To tip or not to tip: A guide to tipping in the US

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Tickets reserved? Check. Hotel room purchased? Check. Cash for tipping? Uh…

When it comes to budgeting for tipping while traveling in the U.S., figuring out when and how much to tip isn’t always as straightforward as booking a trip.

During a vacation, there are typically a dozen or so folks encountered who provide services to make your trip easier and stress free. From flight attendants to hotel housekeepers to restaurant servers, the list seemingly goes on and on. It can be overwhelming determining who, when and how much to tip.

We turned to Peggy Post, director, author and spokesperson at The Emily Post Institute, Inc., the Burlington, Vermont institute synonymous with etiquette. The legacy of the Institute began with the publication of Emily Post’s 1922 guide to tipping etiquette and manners aptly titled “Etiquette.”

The basic premise of tipping is that it should be based on what is customary and how pleased you are with the service, according to Post, who provided the following tipping advice by service to help travelers determine whether to tip or not to tip in the U.S.

Airport curbside check-in porters and train porters

When airport porters help you check your bags curbside, you should tip $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag; over-sized bags should be tipped at a rate of $2 per bag. No tip is required if you wheel your own bags to the check-in counter.

For train porters on Amtrak, for example, who carry your bags from the check-in counter to the train platform or help you hoist your bags onto the train should be tipped $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag; over-sized bags should be tipped at a rate of $2 per bag.

Airport and hotel check-in attendants

Dela Air Lines
Check-in tip: No tip necessary. (Image: Jim Sulley/newscast / Delta Air Lines)

When checking in for a flight or at the hotel, the staff should not be tipped. If the check-in agent at the airport, the gate agent at the airport or the hotel staff do something really nice like upgrade your seat or room, then you can consider writing a quick email or handwritten letter expressing your gratitude.

Airport wheelchair captains

Wheelchair captains who whisk travelers from point A to point B should be tipped at least $2. If the wheelchair captain takes you to the restroom or goes out of their way to perform additional service en route, then the tip should increase up to $5.

Flight attendants

Delta Air Lines
No tip needed to fly the friendly skies (Image: Delta Air Lines)

Flight attendants should not be tipped, as it is not customary to do so. If they perform extraordinary service, it is at the passenger’s discretion if he or she wishes to tip as an expression of gratitude.

Hotel bellhops

Hotel bellhops who remove your baggage from the car and assist with your luggage should be tipped $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag. When bellhops deliver your baggage to your hotel room, add an additional $2 to $3.

Bartenders

The Statehouse The Edgewater
Ask your bartender about tipping at the bar. (Image: Bill Fritsch/The Edgewater)

When ordering drinks at the bar, $1 to $2 is appreciated. If you’re running a tab, then the tip should be 15 to 20 percent of the bill. When having drinks at the bar while waiting for a table, diners can ask for the drinks to be transferred onto the meal bill and then tip 15 to 20 percent of the total bill or speak to the bartender or manager to ask what is customary. Some restaurants may request that tips be made separately to the bar staff and wait staff, while others may prefer tips are added to one bill.

Restaurant Servers

Canaletto Restaurant Rotterdam - Holland America Line
Don’t forget to tip your server. (Image: Holland America Line)

Servers at sit-down restaurants should be tipped 15 to 20 percent. If diners are not satisfied with the service, they should speak to the manager rather than forgoing the tip.

Parking valets

Parking valets who retrieve your car should be tipped between $2 and $5 depending on the type of establishment and the type of car you drive. The fancier the establishment and car, the larger the tip that should be given when the car is returned to you.

Counter service attendants

Starbucks barista
To tip or not to tip on-the-go? (Image: Starbucks Coffee Co.)

Tip jars at quick-service establishments have become nearly ubiquitous. To tip or not to tip is a gray area when it comes to counter service at establishments like Starbucks or the corner deli. While tipping is optional, “regulars” who frequently visit the establishment might want to say thank you with a small tip of $1 to $2 or 10 percent of the order.

Instructors at hotels

Resort guests often indulge in recreational instruction while on vacation. From ski instructors to tennis coaches, the best course of action is to ask the hotel or school what is customary. In general, tennis and golf teachers do not typically expect to receive tips, but ski instructors do. For ski instructors, tips can range from 10 percent to 20 percent or more. The best advice is to ask at the time of booking for the tipping etiquette.

