When to Tip for Services When Traveling
Whether it is a restaurant in another country, a shuttle driver, or another service employee, it can be hard to know when to tip for services. Some situations are easy, such as tipping for service when eating at a restaurant. But in other cases things can get a bit fuzzy.
Heck, I didn’t know until just three years ago that tipping hotel housekeeping was a thing. We very rarely stayed in hotels when I was growing up, and they were always budget places. Never learned there was an etiquette here. While I still prefer to forego housekeeping entirely, I will occasionally tip, depending on the type of hotel, length of stay, and how messy we’ve been.
But here are three services for which I forego tipping when traveling entirely:
To-Go Food Service
While I do understand that some people tip food preparers for quickly prepared meals, or even grab and go items, I’ve not adopted this practice. It’s gotten less awkward for me to write a “0” in the tip line at such places. When I worked in food service years ago, I was even the recipient of these tips, as anything collected on to-go orders went to us in the kitchen.
But it always amounted to very little, sometimes as low as $3-5 for the entire night. This basically showed me that tipping for fast food or dining without service isn’t much of a thing, and I never adopted the practice.
Hotel and Airport Lounge Bars
Ok…I can’t quite say never to this one, as I can recall tipping on at least two occasions. But I don’t generally practice tipping at hotel clubs or the airport lounge bars. I only grab the occasional glass of wine, so the issue doesn’t even come up that often.
If items are self-serve, as they sometimes are, this makes the question moot. Most hotel lounges I’ve been to are self-serve, but there was one in particular that I recall where things appeared self-serve, but the lounge staff would come up and insist on pouring you a glass, if they got there in time to stop you. Kinda awkward.
I’ve also been to a couple airport lounges where there is a sign out with some version of “No tips, it is our pleasure to serve you” written on it (e.g. Alaska Lounge LAX). This addresses the question very clearly. I’ve also read that the jobs themselves are advertised as non-tipped, at least at certain lounges.
In almost all cases, no tipping from me at airport or hotel lounges.
Rental Car Shuttle Driver
I’ve used a good number of rental car shuttles, but I’ve not gained a great understanding of whether this is or isn’t a generally tipped service. Some shuttle drivers handle luggage, and I see folks hand them a couple bucks. I’ve also seen others who just sit in their seat while everyone manages getting on and off the bus themselves (they definitely get nothing).
From my own perspective, the rental car shuttle is a service of the rental car center (I guess you can argue the waitstaff are part of restaurant service, but bear with me here). I step on, I sit, I step off. I have no expectation that anyone will handle my luggage, and basically refuse to surrender it unless the driver insists on taking it from me (only happened once). This doesn’t really meet the bar in my mind as a tipped service. I only recall seeing a tip jar displayed on a shuttle on one occasion.
What About Hotel Shuttles?
These really depend. If the “TIPS” jar is prominently displayed, but all the driver does is open and close the door and drive, then they get $0 from me. This turns out to be the case most of the time. The hotel advertises the service as a “free airport shuttle”, and free it shall be.
If they offer a more personalized service, including luggage handling, opening the door, etc., I usually feel obliged to give them a couple bucks. This is going above and beyond the basic job, in my opinion.
On one occasion, I left a $20 for the driver. He shuttled me around town multiple times, and even though I hadn’t stuck any cash in my wallet before I left home, I made sure to find an ATM to hand him some cash on the last day. This was in Roanoke, Virginia. Even though the former Sheraton Roanoke has been sold and de-flagged, I hope Xavier is still shuttling people around with his friendly conversation and great smile.
The Debate Over When to Tip
I know people have strong feelings on both sides regarding when to tip for services. Some people in the U.S. can’t stand tipping, but still practice it because it’s such a part of culture here. Others happily tip for services. I understand both sides, my wife and I having worked in the service industry.
I will go out of my way to avoid services where tips are expected. Valet parking? No, thank you. Not only does it cost more, but it is expected to tip the valet. I always self-park, unless that isn’t an option. Bellhop with the bags? We’ll handle our own luggage. I unashamedly shrug off the waiting-on-you-hand-and-foot services at nicer hotels.
When traveling internationally, you also need to be aware of cultural norms regarding tipping. In many counties, tipping isn’t expected like it is here in the states. This is a topic for an entirely separate post. Just do some research before you head out to understand what is or isn’t acceptable.
It can be hard to know when to tip for services when traveling. Generally, I try to avoid situations that warrant it, mainly only tipping when we eat at a restaurant. If an employee goes above and beyond in a service that could go either way, I’ll sometimes tip $1-2. But in the case of all of the above, I basically never tip.
How about you? Is it hard to navigate when to tip for services while traveling? Are you for or against the practice?