The ultimate guide to tipping while traveling

Jan 12, 2021

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Even the most seasoned travelers may find that tipping while traveling can be an extremely complex and personal thing. After all, most of us want to thank the right people for great service. So, who deserves a tip — and how much should you give?

Tipping customs vary greatly depending on where you are in the world, the room rate, the level of service and the details of your stay. (Did you refuse housekeeping for the duration of your trip? Or did you trash the room with a massive all-night party?)

And, of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed the game again. Housekeepers, for example, may have much more extensive cleaning regimens — but they also may not touch your room during your stay.

Over the years, TPG has covered the topic extensively — even exploring when to tip on all-inclusive vacations and the hard-working airport professionals you probably aren’t tipping (but should). To help you decide whether you should leave a crisp George Washington on your nightstand when you’re ready to hit the road again or if you should abstain altogether, we put together this ultimate guide to tipping while traveling.

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Who to tip at hotels

Most experts agree that, depending on the length of your stay, the rate of your room and the level of service, you should tip housekeeping $1 to $5 per day, at the end of every day (not all at once, upon check out).

“These are the hardest-working people in the hotel, and the least recognized,” said Tom Waithe, the vice president of operations for Kimpton Hotels in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain Region.

Typically, luggage attendants who help you with your bags should receive $1 per bag, and valets should get a few bucks every time they retrieve your car. Butlers and concierges are also eligible for tips, depending on how much they’ve done for you. Who doesn’t need a tip at a hotel, then? The people delivering room service — except for the rare cases when gratuity isn’t included.

Tipping around the world

“Tipping abroad is so much more than converting currencies. Many countries and cultures each adopt their own nuanced take on this, at times, delicate matter,” Tom Marchant, the cofounder of luxury travel company Black Tomato told TPG in 2019.

In some countries, like Australia, tipping is “not a common transaction,” Marchant said, and it can even make recipients a bit uncomfortable.

China doesn’t have a tipping culture, either. And in Japan, tipping is actually frowned upon. Over in much of Europe, touristy areas of Mexico, the Caribbean (assuming you’re not bedding down at an all-inclusive) and Canada, distribute gratuities as you would in the U.S. Tipping is also customary in India and the Middle East.

In Central and South America, leaving small change in the local currency is greatly appreciated. If you’re traveling to Africa, expect more intricacies, depending on whether or not you’re on safari or staying at an urban property in a major city.

The bottom line? If you’re really unsure what’s customary, feel free to ask around or err on the side of being overly generous.

When to tip on an all-inclusive vacation

Daily service charges are typically included on your bill if you’re taking a cruise or bedding down at an all-inclusive resort. Just be sure to check your folio carefully or inquire with the front desk upon check-in.

Most traditional all-inclusive resorts, like Sandals in the Caribbean, include gratuity, Lindsey Epperly Sulek, the founder of Epperly Travel and a Caribbean travel expert, told TPG in 2019.

If gratuities are not included, you can follow the same basic hotel guidelines: $1 per bag for the bellhop, $5 per day for housekeeping (left every day), nothing extra for room service (it’s included on the bill) and a sliding scale for concierges, depending on the difficulty of the task. If you’re on an all-inclusive safari or tour, however, you should be tipping your guides.

Tipping during a cruise

Whether they’re called service or gratuity charges, many cruise lines automatically charge passengers a fee — sometimes as much as $25.50 per person, per day — that’s designed to replace cash tipping.

In addition to “front of house” crew members, such as wait staff and room attendants, cruise lines say service fees are distributed to a wide array of crew. You can pay these fees in advance, or with your onboard bill. You may also be able to adjust the rate up or down by visiting the guest relations desk during your sailing.

If you find yourself on a rare sailing that doesn’t include gratuity, or you want to tip for service that’s above and beyond, be sure to bring cash or ask that the gratuity be charged to your card. There may also be a tip box by reception.

Tipping flight attendants and airport employees

Generally, airline employees are not allowed to accept any tips on the job, while airport employees — often hourly workers who rely on your generosity to help pay the bills — are permitted to do so. One notable exception? Frontier Airlines, which implemented an inflight tipping program. On a flight at the end of 2018, a TPG writer was prompted to add a gratuity to his beverage purchase.

Additional reporting by Jessica Puckett. 

Featured photo by Innocenti/Getty Images.

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