Tour guides

Pat Liddy's Walking Tours Dublin
Tip your tour guide for his terrific tour and tips. (Image: Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours Dublin)

For tour guides, when and how much to tip depends on the type and length of the tour. It’s best to ask the tour company when you book to see what tip amount, if any, is expected. As a general guide, tipping $5 to $10 would be optional for a one-day tour. For multi-day tours, tips can be based on a day rate. For tours that include a bus driver, ask the tour company what is customary. In general, the bus driver should be tipped less than the tour guide.

Hotel concierges

In general, hotel concierges are not tipped for answering questions and performing basic functions like giving maps and directions. However, if the concierge goes out of the way to do something beyond the basics, then a $5-$10 tip is a proper thank you for a job well done. If the concierge does something extra special, like book hard-to-obtain concert tickets or reservations, then the guest should tip 10 to 20 percent of the cost of the goods provided.

Hotel housekeepers

Loews New Orleans Hotel
Tip your maid daily. (Image: Loews New Orleans Hotel)

Tipping the housekeeping staff at a hotel confuses many travelers. The staff that cleans your room should be tipped $2 to $3 at a moderate hotel and $4 to $5 at high-end hotels per day. The housekeeping staff should be tipped each day as the maids may change from day to day during your stay. Leave the tip on the nightstand or desk and go the extra step by writing “Housekeeping  – Thank you” on the free notepad placed in many hotel rooms.

Cruise ship porters

Cruise ship porters who take your baggage from the port to the ship should be tipped in the same way as airport curbside check-in and train porters: $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag; over-sized bags should be tipped at a rate of $2 per bag.

Cruise ship cabin stewards

ms Westerdam / Holland America Line
Cruise with ease with these tipping tips. (Image: Holland America Line)

The amount to tip cruise ship cabin stewards is based on a day rate and what the cruise ship recommends. Some cruise lines add gratuity to the booking reservation. Be sure to ask at the time of booking what the tipping policy is to ensure the appropriate amount is given.

Coatroom attendants

Coatroom attendants at restaurants, salons and other establishments should be tipped $2 for the first coat, $1 for each additional coat and $1 for each package that is checked. The tip should be given when picking up your items.

Taxi drivers

NYC taxi cabs
Hail a taxi but don’t forget to tip. (Image: Jen Davis/NYC and Company)

When taking a taxi, passengers should tip 15 to 20 percent of the fare. For short trips, passengers should tip at least $1. If the driver helps hoist your luggage into the trunk or helps retrieve it, the driver should be tipped an additional $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag.

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Casino dealers

When determining whether to tip the casino staff, like the dealer at a Blackjack table, casino-goers should ask the casino what the tipping policy is and what is customary.

Spa services

The Edgewater
Tip for your ah-mazing spa services. (Image: The Edgewater)

Folks who indulge in manicures, pedicures, massages, facials and other spa services should add a 15 to 20 percent tip to the spa bill. The same goes for salon services like haircuts and blowouts. In the past, it was not customary to tip salon owners who perform haircuts and other salon services. If the salon owner performs your salon services, ask him or her (or the receptionist if you don’t feel comfortable asking the owner) if tips are expected.

Hotel doormen

When the doorman holds the door open for you, a simple smile and thank you will suffice. If the doorman goes beyond opening the door, like assisting with packages and luggage, then a $1 to $2 tip is customary. If the doorman hails a cab in a busy city, tip $4 to $5.

Beach attendants

Cuba
Tan and tip at the beach. (Image: Cuba Tourist Board)

Ask the hotel what is customary when it comes to tipping beach attendants who provide towel service, set up beach chairs and cabanas and perform other services. Some hotels may offer these services tip-free while others might expect a $1 to $2 tip per service.

Golf caddies

The amount you should tip a golf caddy varies widely, so it is best to ask the caddy master how much to tip for a round of golf.

Sales clerks

Hyatt Regency Chicago
Enjoy a tip-free shopping spree on vacation. (Image: Hyatt Regency Chicago)

Sales clerks at department stores, luxury stores and boutique shops should not be tipped. If you are pleased with the service, you can write a letter or send an email to the store manager or company.

(Main Image: Oyster Club)

To tip or not to tip: A guide to tipping in the US was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (163 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.