Yesterday, I wrote a tip offering up 3 reasons to always get two hotel room keys. I received several emails from readers saying that they thought you should never throw hotel room key cards in the trash can in the hotel room when leaving because it contains your contact information and credit card information. One reader said perhaps it’s better to take the hotel key cards with you and shred them later yourself.

I’ve heard this too, however, it appears that this is an urban myth, according to Snopes.

Snopes debunked this claim: “Hotel room keycards are routinely encoded with personal information which can be easily harvested by thieves.” The rumor began when the Pasadena Police Department sent out a statement in 2003 stating, “One of our investigators was at a meeting with other fraud detectives,” says Ronnie Nanning of the Pasadena police. “Someone there happened to say that they heard that it was possible to put this information on this key card.” The detective notified other detectives as a “heads-up” to the possibility. That information was shared with others in the police department, who then passed it on before the risk could be evaluated, she says. It took on a life of its own.”

Eventually the Pasadena police had to issue a retraction explaining that the information it contained was based upon a single incident from several years earlier and that they had no evidence the warning reflected a current or ongoing issue.

Furthermore, from USA Today: “To test whether a lost hotel key contained valuable data, say the number of the credit card you used to pay for the room, USA TODAY took a stack of used hotel key cards to the Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas recently and had an expert see what exactly they contained.

The verdict?

“You’ve got nothing to worry about. There’s nothing on here at all except the room number and a date field,” said Mickey Shkatov, a security researcher at McAfee, after he methodically swiped them all through a card scanner he’d brought along. “All clear,” he said.”

I also personally contacted a hotel executive who confirmed to me that the hotel cannot capture this kind of personal information on a key card and that when he stays in hotels (even when they’re not his own), he hands back the key cards so they can be reused.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to return your room key when you check out of the hotel. You’re not at financial risk by doing so and the cards can be wiped clean and reused.


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5 Comments On "The Truth About Hotel Room Key Cards"
  1. Irene|

    What about airplane boarding passes? I’ve been told they have your personal information and need to be shredded at home.

  2. Marcia Carey Caldwell|

    Keep boarding passes for at least 2 weeks post travel. Should you need proof that you were indeed aboard that plane, as I did to receive reimbursement from my health insurer for an out of country claim.

  3. Board in the World|

    I had never heard that one before. Should we all start traveling with personal shredders now? LOL

  4. Deborah Latorre|

    I would never dispose of a hotel room key in a garbage can because if found by an unscrupulous person, they may be able to get into the room and do some damage or steal something. I know, I know… if you have properly checked out, then that probably would not happen but if you hadn’t yet checked out (say the clerk was to busy to enter it), someone could possibly use it to charge something to your room such as a meal or something from a gift shop. Am I being too cautious… perhaps but I have been subject to some unlikely and unpleasant things happening to me before. (By the way, I always get a paper receipt with a time stamp before leaving the hotel desk.) Happy travels!

  5. Janet|

    Thank you for clarifying this myth as I have been bringing them home and shredding. I’m glad you went beyond Snopes to verify this because Snopes is a partisan source of information, so just because Snopes says something is or is not true, I always find other sources to validate.

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