Sorry for the title, but I just couldn’t help myself. My last post on the travel etiquette of asking other passengers to change seats on a plane garnered such response that I figured I would try another topic: How much should you tip when traveling? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone really “knows.” Well, CNN thinks they do, and I actually agree with most of their recommendations.
But I also think it’s important to consider why you tip what you do. I am a very methodical person. Does tipping this person get me better service? Is there some other reason I should tip this person? How much should that tip be? That’s why this is a lengthy post. I’ll be interested to hear other people’s feedback.
In most cases, I resent providing tips where I have no choice in the service being provided, or if there’s no real service at all. Take-out food or getting coffee involves almost no interaction with the server. Even a complicated espresso, though some baristas do a better job than others. Am I supposed to go back there and pull the shot myself? No. There is a certain minimum level of service required to complete the transaction, and that should be included in the price.
When it comes to sit-down restaurants, I don’t mind tipping. While I have no choice about relying on the server to take my order and bring my food, he or she will also clear the plates, watch to see when you need more water or wine, and take the heat from the kitchen if for some reason you should have a special request or refuse your food. Despite this, I resent tip creep. The old rule was 15% for decent service. Lately it seems people expect 18%. For big groups this is fine, but I stick to 15%. If you’re really good you get 20%. If you’re bad, I’m not afraid to drop it to 10% or even zero.
At the Airport
If I take a cab or town car to the airport, I tip 15-20% and maybe $1-2 per bag. This is dependent on whether the driver takes a direct route and drives safely. Speeding doesn’t really save much time compared to the increased risk of death. Finally, I factor in how much he talks. If he chats a bit, fine, but I generally don’t want to have a conversation. If he does not take the hint, that could affect my mood at the end of the ride.
Usually I drive myself to the airport. Do I have to tip the guy on the parking shuttle bus? If it’s an airport employee, no. I have a blanket rule against tipping government employees, and that includes the local port authority. The private garage is different. I can carry my bag just fine, so if it’s just me and my bag, I carry it myself and don’t tip. Parking off-site requires a shuttle, so that is included in the daily rate. If Megan is with me, I tip $1-2 per bag because we have more stuff than we can handle. But I also pay attention to the driver. If he’s lazy, rude, or ignores us, which is often on the late shift, then no tip.
Finally, I know some people use the curbside check-in. I don’t, but for those of you who use the skycap, I hear the rule is $1-2 per bag. Some people argue you should tip the skycaps because they provide several important services, yet they are not airport employees and make effectively minimum wage.
Well, the amount or source of a person’s income isn’t a good argument for me. That’s an issue for social workers and labor organizers. As far as I’m concerned, the ticket agent indoors has exactly the same job, and the baggage handler under the plane probably has it worse. Why you would tip this guy and not the other two is a mystery to me. (And again, I don’t use skycaps, so don’t complain that I’m not paying for their service. What you choose to tip people for the services you choose to use is ultimately your decision.)
In the Air
Let’s just say “no” and leave it at that. There are far too many opportunities for misunderstanding.
At the Hotel
You might run into a shuttle driver again. I don’t tip the driver for a hotel shuttle van unless I have a situation that requires extra assistance with lots of luggage. My standards are also higher because I’ve probably paid $100-200 a night for this hotel as opposed to $5-10 a day for airport parking. The shuttle might be a reason why I picked this hotel over competitors, so I think they should have considered that additional cost in pricing the rooms.
The bell staff does get a tip of $1-2 per bag, but I can carry my own bag once I’m in the hotel, so I never pay this. In Las Vegas, however, you might find that the bell staff expects a tip for hailing you a cab. Really? The cabs are all lined up waiting. Unless he or she personally loads my bags, they get nothing.
Inside the hotel, I know some people try to tip the front desk to get an upgrade. I’ve never tried this at a major hotel chain, partly because I have elite status and don’t need to. The only place this seems to work is at a casino, and even then it’s supposedly forbidden. Do a Google search for the $20 trick. You’re supposed to slip the bill(s) between your credit card and ID and ask if there are any upgrades available while handing it over. Some people will return the money and give you an official rate increase, others will take it and give you a suite, and finally others will just take the money and give you nothing. Use this trick at your own risk, and be aware that it’s going to take more than $20 if you’re trying to upgrade a $300 room to a $1,000 suite at Bellagio or The Venetian.
If you get room service, 15% is fine. I don’t see how you can get an impression of excellent service that demands more than that if he or she just brings the food in and sets it down. However, many hotels have a fixed service charge, so make sure you’re not tipping on top of that. If you’re receiving a free welcome amenity, I think $3-5 is appropriate. You shouldn’t have to pay for the gift, so $10 is too much, but this person did have to go out of his or her way to bring it to you.
Finally, we get to housekeeping, perhaps the most hotly debated topic of all. The housekeeper is going to come by the room anyway, so it’s not like you have much choice in requesting the service. My opinion is that I keep my room pretty neat and tidy. There is not a lot of work to do, so I don’t tip unless it’s an extended stay, I have a giant suite, or it’s someplace like a beach resort that is bound to get sand everywhere. Of course, I still tip for special requests like extra towels. Others who feel differently than I do will tip $3-5 per day.
A few services I tip for even though I don’t think I should. It’s mostly out of fear. Valet parking, whether it’s “free” or requires payment, shouldn’t require a tip. If it’s free, then make it free. If it costs money, the driver should get a cut of that. I really have no choice about letting them drive my car for me because that’s the whole point. If you don’t tip, they might ding it the next time you visit, which makes returning to that favorite restaurant or an extended hotel stay a serious danger to my mental well-being.
I also tip for drinks. Like the person who pours you a cup of coffee, most of the time the bartender didn’t do anything special. It’s even worse than that! My local college dive bar doesn’t have a cute barista who chats me up. Instead it’s some scruffy guy who hasn’t shaved in a week and has holes in his shirt. But he can cut me off from my PBR. (Fancy cocktail artists are another story. They’re like liquid chefs and deserve to be rewarded.) So, as with all things, there are exceptions to the rules. But they should be good exceptions with sound reasoning behind them.