Finances & Money Frugality

Why don’t American hotels save electricity like other countries?

If you’ve traveled to Europe (and probably other parts of the world) and stayed in a hotel,  you’ve probably experienced the surprise of not having lights or electricity in your room when you first walk in (especially if you check in at night). If you’re new to traveling overseas from the U.S., you’ll find that most hotels require you to put your room key card into a device on the wall to “activate” the electricity in the entire room.

To me, this is a great idea for hotels to save costs on utilities, although it may result in a number of “lockouts” where the room guest forgets to take their key card when they leave the room. Outside of that issue (which I was aware enough to avoid on our stints throughout Europe), hotels can ensure lights/TV are turned off when someone checks out or just leaves for a few minutes/hours, and when the room cleaning is complete. For the guest, it’s a place where you’ll always know where your key card is…that’s about the best benefit I can think of for guests though.

After traveling the few years across the country and parts of Europe and Middle East, I found that it’s really only in the U.S. where the hotel has the A/C or heat blasting and lights on in the room when you arrive (the nicer hotels at least). It’s great when you arrive from a long flight or drive to have a comfortable, lit room, but when you think about it, how many hotel rooms are there like this on any given day across the country? Think about all the electricity being wasted for your initial impression and comfort.

So my question is why don’t U.S. hotels adopt the “card method” for controlling room power? I would imagine the energy savings would pay back the installation and maintenance costs fairly rapidly, but perhaps other world travelers or those in the industry know otherwise or have other opinions/experiences?

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Clever Dude


  • Yes it sounds like the hotel industry could be saving a ton of money on their electricity bills. Companies in general often don’t do enough to conserve electricity. Think of how many office high rises you can see with plenty of lights on after hours. For the card method for controlling room power, I assume nobody wants to be the first chain installing something which may be seen as an inconvenience. It would seem to take away some of the luxury.

  • A lot of hotels have an interface to their software that runs the hotel so that when you check someone in it turns on the phone, heat, and electricity. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  • Hotels don’t have these devices because the consumer doesn’t want it. If I walked into a Hilton that I had just paid $119/night for and it was 85 degrees in there, you can be sure that I would instantly request another room. I don’t want to sit in my own sweat for 90 minutes while I wait for the room to cool off. And, I would be a lot more likely to stay at a competitor’s hotel after this experience. Hotels know this. That’s why they don’t do it.

  • i have heard that many other countries have a button you have to press in the bathroom to start heating up the water as well.. they don’t just pay to heat the water all day in night, just in case you might need it.

    this seems like something that should certainly be adopted in the west.. but isn’t.

  • @Jeremy and Stephanie, you’re right that the first hotels take the biggest risk, but if it’s a hotel chain like Marriott, they have enough guest loyalty that people would stay there. I would think hotels would have to handle HVAC (heat/air) separately, especially in humid areas like Miami (I was just there and if the hotel’s A/C ever failed, the place would smell like a swamp).

    @Traci, good point about having computer systems to automatically do this. Perhaps since they’re already wired up that putting in the card system wouldn’t be as expensive as I originally thought.

    Personally, I would rather go to a hotel who is saving money in this way than cutting costs on repairs and cleanliness. If a hotel chain can save millions in energy per year (seriously, this isn’t chump change) and then increase cleaning staff, benefits and/or amenities (like free internet), then bonus to me as a customer, right?

  • Well, the hotels would do this and pocket the savings. It’s not like they’d pass along any of the savings to their customers, many of whom would see themselves as having to go through extra steps for the benefit of the hotel chain. Many people can’t see the bigger picture in terms of the energy savings (or don’t care).

  • I’ve never traveled to Europe, so I didn’t know about this. It’s a great idea. But as pointed out above, there are too many people that would walk into their non air conditioned room and get upset. I’d be OK with a warm room upon arrival, if that resulted in a lower rate for the night. But, the hotel would probably just pocket the savings.

    I have noticed a few grocery stores in my area that have the lights in the freezers turned off. There are motion sensors that turn the lights on as you walk down the aisle and turn them off as you pass. That is a cool way of cutting back on electric in stores.

  • @Clever Dude

    The costs would definitely add up when you consider a major hotel chain like Marriot or Choice Hotels, but when you consider the possible savings to YOU, I think you’d find it added up to around $.10-$.30 per night. Definitely not worth it.

    While you could possibly save money by leaving the AC off in unused rooms you need to consider that this will result in higher usage in other rooms. If it’s 90 degrees on three sides of the room rather than just 1, that is going to use much more electricity.

  • Call me crazy but I think it’s worth it but only when traveling. At home, sure, I’ll be more aware of how much energy I’m spending but when I’m staying at a hotel I include the excessiveness in my vacation itinerary.

  • I’ve stayed in many hotels with this system. While I don’t specifically remember a hotel in the States that had it, I’m a little surprised to find out that none of them do it. I would say that I never found it terribly inconvenient, and that it never took all that long for the room to cool down, even in Singapore. Some guests must complain, though, as I’ve stayed in at least one hotel that had dummy key cards already in the slot–so much for cost savings. And as for cost savings, I’m not surprised hotels don’t pass that along to the consumer; they’re charging a market rate, not a cost+profit rate.

  • Perhaps it is considered uncivilised to sit in the dark room and pay for it $100. Most of the hotel in Europe do not have air conditioners and have a central heating (hence no fresh air movement at all, unless you open a window).

    The life is about comfort and impression. I think we need to cherish what we have in the USA. i think it is installation and change. Believe you me if there would be a chance to shave a cent, it was already done.

  • In the UK we don’t have this system either, but it makes sense, especially as a planet we need to cut down on the amount of energy we waste. I have however noticed that increasingly hotels are not washing laundry every day and instead do towels etc every other day.

    • @Jonathan, you bring up a good point about saving money by not doing laundry every day, but you have to put the sign on the door to tell them not to usually. I like that the Starwood chain gives you points (500) for each night, except your last night, that you forego maid service. I always put the Do Not Disturb sign up because I don’t want the maid messing with my stuff.

  • I travel over 100 nights a year across the US. I stay mostly with Holiday Inn Express and Holiday Inn but also sometimes with Comfort Inn and Cambria Suites. I’ve found only one hotel that has an energy saving system (though I’m sure there are others) and it is the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville, Wisconsin.

    I’ve been to India twice and stayed in hotels with the energy saving feature. The heat and humidity were intense, and it seemed to take forever for my hotel room to cool down when I returned each evening. I discovered that if I stuck my pocket comb in the slot where the room key was supposed to go, the air conditioning would stay on while I was away from my room.

  • I was on a summer program in South Korea and my dorm room had this feature. I never minded. There were other ways to control heat and such without leaving the air conditioner on. Even in the summer in my home I don’t leave the air conditioner on, even though I know it will be super hot when I get back. Air conditioning is a luxury and I don’t feel like I’m entitled to it – traveling or not.

  • Interesting Article Here,

    When i stayed in Cancun mexico our hotel operated this type of card system, however it was abit dangerous if you came indoors with the room pitch black not knowing what is infront of you. In general however its a good system.

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