3 Services I NEVER Tip For When Traveling

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when to tip for services

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.

when to tip for services

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.

I don’t need the tip jar sob story.

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.

Conclusion

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?

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50 COMMENTS

  1. How to tip a Hotel Valet if you are staying a week? Anyone? I have no idea and I end up tipping everyone. What do others do, what is the correct procedure?

    • I don’t think the time frame of how long the car is there matters. Just tip them a few bucks when they hand you the keys.

  2. If I have cash on me, I tip. Most of these people are not being paid a living wage. Am I subsidizing greedy employers? Yes. But I’d rather do that then see people struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table.

    • I can admit that lack of cash (or only having $20s) has hampered a few instances where I would have tipped. I’m bad about stuffing any in my wallet when traveling domestically.

    • Exactly right… Well said. If we are fortunate enough to be traveling at the height of luxury (often for FREE) – we can certainly afford a few bucks to those people who make the trip so special. Don’t forget the people who shuttle you from your paid off-airport parking to the airport – ours are normally super helpful in loading bags onto the shuttle and helping get them down. Sure, we can do it ourselves, but I never begrudge a few bucks to people trying to do the right thing!

    • It’s still seems odd to me to tip for someone to take a few seconds to pour a glass of something. But then again, I don’t frequent “regular” bars at all, so that might have a lot to do with it.

  3. I’m not sure my policy is the most sensible, but where I draw the line for shuttles and similar services is whether the employee did anything because I was there that they wouldn’t have if I wasn’t. So I’ll tip for an on-demand hotel shuttle because the driver wouldn’t have made the trip without me, but not for a shuttle that runs on a fixed schedule whether there’s anyone there to ride it or not. It feel similar to tipping taxi drivers but not bus drivers.

    • Interesting take. It’s rare that I’ve ridden an on-demand shuttle, but I can think of a few instances. One of which was the great driver I had at the Sheraton Roanoke, who I did tip. 🙂

      • Maybe I should, given the above principle, but I don’t unless I leave an extraordinary mess. It feels like a completely basic part of what I’m paying for.

  4. YES YES YES on taking care of my own bags. Unless it’s not allowed (sea plane in Maldives, for example), I’m handling my own bags. They have wheels 🙂

  5. Interesting. People aren’t making a living wage. Can’t remember that being my problem, and I can’t remember that I’ve seen or heard of any of these people working (or loafing) with a gun to their head to work of peanuts. Look, if you spent all that government student loan money for an education such as computer science, engineering, or mathematics, you would probably have a good job and not need tips. Instead, you chose a degree in LGBT dance studies and find out it’s not paying squat. Just because you have a crappy job doesn’t mean you deserve anything extra. Heck, I think I’ve heard more stories about valets trashing and crashing customer cars then parking them. I tip for services that I requested that are not included in my agreement oral or written. They’re just too many employers out there telling their employees they’ll make big tips for just sticking out their hand. Ya, I self park too!

  6. Sounds like I’m going to be in the minority here but the tone of the article is rather miserly. At the end of the day it’s a few bucks for people in a job that doesn’t make a lot of money and will make no difference in your life most likely. But it may make a little difference in hours and just put a smile on their face

    • I understand that take. If you have the means and want to tip, I’ll not stop you. I guess what I see is that some of the jobs (i.e. rental car shuttle driver) don’t exactly seem like they are/should be tipped employment. And if every time it is $2-3 here or there, it all adds up.

  7. Very simply. Be generous to those that serve you. If you read the Bible, serving others is the lowest and most humble thing one can do. Think how your mother served you as a kid and how good it feels to serve your wife or girlfriend.

    I rarely tip the owner of a business. I do tip baggage handlers because I want my bags to go to the right place, plus they handle my wife’s 50lb bag. I rarely tip a tour operator guide.

    However, on my last trip to Cuba, I paid $250 for a full day of touring and part of the time in a spectacular older car. The tour guide lived 2 hours by bus from Havana. I asked the guy how much of the $250 he got and he said $25. I gave him $100 and he was almost in tears and hugged us both.

    I am 65 and learned it is better to be generous for much is expected of those generously blessed.

