Hotel key cards, NFC, magnetic stripe and RFID cards are various kinds of cards that ease hotel room entry. They also offer a range of other functionalities – from increasing the average daily spend to providing extra safety. Besides, they're harder to duplicate, and you can deactivate them remotely in case of loss.

Let's look at hotel key cards in more detail to find the best solution for your hotel. Ready to better manage the hotel experience and improve guest security?

Table of contents

What is a hotel key card?

A hotel key card has a magnetic stripe, works with Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology, or is embedded with an RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) chip. The aim is to simplify hotel room access, payments, information transfer, and coupon storage. Hotel key cards are an alternative to traditional keys, are generally safer and provide more convenience for guests.


How do hotel key cards work?

Hotel key cards rely on technologies such as NFC, magnetic stripe, or RFID to encode the information in the card. You can then access stored data through RFID or magnetic readers.  

With magnetic stripe cards, the information contained in the magnetic stripe is attributed to a unique number stored inside the card within the black stripe. It's connected to a room number, so the door opens when the reader recognizes the card.

RFID cards are contactless, containing a chip with the user access number. They can store much more information. NFC cards have circuits that store data and communicate with the hotel key card system. NFC and RFID cards don't require touching the room key system to enter the room, increasing guest convenience.

Which key card is the best for your hotel? 

You've seen how different key cards work – how do you choose the best one for your hotel? It all depends on your property's size and requirements. While NFC and RFID cards are more technologically advanced, straightforward choices like magnetic stripe cards and hole cards can also do the trick.

In any case, smart cards allow you to boost your average daily spend through payment and coupon storage.

NFC Card

An NFC card uses Near-Field Communication to access rooms without touching the door. It's usually the first step in moving towards smart rooms. The card's embedded circuits can communicate with various electronic devices – you can use it for payments and accessing rooms, the gym, the sauna and the rooftop.

Storing coupons allows loyalty program members to access their benefits and settle payments anywhere. Along with integrated payment terminals, they introduce more upselling chances, driving up the average daily spend through easy payments. NFC cards double as a payment method and a room key card, which benefits guests and your hotel.

RFID Cards 

RFID cards allow hotel guests to enter rooms without touching the key card system. It's because the tags inside the card communicate with the card system via radio waves. Similarly to modern car keys, when the card is close to the door, guests can access their rooms.

Unlike magnetic stripe cards, RFID cards can't be easily duplicated, making them a safer choice. In case of loss or theft of the room card, the front desk can deactivate it remotely. Read more about technology that will help change hotel security.


Magnetic Stripe Card

Magnetic stripe cards are recognizable by their black metal stripe and are probably the most common hotel key cards. When swiped or inserted into a card reader, they grant room access. Remember to warn guests to keep them away from other cards, as they can become demagnetized.

These cards are also easier to duplicate. On the other hand, magnetic stripe cards are convenient for small properties, as they're easy to set up. Another benefit is that guests are already super accustomed to this type of technology.

Hole cards 

As their name suggests, hole cards have specific hole patterns detected by the card reader. Although they're less known, these cards provide a straightforward way for guests to access communal areas and hotel rooms.


Smart cards are becoming more commonplace in the hospitality industry. Hoteliers can use them to drive incremental revenue through simplified payments, and loyalty card members can easily cash in on their rewards, as the smart cards can hold coupons and rewards. Modern hotel technology also supports a seamless guest experience.

he more you integrate smart hotel tech, the more satisfied your guests will be. Little steps can take your hotel a long way, so don’t underestimate the benefits of implementing hotel key cards today.