Do Hotels Charge for Not Returning / Lost Key Cards?

Most hotels won’t charge for not returning your key card or losing it during vacation. You can always just ask for a new key. 

But for the rare hotels who do charge, they should tell you beforehand. And you’ll only have to pay a minimal fee for the lost card.

Have you accidentally lost your hotel key card? Are you wondering what to do now? 

Or maybe you are tempted to keep the card as a memory from a fun trip? If you don’t return the card, just to carry along, will you have to pay for it?

Will the Hotel Charge Me for not Returning the Key Card?

You probably won’t get into trouble for losing or not returning your hotel key card. The reason is that plastic key cards are cheap, and the hotel would not bother their dear customer with such a tiny thing.

Plus, most people return them anyways, especially if the hotel has some sort of express checkout scheme. 

Yet, if you have lost your room key card, just go to the reception desk, and tell them you need another one. The staff will get you a replacement key.

But, keep in mind that, usually, hotels charge if you lose your hotel card multiple times during your stay. So, try to hang on to it. 

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The Case-by-Case Factor

It may not really matter whether you return the room key at checkout or keep it with you. And, it should not, given the low price of a plastic key card. 

Besides, since the card has a chip with a code to the certain room, or, with RFID or proximity cards, a specific radiofrequency, the next guest will get a different key card with a new code that can only allow the access process for one particular room.

Thus, someone taking a card home with them doesn’t create a security threat. 

But still, some hotels have a jar on the reception counter for hotel key cards.

For most hotels, that is just to facilitate the customer. However, some hotels require you to return your key cards to the front desk when checking out. 

Thus, they could charge you for a lost hotel room key card. 

Yet, if the front desk receptionist asks you to return your hotel room key card, and you want to keep it as a souvenir, it is safe to tell them politely that you want to keep the card. They most likely will allow you. 

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Does the Lost Key Card Contain My Personal Information?

Some people may be concerned about their security since they believe that their information remains recorded on their card, at least until the next guest checks in. 

But, plastic hotel keys do not contain any information about you. The magnetic reader also does not have any of your information or pose any financial risk to you. 

The card only has the name of your hotel. 

So, if someone steals your key card, neither do they get your credentials, such as your credit card number, nor entry to the hotel room.

The worst that can happen is that a thief could get into key card secure areas, like the business center.  

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Why Key Cards, and not Metal Keys?

As discussed above, the key card can reveal nothing. But, traditional keys were a different story. 

Physical keys had the hotel’s complete address along with your name and room number. And that key could open the hotel room. 

Thus, if you lost the actual physical key to the room and it got into the wrong hands, it was very dangerous unless the lock got replaced in time. Also, the hotel would have to re-key the bolt, meaning they would have to replace the whole lock. 

So, overall, using an actual key was a security risk. And that’s why the AAA required every hotel to replace them with magnetic strip (or radio wave) key cards. 

But key cards aren’t perfect. Keep in mind that bank cards or a cell phone can sometimes reset them. 

Thus, save yourself the hassle and keep your card key away from these objects until check-out time. 


Returning the key to the front desk is not usually a hotel policy. Since hotels buy these key cards in bulk, and each costs only a few cents, they aren’t worried about losing them.

But, even if returning the card is in their policy, you can still ask them to let you keep the key card.