In-Room Hotel Safes: Use Them or Lose Them?

Just how safe are hotel room safes? Until recently, travellers who wished to secure their jewellery and other valuable property had only one option: leaving the items with the concierge or front desk attendant and trusting that employee to safely store them in the hotel vault. Many modern hotels, however, allow guests to store their valuables in a small safe right in their room. This is often an attractive option for travellers who don’t relish the thought of handing over important, expensive property to hotel staff whom they don’t know, and gives guests access to their items at any time. The most important question, however, is security. Are hotel room safes truly safe?

Size and Portability

The first factor to consider is the size and portability of the safe. Most hotel room safes are about the size of a video cassette recorder or desktop radio, and can accommodate property such as jewellery, cash, documents and photographs. Even if they are made out of heavy metal and bolted securely in place, these small safes are by definition more portable than large institutional safes or vaults, which in many cases are large enough to stand in. This doesn’t mean that stealing a hotel room safe is an easy feat, but it is a consideration.

Electronic Access Codes

Most hotel room safes are electronic. There are no keys; patrons must select an entry code and program that into the safe before placing their valuables within it. When the guests check out of the hotel, their safe code is reset; the next patrons to use it must also choose a personal access code if they wish to store property in the safe. Electronic security codes are a fantastic feature because they make hotel room safes much harder to “crack” than lockboxes that use standard keys. However, this added security measure is a proverbial double-edged sword; safes with electronic locks are harder to break into, but the consequences of forgetting one’s personal entry code may be inconvenient, as the hotel staff doesn’t know the code and therefore cannot retrieve it  for stymied patrons. Patrons who forget the code they’ve chosen must notify hotel management, who will summon the Hotel Manager to open the safe open and retrieve the contents with the Management’s Master Code.

Beware of Default Access Codes

It is important to understand that many types of hotel room safes come from the factory programmed with a default access code such as “0000”, “123456” or another string of numbers that’s easy to remember. Guests must read all directions thoroughly and ensure that they have erased this standardised code and set up their own; otherwise, the safe will be very easy to open for anyone familiar with electronic hotel safes. For increased security, guests should pick a code that will be difficult for others to guess, avoiding birthdays and house numbers. Some hotels program their safes with an emergency code that opens the safe if a guest forgets his or her personal access code. This may or may not be an advantage, depending on personal opinion. Concerned guests should inquire about such a feature with front desk staff.

Planning for Success

Savvy travellers can minimise the risk of a ruined holiday by leaving non-essential valuables at home and carefully reading the instructions accompanying all in-room safes before setting the pass code or storing property within. Hotel websites usually contain information about the availability of safes on the property; if necessary, phone ahead to inquire about the storage options that will be available to you during your stay. It’s also prudent to read reviews written by previous guests. If they reveal serious security concerns and you absolutely must travel with valuable items, it may be best to choose another hotel. Knowledge is power!