For Some Hotels, Smart Phones Now Unlock Doors

Starwood rolls out technology to allow guests to check in and open their rooms entirely from a phone.

The days of fumbling through your wallet to find the hotel key card may be over, if a new technology rollout from the Starwood hotel group is any indication.

The lodging company announced that, starting this week, members of its Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG) loyalty program can use their smart phones to check in and access their rooms simply by presenting their phone to a door-lock reader.

In the last few years, other hotel chains, including Marriott, had introduced systems that would allow a guest to check in via their phone or at a kiosk and then pick up an activated, ready-to-use key card at the kiosk or at a special desk. Starwood had even mailed key cards to some loyalty-program members who in turn could activate the card for access to some of the chain's more high-tech properties.

Now Starwood thinks this keyless, phone-based access is the future of that process. The system uses Bluetooth connectivity in the phone and the lock to communicate between the devices, allowing the lock to communicate with the keyless software on the mobile device and unlock the door. For Starwood, it's all tied into the loyalty program's mobile app.

Starwood will roll out the technology to select hotels from its Aloft, W and Element brands; in the U.S., it will be first available at the Aloft Cupertino, Aloft Harlem, W Hollywood, W New York-Downtown and Element Times Square. Starwood says it plans to expand the keyless entry system to 150 of its Aloft, W and Element hotels around the world by 2015.

The keyless release is not the first high-tech move for Starwood; the hotel chain also made news in September when its Aloft Cupertino property debuted a robotic hotel butler.

The keyless door access follows a recent trend from hospitality companies that are encouraging consumers to do more with their smart phones. Already, Apple Pay is gaining interest for companies in easing the booking of hotels. Both HotelTonight and AirBnB say they plan to support Apple Pay for booking, via their apps. Now with the move from Starwood to let guests check in and access their rooms directly from the phone, it's clear that the entire hotel process—from the booking to the stay—could some day be completed entirely from a phone.