  8. Good for you. Rather than hand out undeserved tips to able-bodied victims of society, I prefer to support less fortunate people, like seniors who have virtually nothing and unable to work due to their seniority.

  9. I’m well-off; these guys aren’t. A few bucks here or there means more to them than it does to me. When we were staying in a Boston Marriott last month I was appalled to see a card advising the guests that if we did without housekeeping we’d get a 5 buck credit. Housekeeping is a demanding, often distasteful, job. These workers depend on tips. The argument over who OUGHT to pay the workers is moot when confronted by these basic facts. Of course I don’t presume to tell anyone else what they should be doing. Except Marriott: Marriott, don’t be schmucks.

    • I understand that take. But from another perspective, it is like paying for/requesting a job you don’t need. Most times when I travel for business, I hardly use the hotel room. I like to hang the DND sign on the door from start to finish, points or no.

  10. corrections needed :

    “Ok…I can’t quite say never to this one, as can recall tipping on at least two occasions.”

    “Not only dos it cost more, but it is expected to tip the valet.”

  11. My daughter had a summer job as a valet at a Marriott and it has made me very sensitive to tipping both the valet parking the car and again when I pick up the car. At her job anyway the tips go only to those working the particular shift, so tipping on pick up leaves the initial valet uncovered. She was only making minimum wage. No sympathy needed for her, fall classes started and she’s back to being a student, but it was eye opening for me.
    I agree with the others about sharing good fortune,however, and I try to be especially generous when in a foreign country, such as India, where I know people are really really struggling.

    • Anyone who does a great job at a generally tipped service, I like to tip. But I have to say, I avoid valet parking, if possible.

      One instance in particular I recall very well. A young guy, maybe 18, was working late night as the only waiter at a Denny’s in western VA. He had more tables than I would have expected at midnight. Yet he was friendly, kind and was busting his butt. I tipped him well. It’s the work ethic that goes the furthest.

  12. Can you guys give me your opinion on the taxi stands in Las Vegas. Yes, he is opening the door but the taxi driver is getting the bags. There have been times where I have been surprised by the service (very friendly, helping with bags etc.) and did tip, but feel it is the expected norm. There have been times when I waited while they finished a conversation (personal, as I could hear), or just whistled the taxi and opened the door without even giving me a glance. I am not able to flag my own taxi so I feel like it is expected. Again, some people go above and beyond and I lobe to tip them but I had extremely poor and rude service at the Rio and don’t feel that should be rewarded….even if it is expected. I look at the casino waitresses who work for a 1.00 tip per beverage (yes, I am gambling but they do deserve at least 2-3 depending on service). These are just my experiences and welcome other opinions.

  13. I always tip hotel housekeeping $5 daily (more if I have a special request) instead of at the end as a different person may be cleaning your room or the person who cleaned it for a few days might be off on the day you depart. Actually I tip almost all service people. The only reason I carry cash is for tipping and casinos.

  14. Tipping a percentage to waiters is ridiculous. Is it any more difficult to bring you a glass of wine as opposed to a cup of coffee? Or a burger as opposed to a filet mignon?
    In Japan they pushed back my tip, and said they were already being paid to do their job.
    Why do we do it?

  15. Excellent point. I had the same experience in the UK. I would only wonder if their wages in the brand scheme were on par with the wages here. I don’t know now but at one point HERE they were paid much lower due to the tip possibility (which we know is sometimes optional). I worked in Canada and we at least got a wage and tips were a bonus.

  16. Of course I tip the hotel shuttle driver. Food pickup is just like a host in a restaurant, you don’t tip. But a driver of a 3-7 person shuttle bus from the hotel to airport or vice versa gets tipped. An airport shuttle bus from parking lot to terminal is a different story.

    I always tip more than most for a lot. A couple of dollars extra isn’t going to harm me in anyway. Unlike taxes I know my money is going to someone who is working hard and does something beneficial for me. You get me safely to an airport, hotel, venue, or deliver my food whether in a hotel or at home from dominos or a supermarket, I am grateful.

