How to Use a Safe in a Hotel

I usually arrive at a hotel after a long day away from home. I have spent several hours of tedious journey, and after long hours of work. Usually, I relax with a beer or a good meal, or both. In those circumstances, I don’t want to spend much time figuring out how to use my hotel safe, and read incomprehensible instructions in fine prints on bad-lit papers.

How to use a hotel safe? 1. Choose your code 2. Dial it 3. Press # 4. Dial it again to confirm it 4. Press enter or * to set the desired code. Just dial the code to open the door. Always operate with an open door. Then check if the lock operates properly with the door still in an open position.

Sometimes, dialing is not enough, you have to turn a big knob to open the door. In that case, the lock is not motorized and you will not hear the motor operating the bolts. You will only hear a click indicating a released lock.
Sometimes, there is a button, a key. What to do to reset the code, then? You will encounter many different situations in many hotels and it might be confusing. But there are common rules. Read on to know all the details.

If you are puzzled about whether or not you should use the safe in your hotel room or be better off just taking your valuables with you, I have covered this topic in detail and investigated how safe is a hotel safe.

How to use a safe in a hotel : a step by step guide.

Traditional lock

  1. Turn the key
  2. Don’t lose the key!

It is rarely the case that you are given the key to your safe with the key to your room. It has happened to me a couple of times, though. In that case, the key to the safe is put in a ring with the key to your room and the only thing to do is to make sure not to lose them both. If you want to use the safe, ask for the key. You might have to give a deposit. The hotel manager has spares, just in case. But let’s move forward.

Electronic or mechanical combination

Here is how the hotel manager operates the safes at the hotel level:

  • the hotel manager has a master code for all the safes of the hotel that he and he alone can program or erase it;
  • the hotel manager, sometimes, has a master key to open the safe in case of an emergency, even if the safe is electronic. The entry of the key is hidden behind a plastic panel;
  • the guest chooses his or her own code according to written instructions.

For the guest, here are some typical operating instructions:

Mechanical lock code

  1. Always train with an open safe door!
  2. Choose a combination in your head beforehand,
  3. Press a mechanical button and hold,
  4. Set the code while holding,
  5. Release the button,
  6. Scramble the code

Again, the code must be set, operate the lock once or twice with the door open. When you have made sure that the lock operates properly, you can shut the door and leave your room peacefully.

Electronic code

For that safe, the B key is #, the A key is *. You understand why it is crucial to try with an open door
  1. Always train with an open safe door!
  2. Choose a combination in your head beforehand,
  3. Dial the combination once,
  4. Press enter (or sometimes #)
  5. Dial the combination again to confirm,
  6. Press enter again (or sometimes *) to set the code

Now you should be able to close the lock. Not the door yet! As you know, you should operate the lock twice with an open door to make sure it works properly.

Electronic code with a programming button or key

  1. Always train with an open safe door!
  2. Choose a combination in your head beforehand,
  3. Turn the key (if needed see below),
  4. Press the red button and hold a couple of seconds until a tone,
  5. Dial your combination,
  6. Press enter (or sometimes #)
  7. Dial the combination again to confirm,
  8. Press enter again (or sometimes *) to set the code

Sometimes, there is a (red) button behind the door. You have to push it to put the lock in programming mode. Then, all you have to do is to set your code and lock the safe. Again, check if it works properly before closing the door.
And in some cases, there is even a small key behind the door you have to turn to press a button (and hold) in order to set your combination.

Electronic Code with a single-use code

Some safes are really simple to use: the code you dial is the code you will open the safe with, only one time: it’s single use. You should always try this with the door open the first time.

  • The door is open;
  • Choose and dial a code;
  • Press Close: the door is closed and the safe is secured;
  • The door is closed;
  • Dial the code you have previously chosen;
  • Press Open: the latch opens (you hear the motors) and you can open the door.

Regular electronic safes that you shouldn’t find in a hotel

Some hotel safes are not designed to be used in a hotel with many guests. The hotel manager or owner didn’t know or care to buy proper hotel safes. That is to say, you have the master code to program your combination yourself which is a bit tedious.

  1. Always train with an open safe door!
  2. Choose a combination in your head beforehand,
  3. Dial the master code once,
  4. Press enter (or sometimes # or SET)
  5. Dial the combination code once,
  6. Press enter (or sometimes #) to set the code,
  7. Dial the combination again to confirm,
  8. Press enter again (or sometimes *) to set the code

You have to dial the master code, press set or ok, dial your chosen code, press ok again, and dial your code a last time to confirm. In that case, the manager has a master key. It is not intuitive, yes, but more importantly, it is less safe or not safe at all. You never know who has the master code you were given.

How to reset the code on a hotel safe

There is no way you can reset a code of a closed safe.
If it is open, either it is a regular electronic safe, and in this case, you will need the master code. Or it is a hotel safe and you don’t reset the code, you set it. See above: by dialing twice the desired new code or by pressing a red button behind the door and setting the code.

Hotel safe won’t open

A safe won’t open for several common reasons:

  1. You have forgotten your combination. Try several possible codes. See below the greasy finger method, master default codes. If no success, ask the person on duty;
  2. The batteries are low or dead: ask the person on duty for help (he or she will come with a master key);
  3. You have stuffed your safe and things push against the door preventing the bolts to operate. Push really hard against the door while the lock opens.
  4. You dial the code and forget to press enter or open (not all safes just open after dialing the code)
  5. Some safes require you to turn a knob after dialing the code. In that case, the code only serves to free up the lock, which has to be turned for the bolts to come in and the door to open.

The “greasy” method of recovering a lost code

how to remember a code

You can sometimes guess an often used code because fingers leave greasy traces on plastic keys. Once you have found the digits, try to think of the most plausible orders (usually the simpler ones). If we talk about social engineering again, a tendency is to use date-alike codes (1856, 1945, etc.)

Keep in mind that if you see 3 or 5 greasier (if that exists) keys, it might be a 4 or 6-digit combination where a digit is used twice. It has happened to me once: I couldn’t guess a code with that method, and when I asked the owner, he gave me a 6 digit-combination instead of a 5 one.

In the picture on the left, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that the code is 2140…

Regular safes have security to prevent from testing numerous codes. Hotel safes don’t. So you have plenty of trial and error to exert your guesses.

Do NOT set your code after using a moisturizing cream on your face and hands… Think about the greasy finger method!

How to secure a Hotel Safe

This is so important that it will be the object of a post in itself. But you can bring with you, especially if you travel often, an additional lock. It might be a crucial investment and pay itself several times.

If you don’t have an additional lock, at the very least try the default codes below to see if they operate.

The problem with poor hotel safes is that it is difficult to file a complaint if they are not broken open. With no traces, it will be hard to maintain you had your cash inside…

Hotel safe default codes

We can’t be sure. But usually, default codes are depending if 3, 4, or 6 digits:

  • 168,
  • 0000,
  • 1234,
  • 123456,
  • 000000

Try the six-digit ones first. If you want to try the greasy fingers method, read above.

My recommended products

This is the all-around safe that I recommend, the Sentry Safe SFW123GDC. It has a great size and is fireproof and waterproof. It is a great value for money, you can check its current price on Amazon. Four 1-inch bolts help secure the door; the lock comes with a digital keypad. You can upgrade it with many accessories: check them in my article here.


I have been passionate about locks and safes for so long; it is a family speciality since 1898. I hope I can share with you all the simple tips that can make the difference for your security. And that you'll buy the right products for your needs.

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