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Are Hotel Room Safes Safe? The Surprising Truth Behind Online Fears

In-room safes lock, but do they stay locked when we leave the hotel? Recent viral videos on TikTok have travelers worried about theft, but is there cause to be?

Across social media, a wave of videos urgently warns viewers about the perils of using hotel safes. 

A TikTok video demonstrating a safe being opened by punching 00000 into its keypad has been viewed over a million times. A similar YouTube video by LockPickingLawyer has 1.4 million views.

Then there’s the notorious hidden camera video from 2008 of a Canary Islands hotel employee caught in the act of robbing a hotel safe. Despite its age, it continues to circulate among skeptics of hotel safe safety.

There’s no doubt that in-room safes can be opened by unscrupulous staff, as the videos portray. Most safe manufacturers for the hospitality industry include backup methods for opening room safes by card, code, or key, and although those methods are usually used to help guests who forget their security codes, it’s still possible they could be used for the wrong reasons.

It sounds scary. But how often are things actually stolen from safes in hotel rooms? 

A spokesman for the American Hotel and Lodging Association said the group does not have data on theft from room safes, but “we seldom hear about this issue from members.” 

We also asked for comment from Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott, which control the vast majority of hotel rooms in the United States. None responded.

So if the industry isn’t reporting much hotel room safe crime, how about law enforcement? The U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t keep records that are specific enough to tell us, and one of its largest reports on hotel crime came out in 1992. More recently, a 2016 university study found 997 police reports of hotel crime in the Miami-Dade area over a period of five years. About 9 percent were room burglaries, which means there were about 20 reports per year across Miami. Because statistics are under-explored and underreported, it remains unknown how many, if any, of hotel room burglaries specifically involved theft from locked safes. 

Finally, we also tried unsuccessfully to locate victims of theft from hotel room safes. We posted messages seeking stories of personal incidents in several online communities for travelers and travel professionals, but we received no responses.  

Certainly the crime of theft from safes must occur, and nobody wants to be the unlucky casualty. 

Although we found lots of people who are eager to make a buck off fears of theft from hotel room safes, we haven’t found much evidence to support the level of alarm you might assume from watching TikTok videos.

Still, if you seek an extra layer of security for your valuables when you travel, there aren’t a lot of great alternatives to in-room safes. 

The most obvious option is to carry your passport and other valuables with you at all times. But of course, that exposes you to the risk of loss and robbery in other places. 

Here are a few other tips offered by experts and veteran travelers. Note that some of these may actually be riskier than simply keeping valuables in a hotel room safe and letting the law of averages protect you. 

• Some hotel offices have safe deposit boxes they allow you to use. (But technically, these may also be subject to potential theft by hotel staff.)

• If your hotel room safe comes with a pre-set code, make sure it isn’t simple. Easy-to-guess codes like 00000 or 1234 are not secure. If your hotel safe comes with a pre-set code and that code is too obvious, tell management and have a security officer reset it.

• Travel with an add-on lock that makes many hotel room safes impossible to open. Milockie, a clever magnet-and-belt device, is widely recommended. It costs $70 and weighs less than a pound.

• Pack a “portable safe,” a knife-proof bag with a padlock and heavy-duty cable. Wrap it around an immovable object like a bed frame or bathroom fixture. Pacsafe makes one that costs $100, weighs less than a pound, and takes little room in your suitcase.

• Pack your valuables in your suitcase and lock it. The premise there is that thieves don’t usually want to attract attention by running off with a suitcase unless they know it contains valuables. Some people also bundle their valuables inside dirty socks or underwear that thieves would probably not want to rummage through.

• Keep the Do Not Disturb sign on your door all day. You’ll get no service, but if safe thieves think you may be inside, they won’t come in.

• Lift up the top mattress and tuck things deep in the middle. Just don’t forget to retrieve your things when you check out. Some people put keys or a single shoe somewhere obvious, like on a table or in the bathroom, to remind themselves to collect everything.

• Tuck small valuables or cash into the pages of the Bible in the nightstand on the assumption that thieves are generally not pausing for Bible study.

No matter what precautions you take, be sure to take photos of your passport, credit and insurance cards, driver’s license, and other important documents.  E-mail them to yourself and save them to the cloud in case your phone gets stolen, too. 

Has someone ever actually stolen items from your locked in-room safe, or is this mostly a fear that’s being stoked by social media? Let us know at the Frommer’s Facebook page or on Frommer’s Roamers Travel Chat