Unlocking My Starwood Hotel Room with Apple Watch

May 13, 2015

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SPG Keyless takes Apple Watch functionality to a whole new level, serving as your room (and elevator) key during a stay. TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig recently tested SPG Keyless in New York City. Let’s see how it worked.

Last weekend I stayed at the W New York – Downtown. I’ve frequented this W more than any other in the world, but this was my very first time spending the night. Which makes perfect sense—my apartment is a five-minute walk away. Admittedly, I felt a bit silly about booking a $225 staycation for the sole purpose of unlocking a hotel room door with a wristwatch, but I’d hardly call it a waste. This is my experience.

My Apple Watch worked in the elevator, too, but not on the first try.
My Apple Watch worked in the elevator, too, but not on the first try.

Booking the W

My first (and only, really) mistake was booking my stay on Hotel Tonight, which offered the best rate but ultimately soured my experience a bit. I learned the hard way that the only way to use Apple Watch to check in and unlock your door at a Starwood Hotel is by booking directly through Starwood. You can use a Starwood website (individual hotel sites are fine), you can book through a call center or you can make a reservation using the app. This could always change in the future, but for now, make sure you book through Starwood.

Now, since I had already prepaid through Hotel Tonight and couldn’t cancel there, SPG stepped in to “convert” my third-party reservation to one that work with the keyless system, but it sounded like a pain to deal with and isn’t something I’d expect help with in the future.

Checking In

Before you can open your door, you’ll need to enable SPG Keyless on your iPhone. Assuming you were able to successfully activate (I had to uninstall and reinstall the app before it would work on my phone), you’ll be able to “check in” through the app, selecting your check-in and check-out time and elite welcome amenity (I opted for a free continental breakfast). Then, when your room is ready, you’ll receive a push notification at which point you’ll also be able to see your room number and unlock your door. That wasn’t the case for me.

The front desk needed to suspend and reactivate my "key" before it would work.
The front desk needed to suspend and reactivate my “key” before it would work.

When I went to pull up my room number on my phone (the option didn’t appear on the watch), I saw the error message above. The front desk was able to sort this quickly, and if it weren’t for this error, I would have been able to bypass the front desk and head straight to my room (incidentals are billed to the card in your SPG account, though you can swap in another card at the front desk before you check out).

Unlocking the Door

Once I was able to retrieve my room number from the app, I headed to the elevator and tried to pull my key up on my watch. Only the “unlock door” option didn’t appear, and the watch didn’t activate the elevator (though the card reader did spit back a few mysterious flashing green lights). I pulled out my iPhone and hit the “SPG Keyless” button. Worked like a charm.

By the time I got up to my room, the unlock door option appeared on my watch after a few taps. With my room number displayed, I tapped the watch to the reader and voilà, the door unlocked.

Yes, you can use your watch to access the gym, too.
Yes, you can use your watch to access the gym, too.

A bit relieved, I dropped my bag off and rode the elevator down to the gym. After a few attempts, it worked there as well. (During my stay, the watch was a bit buggy and would only display the “unlock door” option roughly half of the time—Starwood clarified that this may have occurred because my phone was locked, so be sure to unlock your phone before pulling up the SPG app on your watch.) It’s important to note that you’ll need to have your iPhone nearby (with data active) any time you need to unlock a door. If the watch and iPhone stop working for any reason, the front desk can give you a key card instead.

Drinking my Free Beer and Writing this Post

As an SPG Platinum member, I had three beers and a breakfast voucher waiting in the room.
As an SPG Platinum member, I had three beers and a breakfast voucher waiting in the room.

As an SPG Platinum member, I found three beers and a nice welcome note waiting for me in the room. I had selected breakfast as my Platinum gift when checking in through the app, and a voucher was already waiting for me. So it is entirely possible to check-in, get your Platinum gift and even get an upgraded room (in advance—there’s no “beg for an upgrade” option in the app as of this report) without ever talking to another human being. Note that Platinum recognition only came into play after Starwood migrated my reservation from Hotel Tonight, though I still didn’t receive a suite upgrade, Starpoints or a stay credit, since I booked on a third-party site.

Heading Home

When I was ready to leave, I simply packed my bag, took the do-not-disturb sign off the door and walked out of the hotel. An invoice was already waiting in my inbox before I checked out, and an updated copy arrived later in the day, presumably after a housekeeper stopped by my room to determine that I was actually gone. This has more or less been the process for all of my Starwood stays over the past few years, but without a key to return I felt a bit better about my Irish exit.

Hotels with SPG Keyless

My watch didn
My watch didn’t work for the first trip in the elevator, but pulling out my iPhone did the trick.

As of today, there are 123 Starwood hotels that support SPG Keyless, with plans to get the remaining Aloft, Element and W Hotels (there are 150 in total) online soon. (Apparently Apple Watch support requires an additional software update, so some of the current SPG Keyless hotels may not support the watch right away.) Once all 30,000 hotel rooms are good to go, you’ll be able to unlock your room with an iPhone or Apple Watch at any of the above properties in 30 countries around the world. A Starwood spokesperson confirmed that once all Aloft, Element and W Hotels are compatible, they’ll be looking to bring the door-unlocking tech to other SPG brands as well.

More Apple Watch

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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