Smart Check-In With Universal Key Card: Should Starwood Expand The Program Systemwide?

Aloft Harlem is one of nine hotel properties currently participating in the Smart Check-In pilot program. Photograph by FlyerTalk member KENNECTED. Click on the photograph for additional photographs by KENNECTED, as well as a discussion pertaining to this hotel property.

“I stumbled into a insider talk in the lounge between a general manager and a group of hotel industry types”, posts FlyerTalk member lovenola in this discussion. “They are discussing a new program where you can bypass the front desk at check in and use your spg card as a key at any hotel you are checking in to. It’s being tried out on a limited basis right now. Has anyone here participated in this yet?”

The “new” program to which lovenola is referring is the Smart Check-In program — a pilot program first launched in 2009 in which certain members of the Starwood Preferred Guest frequent guest loyalty program are selected to participate on an invitation-only basis. You cannot voluntarily opt in and join the pilot program at this time — you must be targeted with an official invitation to participate; and the invitation cannot be transferred to another person.

The way the Smart Check-In program works is that you receive a special card which contains a near field communication — or NFC — chip and doubles as your Starwood Preferred Guest frequent guest loyalty program membership card. On the day you check into the hotel property, a message with your room number is sent to your mobile electronic device. Simply bypass the front desk and proceed directly to your room. Once you arrive at your room, simply touch and hold your card to the door lock and the door will unlock automatically. Any costs incurred during your stay will be charged to the credit card used to book your reservation.

In other words, checking into a hotel property to begin your stay cannot be any faster — not even with a kiosk.

Sounds like a great program, right?

Not so fast. If you want to be able to select your room or be upgraded — as well as interact with the person at the front desk when you check in — this program may not be ideal for you. If you are on a mobile telephone plan where you pay by the message, that is an extra cost to you which could add up over time — minimal as the cost may be to you. Also, what if you use several subscriber identity module — or SIM — cards when you travel internationally? Will the message with your room number find you if this program should expand globally? How would software application programs on mobile electronic devices — such as Passbook on an Apple iPhone — work with the Smart Check-In, if at all?

What if you are assigned a room which has been already occupied, as has happened to countless FlyerTalk members such as xrayflyer, who found a completely naked man in his room?

I can tell you that those are not deal-breakers for me. I like the idea of walking into the hotel property and bypassing the front desk as though you have already checked in — especially if there is a long line at the front desk and I have just completed a 13-hour flight.

A condition of the program is that you consent to receive e-mail messages and a survey regarding the pilot program. Other terms and conditions apply.

Only nine hotel properties of the Aloft brand within the United States currently participate in the pilot program, with four more hotel properties slated to be added in the near future — including the Aloft Montreal, which will be the first hotel property outside of the United States to participate.

I have never personally used the Smart Check-In card myself, but other FlyerTalk members have and say that they really like the program thus far. Despite the Smart Check-In program being at least four years old, FlyerTalk members are still receiving invitations to join this year.

What do you think of the Smart Check-In technology? If you received an invitation to join the Smart Check-In program, would you participate? Will Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide ever get around to expanding the Smart Check-In program to additional hotel brands on a global basis as lovenola seems to have inferred, even though Smart Check-In has been a pilot program for at least four years? Should other lodging chains consider implementing this technology?

Comments (Showing 7 of 7)

  • sdsearch at 5:46pm October 02, 2013

    Far from all SPG properties (as of the last time I stayed in each of them) have NFC room locks. Plenty (last I checked) still have insert-card-into-slot swipe room cards.

    So this sounds like it requires either having all SPG hotels worldwide convert to NFC locks, or else it will always only work at a subset of SPG hotels.

    And another question is what about someone who doesn’t even have mobile access at the moment? Sometimes it’s not worth the bother to get a SIM card for a country you’re only popping into for a short time. IMHO it should be able to also work with something more universal like email (that you very well may be able to check on most ANY connected device WORLDWIDE: yours or the hotel’s or an internet kiosks’ or wherever).

  • clarkef at 12:23am October 03, 2013

    I don’t think any of the listed shortcomings are particularly important.

    If you want an upgrade you can still stop by the front desk. This doesn’t prevent you from doing so. I’m assuming for most guests, most stays are in the home country so messaging it sufficient although e-mail is probably a good idea. Being assigned a room with another guest can happen regardless. This system doesn’t affect that one way or the other.

    My concern would be, what happens if you loose the card. Does that present any security issues?

  • CG at 6:24am October 03, 2013

    Sounds like two step authentication, you’d have to lose your card and your cell phone to the same nefarious person so that they’d know which room to use your card on.

  • SBFlyerUA at 9:03am October 10, 2013

    I have one of the pilot key cards. For now, the program is limited to aloft properties, and since I have not stayed at aloft since receiving the card a couple months ago, I cannot report on how it went. There are few occasions when the desk line is so long that it becomes tedious, and when staying at a new property it’s often nice to talk to a person and get an orientation. I see this as most useful for those properties where one stays often and gets in late.

  • smoothwillie at 11:49am October 10, 2013

    Used it last month at Aloft Lexington, Mass–great system, couldn’t be faster to get from the parking lot into the room.

  • lalismom at 8:43pm October 11, 2013

    It’s an interesting concept…as someone who often drives so that my canine companion can be with me, IF we were able to communicate with someone prior to arrival who had the ability to program this thing and would assure us of a particular room/wing we like (for easy outside access), it would be terrific. Right now after a long ride I usually pull up to a congested front entrance, leave my pup in the locked car, and run in to check in…often dealing with a long line and limited staffing, then return to the car, park in the garage, and get to the room. With this system…we could go directly to the garage and straight to the room. But the other writer is correct, that the hotels will have to revamp the locks. I would suggest they start with those that are the biggest and at times poorly staffed (yes, my beloved Sheraton Centre in Toronto, I’m thinking of you!)

  • judyserienagy at 5:59pm October 18, 2013

    Seems like a bizzaro idea to me … if you have status at a couple of loyalty programs, you don’t need to wait in line to check in AND you usually get an upgrade plus info about the pool hours, breakfast and internet code … or anything else you need to know. Like the poster above, I do have preferences as to room location and I enjoy interacting with the front desk people, the smile and welcome is a signal that I’m here now, safe and sound. I remember avoiding the Newark Hilton for several years because the front desk girls were so mean … that’s all in the past tho; they’re fine now. And of course not all of us are glued to our smartphones, some of us don’t even have a smartphone.

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