Should You Keep Your Hotel Room Key: Key Card Etiquettes

Should You Keep Your Hotel Room Key

I’ve accumulated quite a collection of hotel room keys over the years. Some people keep their room keys as souvenirs from the places they’ve visited. Others promptly toss them in the trash or leave them behind at checkout. But have you ever wondered if you should actually hang onto your hotel keycard? There are some factors to consider when deciding whether or not to keep those plastic cards.

Quick Answer 👇

It’s recommended to return your hotel room key upon checkout for security and environmental reasons.

The Purpose of Hotel Room Keys

Before we dive into the keep-or-toss debate, let’s first understand what these keys actually do.

Security and Access Control

Hotel keycards aren’t just simple keys – they’re high-tech tools for controlling access. The magnetic strip on the card contains encrypted data for that specific room. It works together with the electronic door lock system to grant entry when you insert the card. This provides security and prevents unauthorized access.

Allows only booked guests to enter assigned roomsData could potentially be hacked
Keycards can be deactivated for lost/stolen cardsDoesn’t prevent entry by hotel staff
Customized access levels for staffMagnetic stripes wear out over time

Some new keycard systems also include the guest’s name and other info as an extra verification measure. While convenient, this does mean your personal data sits on that little card!

Note: Hotel keycards allow access to rooms but also store data

Reuse and Environmental Impact

Most hotel keycards are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. An estimated tens of millions of these non-biodegradable cards are discarded each year. Some hotels have introduced “Return the Key” and “Recycle the Card” initiatives to reduce waste. But there’s still a long way to go towards sustainability.

What Hotels Can Do

  • Switch to biodegradable cards made of wood, corn, or recycled paper
  • Install key card collection boxes to reuse working cards
  • Recycle old cards into new plastic products

What Guests Can Do

  • Return keys to front desk before leaving
  • Keep and reuse working keycards when returning to the same hotel chain

By reusing cards, hotels can save money and help the planet. But it does rely on guests returning their keys!

Protection of Personal Information

Here’s something you may not have realized – your personal data remains on that hotel key even after you check out! The card is simply erased and reprogrammed for the next guest.

So what’s actually stored on there? Details can include:

  • Guest name
  • Room number
  • Arrival/departure dates
  • Credit card info (in some systems)

Yikes! This seems like an identity theft risk if someone gets ahold of your discarded keycard. Hotels should destroy these keys after use. But not all do.

Factors to Consider Before Keeping Your Keycard

Now that we know what purpose hotel keys serve, let’s weigh some factors to help decide if you should keep them as souvenirs or return them.

‘Take and Keep’ vs ‘Return and Reuse’

I’ll admit, I’ve kept a few keycards from stays at unique hotels or destinations. But should we resist the urge to create a card collection? Returning and reusing hotel keycards has benefits:


  • Reduces plastic waste for environmental sustainability
  • Saves hotels money from replacing lost/stolen keys
  • Helps protect guests’ personal info from potential misuse


  • Can’t keep as a cool souvenir
  • Reused cards may demagnetize and stop working over time

It’s a bit of a moral dilemma for us travelers!

‘Mail the Room Key Card Back’

What if you want your hotel stay keepsake without causing waste? Here’s one idea – snap a photo of your card then mail it back to the hotel after your trip.


  • Allows hotels to reuse working keycards
  • No risk of personal info falling into the wrong hands
  • Get to keep a digital photo souvenir


  • Added hassle for guests to mail back cards
  • Potential security issue if keys get intercepted

Hotels would need procedures to deactivate mailed keys. But it could be a reasonable compromise!

To Keep or Not to Keep?

So should you hold onto your hotel room keys or return them at checkout? There’s no definitive right or wrong answer. Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Hotel keycards have a tech-driven purpose beyond just opening doors
  • Reusing working cards has environmental benefits
  • But keeping keys as souvenirs is tempting for travelers!
  • Personal info left on discarded keys could be a privacy risk
  • Creative solutions like mailing back cards also exist

At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision based on your own priorities as a traveler. Maybe you abide by a strict “no key left behind” policy. Or you choose only to keep keys from milestone trips or bucket-list hotels. Or you dutifully recycle every keycard to reduce waste.

No matter what you decide, just be thoughtful in your choice. And if you do keep your hotel keys, be sure to safeguard them so no one can access the personal data! Those little cards may be small souvenirs, but they represent the stories of our travel journeys.

FAQ: Should You Keep Your Hotel Room Key?

Q1: Why should I keep my hotel room key?

A1: Keeping your hotel room key can provide several benefits during your stay, including easy room access, enhanced security, and convenience for hotel services.

Q2: Can I use my hotel room key as identification?

A2: No, your hotel room key is not a valid form of identification. Its primary purpose is to grant access to your room.

Q3: What are the advantages of keeping my hotel room key?

A3: By keeping your hotel room key, you can avoid inconveniences such as requesting a new key or facing delays at reception. It also helps you remember your room number.

Q4: Is it safe to keep my hotel room key with me?

A4: Generally, it’s safe to keep your hotel room key with you, but be cautious not to lose it. Report any loss or theft to hotel staff immediately.

Q5: Are there security concerns with keeping my hotel room key?

A5: The risk of security breaches from stolen room keys is low, but precautions are wise. Don’t leave the key unattended or visible to prevent unauthorized access.

Q6: Can I use my hotel room key for other purposes?

A6: Yes, you can use your room key for additional services like fitness centers, pools, and restricted areas within the hotel.

Q7: Will I be charged for a lost hotel room key?

A7: Some hotels charge for lost keys or reprogramming. Keep your key safe to avoid charges.

Q8: Can I use my hotel room key to check out?

A8: Some hotels allow checkout by returning the key to reception, but verify the procedure with staff.

Q9: What if my hotel room key stops working?

A9: Gently wipe the key or contact the front desk for assistance. They can reprogram it or issue a new one.

Q10: Can I share my hotel room key?

A10: It’s not advisable to share keys. Each guest should have their own for security and access.

Q11: What if I take my hotel room key home?

A11: Return it promptly; hotels usually provide prepaid envelopes for this purpose.

Q12: Can I keep my hotel room key as a souvenir?

A12: Check the hotel’s policy; some allow it, but most require keys to be returned.

Q13: Do all hotels use electronic key cards?

A13: Electronic cards are common, but not universal. Some smaller hotels or older properties still use traditional keys.

Q14: Can I reuse my hotel room key?

A14: Typically, keys are deactivated upon checkout and reprogrammed for new guests, so reuse is not possible.

Q15: Do I need to return my hotel room key at checkout?

A15: Yes, returning your key at checkout is necessary for security and future guest use.

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