By Nikki Ekstein
November 06, 2014
Starwood Keyless Entry
Credit: Courtesy of Starwood Hotels

Last year, Starwood unveiled plans to swap plastic keycards for Bluetooth technology—enabling guests to unlock their hotel rooms with a simple wave of their smartphone. We predicted it would be one of the biggest travel trends for 2014, and indeed, Hilton Worldwide and Caesars have since announced plans to bring the technology to their hotels as soon as this winter. But this week, Starwood is back in the spotlight as they pull back the curtain on how mobile entry works—and introduce it to ten properties in the Aloft, W, and Element portfolios.

Officially available with an upgrade that was released this past Monday, Starwood’s SPG app will now offer an option to enable mobile check-in on its home screen. (For those who might miss it, a push notification will also remind travelers to sign up before their trip.) Set up is simple and requires users to submit their credit card information, so that front desk transactions can be bypassed entirely. It takes roughly a minute from start to finish.

As guests make their way to their destination, relevant notifications will tell them whether they’ve been upgraded or if their room is ready, at which point they can request a mobile key with the tap of a button. For privacy reasons, the room number will appear only when you ask for it; a diagram on the same screen offers easy instructions for how to make your phone communicate with the door’s sensor. When I tried it out at the W Downtown, in New York's Financial District, I was able to through the lobby and head straight to my room—no human contact necessary. The only time this wouldn't happen? If there's a problem with your file‚ in which case the app will prompt you to "stop by" the front desk.

Naturally, this begs the question of privacy. Each key is tied to a specific SPG number and the corresponding IMEI number on that user’s phone (IMEIs are unique identifiers for every handset). That means one room, one mobile room key. Should you lose your phone or should it die, the front desk can cancel the mobile room key or issue a plastic card. And in its next generation, Starwood will enable shared mobile room keys for your spouse or travel companion—one of many upgrades they are cooking up for this innovative new technology.

Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.