooms and requiring them to return to the front desk for a new card. They’re also somewhat easy to duplicate, so they aren’t the most secure option. While they are still popular, RFID cards have been gaining traction in the last 10 to 15 years.
RFID cards use electromagnetic fields to transmit data from a key card to an RFID reader. RFID cards don’t need to be inserted or swiped through the door lock. Instead, guests can just place the card in close proximity to the reader to gain entry to controlled areas. RFID cards are a bit more expensive than magnetic stripe cards, but they don’t suffer from the same demagnetization issues and are not easily duplicated.
These types of cards are very popular amongst guests because you can put the card in a lanyard, phone case, or wallet and don’t have to remove it each time they need to access their room. Since the cards don’t have to be removed from a wallet to gain access to a room, RFID cards are also easier to keep track of, so guests lose them less often.
Temic RFID cards and door locks are an excellent proprietary option for hotel room access. The RF1 proximity card is compatible with the RF-C8500 and RF-M8500 door locks. They are rated for 100,000 uses and have a read range of ½ inch. Temic CANNOT be used as an all-in-one system, meaning guests can use it to access other secure areas. They will only be able to access their room.
Frequency: 125 kHz
Compatibility: Secure Lox and Temic card locks
Vingcards are the leading hotel access card option and are used by large hotel chains like Best Western, Hilton, and IGH. Vingcards use the Mifare Ultralight EV1 chip to communicate with door lock readers. Readers can read these cards up to 4 inches away.
Frequency: 13.56 Mhz
Compatibility: Vingcard’s various readers including Vingcard Essence, Vingcard Allure, Vingcard Classic, and Vingcard Flex.
Mifare key cards and hotel locks are another popular choice because of their relatively low cost compared to competitors and broad compatibility with multiple identification applications. Mifare cards are available in 1K and 4K formats. They operate in the 13.56 MHz range and have a read range of 4 inches. The Mifare 1K format is available as key fobs and wearables for hotels looking for a premier key card experience.
Frequency: 13.56 MHZ
Compatibility: Mifare key cards are compatible with Mifare card readers and many other hotel access systems, including Dormakaba and Saflok.
When deciding which type of hotel key card to order for your hotel or resort, you want to consider a few key points:
Magnetic stripe cards are generally much cheaper to implement than RFID cards. If your hotel is on a tight budget or already has an existing magnetic key card system, it will be more affordable to continue using magnetic stripe cards. The cheapest RFID option is Temic, but Vingcard locks are very easy to switch over to if your hotel is upgrading from magnetic stripe key cards.
Winner: Magnetic stripe
RFID cards are better for durability than magnetic stripe cards. Magnetic stripe cards are susceptible to demagnetization if they become too scratched or come into contact with other magnetized objects. RFID cards are also likely to last longer because they can be kept in a wallet or lanyard during use. Magnetic stripe cards must be removed and inserted into the lock whenever a guest or employee wants to access a controlled area. This adds extra wear and tear to the cards, making them bend or break faster than RFID options.
Magnetic stripe cards have a very limited storage capacity. In most cases, your hotel will be limited to storing room number, check-in date and time, and check-out date and time. You won’t be able to store personal guest information on the card, which is good considering the ease with which magnetic stripe key cards can be duplicated.
RFID cards are a better option if your hotel wants to store additional information about the guest on the card. You can code extra permissions into RFID cards if you want to offer certain amenities for VIP or long-term guests. RFID cards even support electronic payments, so your guests can make cashless contactless purchases on your premises, which get charged to the room.
If your hotel already has a pre-existing access control system and software, you probably want to choose a key card compatible with your door lock readers. It’s much more expensive to try to change over the hotel’s entire system because you’d need to buy new readers for every door. If the door lock has a top or side slot, it’s a magnetic stripe system.
Winner: Depends on setup
RFID cards are more challenging to duplicate than magnetic stripe cards and are therefore preferred from a security standpoint. RFID key cards like Vingcard and Mifare offer data encryption on RF-channel. Temic operates at 125 kHz, which is much less secure than the higher frequencies of Vingcard and Mifare. The Mifare Classic cards are extremely difficult to copy thanks to the encrypted communication between the reader and card. They are the best option for superior security if your hotel is committed to protecting your guests and ensuring their safety and that of their personal belongings. If you cater to a high-profile clientele, they will also prefer the RFID options over the mag stripe.
If you are still weighing your options and want to consult world-class U.S.-based tech support professionals with experience helping businesses and organizations find the best key card solution, please contact us at 970-682-0765 or firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re happy to explore your hotel’s best options together.
Here at AuthorzID, we can provide free samples if your business wants to try a card out before committing. Sometimes during manufacturing or handling, cards get scratched or minimally damaged. Quality control removes these cards, so they aren’t shipped out to paying customers, but we keep these cards to offer as free samples. We are happy to ship you free samples of the RFID proximity card product of your choice at no cost.
We can custom print hotel key cards so you can brand them for your hotel. Printed cards offer a personalized experience for guests while doubling as a marketing technique. We also offer Mifare Classic 1K compatible wristbands and key fobs if you want to provide a fresh premier experience to your guest or an easier option for your staff.