Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
Even the most seasoned travelers may find that tipping while traveling can be a complicated and stressful decision.
After all, most of us want to thank the right people for great service and don’t want to stiff underpaid employees who might be depending on the gratuities. However, we also don’t want to double pay for service charges already included in our bills, or inadvertently insult someone in a foreign country.
So, who deserves a tip, and when and where should you give it? Also, how much should you tip?
Tipping customs vary greatly depending on where you are in the world, and what sort of travel you are doing. For hotels, tipping can be dependent on 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?)
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Changes created during the coronavirus pandemic have also impacted the world of tipping. Housekeepers, for example, may have much more extensive cleaning regimens even though they might not touch your room during your stay. Also, short-staffed hotels may add more responsibilities for already overworked employees.
To help you decide whether you should leave cash on your nightstand or if you should skip the extra payment altogether, we put together this ultimate guide to tipping while traveling.
In This Post
Who to tip at hotels
Many experts agree that you should tip housekeeping $3 to $5 per day, depending on the length of your stay, your room rate, the level of service and how much of a mess you make.
“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.
You should, however, be on the lookout for hidden housekeeping fees that some hotels have been adding on to room charges, sometimes up to $40 a day. In these cases a gratuity should not be expected (although it is still possible the hotels are not sharing these fees with staff).
Typically, luggage attendants who help you with your bags should receive $1 per bag. Round up for large groups of bags, if the attendant must take multiple trips, or handle fragile or special-request items.
For car valets, typically a couple of dollars will be fine, more if the valet delivers on a rush-request. If you’re staying at a hotel for a while, and expect to use your car often, start the valet out with a larger tip, ten dollars or so, and explain your situation — you’ll likely get your car parked closer and delivered ahead of other people’s cars daily.
Butlers and concierges can also receive tips. You can determine how much depending on what services they’ve delivered for you. Tipping the head doorperson at a hotel can also be a way to get improved service during a longer visit.
Who doesn’t need a tip at a hotel, then? The people delivering room service meals where a (usually hefty) service charge has already been added to the tab. The exception would be the rare cases when gratuity isn’t included, or if you’ve asked the staff for some out-of-the-ordinary services.
Related: TPG’s guide to tipping at hotels
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, co-founder of the luxury travel company Black Tomato told TPG.
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. In Japan, tipping is actually frowned upon.
You should distribute tips as you do in the U.S. when visiting most of Europe, touristy areas of Mexico, the Caribbean (assuming you’re not bedding down at an all-inclusive) and Canada. 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 in your bill if you’re on a cruise or staying in an all-inclusive resort. However, check your folio carefully or inquire with the front desk upon check-in. Also, look at what’s included in those hated resort fees, even for non-inclusive properties.
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.
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 taking a tour from an all-inclusive resort, out for a safari, for example, you should be tipping your guides and the driver.
Tipping staff 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. It’s a policy in place to relieve guests of the obligation or worry about when and where to present gratuities.
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. Telling guest relations about a staff member who has provided a special service can have a bigger impact upon that person’s salary than a small gratuity — but they’ll likely be happy to receive that as well.
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 the reception desk.
Have a favorite bartender aboard a ship, or are the valets going out of their way to help you? An extra gratuity paid early on your trip will go a long way to ensure your above-average services continue throughout your vacation.
Related: TPG’s guide to tipping on a cruise
Tipping flight attendants and airport employees
Generally, airline employees like flight attendants are not allowed to accept any tips on the job. However, airport staff — often hourly workers who rely on your generosity to help pay the bills — are permitted to do so.
One notable exception is Frontier Airlines, which implemented an inflight tipping program.
Airline employee unions have fought against allowing flight attendants to accept tips, which seems counter-intuitive until you realize labor laws allow employers to pay sub-minimum wages if the employees are assumed to be receiving gratuities on a regular basis. Don’t be insulted if flight attendants refuse your tip offers — they’re doing so to protect their salaries.
Many airlines provide ways passengers can recognize services provided by flight attendants and other employees, like Southwest’s Commend an Employee program, where you can leave positive comments online. This may have a more positive impact than the dollar tips you offered for your gin and tonic.
Additional reporting by Jessica Puckett and Bill Fink.
Featured photo by Innocenti/Getty Images.