    • This is where it gets fuzzy. The on-call 3-7 person van (as someone pointed out) can be a bit different than the guy who does continuous loops with 20 people on the bus from large hotel to airport.

  17. “Living Wage”. Are you kidding? Get a real job.
    Even grass cutters in the hot summer make more money than some “workers” taking up space in a hotel or entertainment venue. Nobody owes you anything except a good kick in the pants.
    Want more money…get another job. Still want more….get a third job.
    Then go back to high school and pass those “supposedly hard subjects” that you didn’t want to take.
    Oh, so that is where the “I want it easy” lifestyle started. OK.

  18. Fascinating. Why not punch up and tip down as folks who are successfully gaming the system? We recently had a beautiful view room at Monterey Marriott for a week for free, parked in the street within 2 blocks of the hotel and paid room service $5/night. Why not Robin Hood points travel? Isn’t that the best of all worlds?

  19. When working on assignments in the Middle East, where one was waited on by many people from other countries who came to the UAE, Kuwait, and KSA to work for what seems to this American to be a very small salary, it was never hard to generously tip those in the service business. Although our corporate handbook for employees said tipping wasn’t required (not reimbursable), I decided early on, that my few dollars spread around, would never be missed by me years later (and they haven’t been) and seemed to bring a bit of joy to the recipients.

    Tipping in the US while on the road is a bit more challenging.

    • Sounds like a good policy! Tough thing in the U.S. is how *many* different services for the business traveler end up being “tipped”.

  20. Here in PA wait staff earn far below minimum wage when working a tipping job. They are taxed on their sales at places like TGIFridays. No matter if it’s food, drink, etc. So I tip based on the bill at least 15% or more if they were good, talked, made eye contact, etc. I tip the maid at hotels daily unless we don’t need service/every other day, and we usually stay at places like Red Roof so no valet or bellhop. We are not wealthy people but having worked in a restaurant when I was young, I know how hard it is for the money, both front and back of the house. Not everyone is educated or able to work full time so “go get a real job” isn’t always possible. I believe in giving a few bucks to anyone offering me a service, even if it is “free”, that makes my life easier. You can’t take it with you, spread it around a little while you are here!

  21. Also, when I’m flying on a free or paid an international flight and there’s a UNICEF, Red Nose, or Children’s charity, I ALWAYS make a donation – hoping we can actually make a difference – as a way of paying it forward. Again, a few bucks isn’t going to break us, especially when we’re traveling at tremendous discounts, even if it does add up.

  22. I worked my way through college as a bartender working for tips–on the east coast. It was a very cosmopolitan place, so people came there from all over. Back then, people from the South or from England generally didn’t tip bartenders. New Yorkers always tipped. Most of us saw a decent tip as a sign of respect for the service we provided—like saying “thank you.” We all understood that Southerners and the British usually didn’t tip, and it was OK. If a regular customer repeatedly didn’t tip–and should have known the custom–we made his visits as unpleasant as possible. Worse were those who snapped their fingers or whistled for attention. They got thrown out. I tip just about everyone who provides decent service a minimum of $5. Hotel housekeepers $10 or $20 at the START of a multi-day stay. They pay lots of extra attention to you after that, and the word gets around to the other housekeepers that you are a “good guy.” Then no problem getting extra towels or pillows, etc. Let them split it up as they choose. Over-tipping isn’t gauche unless you make a show of it.
    $5 to a cab-starter in Las Vegas means nothing to me, but signals that I appreciate what he does. Being generous to people in service jobs is never a bad choice.

  23. An additional comment: If you pay with a credit card but tip in cash, the waiter/bartender will know you “get it.”

  24. If the shuttle driver handles my bags, I tip – when I’m in Amex lounges and getting cocktails made , I’m tipping – I’m tipping cleaning ppl , door people- and the result 99.9% of the time is a great experience….. I travel for work some 120 days a year and my per-diem is 500-700 a day depending on the clients- I recently stayed 3 weeks at a high end hotel in DC on a job and had lounge access – so I ended up tipping 400 dollars a day to the staff and having amazing dinners with the rest of the money – and I was treated like a KING for 21 straight day – I know this is an extreme example – but tipping always gets you a better experience

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