Forgot your hotel room key? Use your iPhone instead
By Caitlin McGarry
MacworldNOV 5, 2014 7:48 pm PST
You glide past the front desk of a high-end hotel, room number in hand. No one stops you. You belong here. The interiors are sharp and gleaming, the carpets plush. You emerge from the elevator and bolt straight to your room. You press the face of your Apple Watch against the lock. The door opens. Your soundtrack is playing. Your favorite scent wafts through the air.
This is the life Starwood Hotels & Resorts, parent company of the swanky Aloft, Element, and W Hotel chains, wants you to live, if you’re a member of its Starwood Preferred Guest rewards program. And while the Apple Watch isn’t here yet, you can almost touch the future with SPG’s new keyless card, which turns your iPhone and select Android phones into keys with just an app.
I demoed SPG Keyless at the W New York in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday. Your phone’s Bluetooth activates the Bluetooth lock to open the door, which works as promised. It’s a seamless process, and super-fast, as long as you make sure your phone is pressed flush against the lock. But the process starts long before you actually enter your room, which is one of the most interesting facets of SPG’s app.
How it works
When you open the app on devices running iOS 8, a keyless registration option appears as a brand new tile. SPG reps call that registration the first layer of security. Your app can’t be used to unlock any doors unless you opt in. More than 15,000 SPG members have signed up in the last 48 hours—and the keyless option didn’t even go live until Wednesday. Because the keyless registration is device-specific, Starwood considers its new technology super-secure. You have to be a member of the SPG loyalty program to take advantage of the option.
When you book a hotel room through SPG, the app will tell you if the keyless room option is available. The day before your trip, check in for your stay on the app, confirm your reservation and payment method, and get ready to bypass the front desk. SPG will send you push notifications about room upgrades or other perks, and let you know when your room is ready. With your room number already at your fingertips, all you have to do is take your bags to the door and use your phone to unlock it. If you lose your device, just alert the hotel—access to your room will be deactivated within seconds. You’ll have to use a regular key card, but at least no one else will be able to enter.
The app was in testing for six months at the Aloft hotels in Cupertino and Harlem, and the W New York in downtown Manhattan has been using it for the last month. SPG is also planning to place iBeacons, Apple’s low-energy Bluetooth sensors, around hotel lobbies so employees will automatically know who you are when you approach. Those beacons are being tested at 30 hotels.
SPG is all about personalization: The chain wants to know its regulars’ preferences and cater to them accordingly. If you tell the app you don’t want a connecting door because it’s creepy, SPG knows not to put you in a room with a connecting door. Starwood has a database of incredibly detailed information on all of its rooms in every hotel. The company built a custom iOS app for its employees to take notes on every room to build that database, which now contains 12 million pieces of information.
The company has been experimenting with new technologies for years, from RFID key cards to a Google Glass app, all designed to appeal to SPG’s core customers. Consider Starwood the opposite of Airbnb: With SPG, you’re getting the kind of experience informed by years of staying at the same hotels. You’re not picking up your room key at a convenience store downstairs.
SPG Senior Vice President Chris Holdren calls the SPG app the “remote control” for your hotel stay. With it, your phone can activate the elevator, let you into the hotel gym, and be your passport to every Starwood property—eventually. For now, SPG Keyless is an option at 10 properties around the globe. The company plans to roll out keyless entry to 150 hotels (that’s 30,000 doors with upgraded locks) by early next year.