Why using a hotel safe may just be pointing thieves to your precious valuables

On a recent trip to the Princess Railay Resort in Railay, Thailand, we realized that hotel safes may not be the best option to protect your valuables.  There’s been quite a bit of internet coverage around the “000000” default safe password that many hotels don’t bother to update.  See this example for instance:

But our experience was even more troubling – after all, you can always test your unit for obvious combinations before trusting your belongings to it.

On the day before our departure from Railay, we went back to our room and tried to unlock our in-room safe which contained some of our camera equipment, cash and credit cards, as well as our passports.  We quickly realized that the battery on our unit had died and that there was no backup power source.  This meant that neither we nor the hotel itself could open the safe.  

OBSERVATION #1:  Your in-room safe may not have a back-up power source.  Extracting your belongings from a safe without power may not be quick or simple.

We contacted the front desk and the manager came to our room an hour later to inform us that a staff member would be coming soon to open the safe.  What we didn’t realize is that this implied some staff member would BREAK into our safe right in front of us!  A couple of guys showed up a few minutes later with a spare safe and a crowbar.  

OBSERVATION #2: Your in-room hotel safe may not be bolted to anything and is likely surprisingly portable.

Using a crowbar, our friendly hotel staff managed to pry apart the in-room safe in less than 2 minutes and replaced it with the spare safe.  See for yourself:

OBSERVATION #3: Your in-room safe is not that hard to break in with a simple crowbar.

My conclusion is that a committed thief would not be deterred much by an in-room hotel safe. As a matter of fact, they may appreciate finding all your precious belongings already assembled in the same place.  In a mere matter of minutes they could:

  1. Try an obvious default combination;
  2. Remove the safe and leave with it in a pack;
  3. Pry the safe door apart with an easy to hide crowbar.

This experience has made me re-assess my behavior in hotel rooms with safes.  I’m now more likely to put some “decoy” belongings in the safe and either keep my passport/cash/credit cards on me or hide them throughout my luggage.