To tip or not to tip, and if yes, when and how much for what services? For many travelers, the rules are murky. How much to tip often depends on the circumstance, and there’s a wide variety of opinions on the matter. So we asked a panel of travel experts for guidance. Keep in mind that these “tips” are only for domestic U.S. travel; tipping customs vary overseas. What is surprising is that many travelers don’t realize that tipping is even appropriate or expected in certain circumstances. From airport skycaps to hotel housekeepers, here’s how to reward good service on your next trip.
Our expert panel:
Sarah Schlichter, senior editor of IndependentTraveler.com
Wendy Perrin, editor of WendyPerrin.com
Ed Perkins, contributor, SmarterTravel.com
Gene Sloan, USA TODAY cruise editor
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com
William D. Frye, Ph.D, Associate Professor, College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Niagara University
At the airport
A rental car shuttle bus driver: Perrin says it depends what they do for you. “If they help with a heavy bag, maybe $1 or $2.” Perkins suggests $1 and Frye would pay $2 per person for parking lot shuttle drivers, but only “if they assist with luggage. If the luggage is very heavy, greater generosity is warranted. Hotel shuttle drivers should always be tipped at least $5 for a short one-way trip, more for longer trips or round-trips, per person.”
A skycap: Perkins suggests $2 for one bag, $3 for two, and Perrin $2 per bag. Frye is more generous. “If they check luggage, $3-$5 for the first bag and $2 for each additional bag, depending on how heavy. For red caps who assist at baggage claim, tip $5 for the first bag and $3 to 5 for each additional bag, again, depending on how heavy the bags are and the time they spend waiting with the traveler.”
An airport wheelchair attendant: Perrin says it depends. “How long did they accompany you, did they work on a holiday?” Perkins tips $2 to $5 depending on time and distance, but Frye suggests $5 to $20 “depending how long they spend assisting. Courtesy and promptness should also factor in.”
At the hotel
A hotel maid: There was a wide range for this essential employee. Perrin, who has two children, says it “depends how big a mess my kids have made. Perhaps $5 to $10 a day. Housekeepers deserve a relatively substantial tip because they’re the lowest on the food chain and the hardest workers.” Perkins tips a flat $2 per day and Schlichter advises to “tip your housekeeper each night instead of one large tip at the end of your stay, as you may have different housekeepers each day. Clearly mark your tips, so the staff knows the money is for them, and leave $2 to $5 per night, depending on how messy your room is.” Frye also suggests $2 to $5 per night, but “double if the room is a suite,” adding “place the gratuity on the nightstand under the TV remote” so it won’t get swept up in the bedding.
A concierge who makes a restaurant reservation for you or provides another service: Perrin says there’s no hard rule. “It depends how much of his time you took up, whether he got you the reservation because you couldn’t, whether the restaurant was sold out, etc.” But Schlichter advocates “$5 to $25 for a concierge who has provided personal service, depending on the level of attention and the difficulty of the task — if they’re able to get you into the hottest place in town, it’s worth reflecting that in your tip.” Frye also says it depends. “Ten dollars for simple tasks and it goes up from there.”
A hotel employee who brings ice, an iron, or whatever to your room: Perrin thinks no tip is necessary “unless he or she had to go to great lengths to procure the item” (e.g., had to schlep to a local mini-mart), while Perkins always proffers a flat $2.
A bellhop who delivers bags to your room: Perkins and Schlichter propose $1 to $2 per bag, but Perrin says it depends on your far your room is from the front desk, how fast the bags are delivered, and how many bags you have. “Maybe $10 for a cartload of bags when it’s a long way from the hotel entryway to your room.”
A hotel doorman who helps you into a cab: Perrin: If that’s his job, nothing, but she’d pay $2 or $3 “if it’s raining and cabs are hard to find.” Frye thinks no tipping is necessary just for opening the hotel or car door, but “if they unload or store your luggage, tip $5 for the first bag and $3 to $5 for each additional bag.”
On the ground
A taxi or Uber driver: Schlicter says, “Part of the appeal of Uber is that you don’t need to tip, but you can if you like (in cash), and there’s some evidence that you could get a higher rating from your driver if you do. The amount is at your discretion. Taxi drivers usually get 15% to 20%.”
As with other categories, Perrin tips depending on the circumstances. “How efficiently do they get me to my destination? Are they savvy about shortcuts, or do we end up sitting in gridlock? The more clever the driver, the more I tip. For a taxi within Manhattan or another city, I tip 15% to 20%. For a taxi to/from the airport, about $5. If it’s a taxi for my family of four with luggage to/from the airport, about $10.” Perkins sticks to the customary 15% for taxis but doesn’t use Uber, and Frye tips taxi drivers 10% to 20%, and Uber depending on the quality of the service.
A tour guide: Schlicter advises that, “Generally, museum guides do not need to be tipped, though if you want to offer them a few dollars for an exceptional tour, you may do so. For half- or full-day tours, you could give anywhere from $5 to $25 extra depending on the length, quality and cost of the tour.” Frye gives tour guides $3 to $5 per guest per trip or per day to each when participating in a large group tour. “If it’s a small group (6 to 20 people),” however, “opt for $5 to $10 per person per trip or day.” Perkins believes that $3 for a half day, $5 for a full day is sufficient. And Perrin believes “it totally depends on the circumstances. Is it a large-group tour? Small-group tour? Private tour?”
A coach driver: Perrin, who likes to be left to her own thoughts, quips “the less a bus tour guide talks, the more I’d tip him,” while Perkins tips “$5 to $10 for one day, a bit less per day on longer tours,” and Schlicter advises that “Most tour companies will suggest an amount to tip their drivers and guides at the end of the tour. (Common amounts are $5 a day for the driver and $8 to $10 a day for the guide, but this varies.) You can then use your discretion to raise or lower those amounts if warranted.” Frye thanks tour bus drivers with a $3 to $5 per day gratuity.
On a cruise: Most cruises these days are either “tipping not required nor expected” or the tips are included in your cruise fare. However, many passengers still tip cabin attendants and other crew members for special services, and they’re gladly accepted.
As Gene Sloan, USA TODAY’s cruise editor notes, “for better or worse, given the extremely high rates of these automatic charges, you don’t need to think about tipping anymore on most ships.” Perrin quips that additional tipping “depends on how talented he/she is at making towel animals,” and Brown reminds us that “passengers are free to tip beyond the automatic gratuities, and many cruisers do like to tip extra for superb service.”
Who not to tip
Does everyone you meet while traveling deserve a tip? Our experts don’t think so. Perrin would never tip flight attendants, airport check-in agents, TSA agents, airport club-lounge agents, airport gate agents, airline pilots, car rental agents, and especially not “the hotel bellman who wheels my carry-on (despite my objections because I’d rather keep hold of it myself) to the front desk,” or a front-desk clerk, or the owner (of a hotel or B&B), a sentiment that Perkins endorses. Frye might tip a hotel front desk clerk if he or she provides a surprise upgrade, but never a flight attendant.