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Welcome to Travel Etiquette, a TPG column that explores the delicate dos and don’ts of travel. As part of a series on tipping, we’re exploring how to tip in airports and on planes; how to tip hotel staff; tipping in different regions and even how to tip on all-inclusive trips. Have an opinion or suggestion for a future subject? Sound off in the comments below. 

Tipping can be incredibly personal — some people are willing to toss out extra bills regardless of the quality of service, while others carefully weigh their experience before deciding what to tip. In many ways, there is no wrong way to tip, though in countries like the US where workers depend on tips to supplement salaries, it can be considered rude not to do so. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain rules to take into account, especially when traveling.

Airports and airlines have one set of tipping guidelines, while hotels have an entirely different rulebook. Over the course of a stay —whether it’s two nights or two weeks — you’re bound to solicit the help of numerous staff members, including a bellhop, valet, concierge, housekeeping and room service waiters. But do you tip them all the same? Are there circumstances that don’t require tipping at all?

Tom Waithe, the vice president of operations for Kimpton Hotels in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain Region, has received notes from guests who express concern about tipping.

“There’s this great fear factor they associate with a very simple gesture,” he told TPG. “But what guests need to recognize is that staff members very infrequently notice or associate you with the amount you tip. Any gesture is appreciated, unless it is so small as to be embarrassing: think pocket change made up of many copper coins.”

So a pile of pennies may be seen as a snub. But what else should travelers keep in mind when tipping hotel staff? It often comes down to the job he or she does.

Housekeeping

Every source agreed that housekeeping is one area where tipping should be considered mandatory. After all, they clean up our messes and make our beds. “These are the hardest-working people in the hotel, and the least recognized,” Waithe said.

Diane Gottsman — a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of The Protocol School of Texas — suggests giving $3 to $5 per day. Waithe agrees that $5 is a decent standard, but says it also depends on the type of traveler.

“If you’re a family and have a garbage can full of diapers or a room that looks like a hurricane hit it, be sensitive to the fact that the housekeeper is going to spend extra time in there, taking [him or her] away from the rest of the rooms,” he said. Waithe also pointed out that business travelers get away with tipping less because they often don’t spend as much time in their rooms and make less of a mess.

And though you may be tempted to leave something other than cash, don’t. “We see this frequently, especially when guests have left over wine or alcohol,” Waithe said. “But it really doesn’t work, as most hotels have strict policies about what can be taken out of a guest room. Guests often think that they are leaving a special treat, like leftover pizza or food, but it’s just thrown out along with any open bottle of liquid since no one knows what went into it.”

Gottsman suggests putting the money on the desk or another clear surface, along with a note that says “Thank you.” Waithe said you can also use the note to make any requests (such as extra towels or new batteries for the remote) and comments (say, if you broke a glass).

And beware of the most common mistake: waiting until you’re about to check out to leave the tip. “It’s important to tip daily, as employees change from one day to another,” Gottsman said.

Luggage Attendants

This one is relatively simple: a $1 tip per bag will suffice. If you’re traveling with a big group or with enough bags to warrant a luggage cart, feel free to round up to an even number like $5 or $10 (depending on the number of bags).

Photo by UpperCut Images / Getty Images.

Room Service

It’s common practice for hotels to tack on a service fee to the room service bill — which makes that extra blank gratuity line even more confusing. Will you be considered cheap if you write a big fat line through it? Not necessarily.

“One hundred percent of the included service fee goes to the server, so adding additional amounts is not required,” said Waithe. “Often, the included gratuity is not well identified on the bill, so people add more without knowing it’s already been applied. So look before you add!”

As for the delivery charge you often see on the bill, that goes to the hotel and is paid out to cooks, dishwashers and other kitchen workers. In the rare case when gratuity has not been added, tip 15% to 20% of the bill. And, Gottsman said, it’s not necessary to leave anything additional for tray pick-up.

Valets

Generally, Gottsman said you should be prepared to tip $2 to $5 ever time a valet retrieves your car from the hotel lot. And a few inside sources — current and former valets — confirmed that’s standard. “You can either tip a little at a time, or tell the valet you will get [him or her] at the end,” said Eric Matava, a former valet at a Connecticut hotel

Concierges

When tipping concierges, think of it as a sliding scale — how much you give depends on what they do for you. “If it’s a simple dinner reservation, I wouldn’t tip anything,” Jack Ezon, a self-proclaimed over-tipper and the president of travel company Ovation Vacations, told TPG.It’s also not necessary to pay for directions or ideas for things to do in town.

But if the concierge plans an amazing experience, pulls strings to get you into a sold-out show or arranges an in-room birthday or anniversary surprise for your spouse, that warrants more. How much is really up to you and your budget, but $40 is on the low end and even upwards of $100 is appropriate for more complicated tasks.

As for the things that fall somewhere in the middle (easy theater tickets or arranging a tour guide or driver) something in the $5 to $20 range is fair. In general, just keep in mind the degree of difficulty of what you’ve asked the concierge to do.

Butler Service

Even if your hotel or resort includes gratuity (which most often occurs at all-inclusives and beach resorts), it is still necessary to tip your butler extra. But as with concierges, the tip depends on how much you use them — and for what.

“If you have them running around doing things, it’s important to show them some appreciation,” said Lindsey Epperly Sulek, the founder of Epperly Travel and a Caribbean travel expert. “But if you don’t use them most of the time, I wouldn’t feel obligated.” She suggests $10 to $15 per day if they complete mostly basic tasks.

And for butlers that “do their jobs 1,000%,” Ezon says he usually tips closer to $100.

The Bottom Line

If there’s one big takeaway on how to tip, it’s that it’s more of an art than a science. So much depends on your personal budget, the destination and the type of hotel. But in general, if someone touched it — your luggage, extra pillows, the room service tray — they deserve a little something in return.

One final, er, tip: If you prefer not to leave gratuity per “transaction,” it is OK to save it all for the end of your stay — which is what both Epperly and Ezon tend to do when they travel. Just put a lump sum in an envelope at the front desk and ask the front desk to distribute it to specific groups (like housekeeping) or to the specific people who helped you. “I’ve also seen people ask for it to be divided among the entire staff,” Epperly said.

In the end, the best thing you can do is give what you can and know it will be appreciated. 

Tipping Cheat Sheet

Checking out now and need to know what to tip? Don’t sweat the small change.

 

Low End

 High End

Don’t Forget

Housekeeping $3 $5 Tip daily, and your leftover Champagne doesn’t count!
Room Service 15% 20% Only when gratuity hasn’t been included, which it usually is.
Concierges $5 to 20 $40 to $100 Consider whether or not your request was easy or complicated.
Luggage Attendants $1 per bag Round up if you’re using a luggage cart.
Valets $2 $5 It’s customary to tip when valets retrieve your car — not when they park it.
Butlers $10 $15 Tip daily.

 

Illustration by Abbie Winters

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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