What Every Traveler Should Know About Tipping on All-inclusive Vacations
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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.
As we reported in our guide to tipping at hotels, showing your appreciation monetarily for anyone who helps you during your stay — the concierge, housekeepers, bellhops — is more an art than a science. (Same goes for tipping airport and airline employees.) But throw an all-inclusive into the equation, be it a resort in the Caribbean, a cruise, a safari or a group trip organized by a travel company, and things can get even more confusing.
That’s because you hear the words “all-inclusive” and it’s easy to assume that means everything is included. And sometimes, it is. But what if it’s not? Here’s a quick cheat sheet for when — and how much — to tip on an all-inclusive getaway.
You’re most likely to find all-inclusive resorts (where the nightly rate includes everything from food and beverage to Wi-Fi, daily activities and taxes) in the Caribbean or other beach-y destinations. This rate often includes gratuities, billed as a daily service charge, that is divided among staff. But not always.
Lindsey Epperly Sulek, the founder of Epperly Travel and a Caribbean expert, notes that traditional brands such as Sandals will usually include gratuity. And staff at such resorts can even get in trouble for accepting extra tips. “They want guests to feel like everything is included,” Sulek told TPG, adding that the rate you see online should clearly state if there’s a daily service charge. If not, confirm with the resort directly before booking.
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.
However, when it comes to all-inclusives, you should consider tipping in advance instead of at the end of your vacation. “Say you discover your favorite bar on the first day and tip the bartender then and there: You’ll have great service throughout your stay,” Sulek said. “I’ve seen it work wonders; $10 or $20 will go a long way for things like getting faster service.” It may also be worth pre-tipping whoever is in charge of restaurant reservations and even a pool lounge chair attendant.
Most safari lodges include everything: room and board, food and alcohol, all game drives and activities and even transfers to sister lodges. However, it’s imperative that you tip your guides. They are the ones who are up insanely early to wake you before dawn for early-morning game drives, and the ones who navigate the bush and track animals so you have a memorable experience (and the photos to prove it).
Teresa Sullivan of Mango African Safaris recommends tipping $10 per person per day to the camp (to be divided among staff) and $15 to $20 per person per day for guides — all to be done at the end of your stay. If your safari lodge offers full board — meaning you pay for activities separately — a good rule of thumb is $5 to $10 per person, per activity.
Many times a safari includes transfers from one camp to another. According to Sullivan, “You do not need to tip drivers for these rides. This is part of the all-inclusive nature of the lodges.” However, tips are recommended for transfers from international airports or a hotel before you reach the lodge, around $5 to $10 depending on the trip length. Also, don’t forget to plan ahead and bring cash with you, since you won’t find an ATM out in the bush.
According to Linda Allen-Speer, of Cruises by Linda, gone are the days when cruisers boarded ships with wads of cash they would use to fill gratuity envelopes at the end of the voyage.
Today, cruise lines rely on automatic tipping — charged per passenger, per day — and funds are divided among the entire staff, even those behind the scenes. For example, for guests in standard rooms, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises each charge $14.50; Norwegian Cruise Line charges $13.99; and Princess Cruises and Holland America Line charge $13.50. (Rates go up for passengers staying in higher tier suites.)
“People just know they’ll have those charges and they’re not surprised by them,” Allen-Speer told TPG. “You can adjust tips up or down, but I would say almost everyone just leaves them as is.” One reason? It can be something of a hassle to visit the purser’s desk — especially if there’s a long line — to make the changes. And you are welcome to give a little extra cash to your favorite waiter or bartender at the end of the cruise, but it’s not necessary.
Cruisers should note that most luxury and boutique lines such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Crystal Cruises have “no tipping” policies because gratuity is included in the total price. If you still have the desire to show your appreciation, you can give cash at your discretion. Or do what Allen-Speer does and make a donation of $100 to the cruise line’s welfare fund, which can be used to help pay for family emergencies or crew parties.
And if you still have questions, Allen-Speer suggests looking at the cruise line’s specific FAQ page, which will likely address the topic of gratuity.
If you’re taking a trip booked through a tour operator — whether with a group of strangers or a bespoke itinerary made just for you — it will usually include overnight stays, some or all meals and activities and guides in every destination. What it likely does not include? Tips.
Most tour companies will send tipping recommendations to each traveler before the trip departs. For example, Intrepid Travel provides a detailed email that offers advice based on feedback from past travelers and on-the-ground staff.
“There may be times when you’ll have a specialist local guide alongside your trip leader,” said Darshika Jones, Intrepid Travel’s director of North America. “We suggest tipping these guides about $2 to $3 per day.” They also recommend giving drivers $1 to $2 per day, and carrying small bills of local currency to make tipping easier.
However, Jones told TPG, “Over the years we’ve found that many of our travelers feel like tipping can be tiresome and embarrassing, especially if they don’t have the correct small change.” Enter the tipping kitty system: This requires everyone in the group to contribute an equal amount at the start of the trip, and the tour leader is responsible for doling out appropriate tips each day. “Any money remaining at the end of the tour is returned to group members,” Jones said.
As for the tour leaders themselves, they also deserve a tip since they are the ones responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly for the duration of the trip. Intrepid Travel recommends up to $4 per person, per day. But, as with tipping a concierge, “You are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on the service quality and the length of your trip,” Jones said.
Other operators may suggest tipping tour leaders a percentage of the total vacation cost, as is the case with cycling-themed Trek Travel (which includes other tips — for drivers, hotels, etc. — in the cost so guests don’t have to worry about it).
“We typically have two guides per trip, both of whom are with guests all day and night,” said Mark Thomsen, Trek Travel’s marketing manager. “We recommend 7.5% to 10% of the trip price for the guide team, which is industry standard, and local currency is always preferred.”
The Bottom Line
In a lot of ways, tipping on all-inclusive vacations is a bit more straightforward than at hotels — especially on cruises, where the work is done for you. For starters, you’re usually dealing with a lump sum rather than leaving money daily or per service as with housekeeping and a concierge, respectively. In addition, most safari lodges (or your travel agent, if you use one) and tour operators are very clear about their tipping policies and will send information ahead of time so you can be prepared.
Illustration by Abbie Winters
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