Even the most seasoned travelers may find tipping while traveling to be complicated and stressful.
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 gratuities. At the same time, we don’t want to double-pay 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 based on your destination and what sort of travel you are doing. For hotels, tipping can depend 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?)
The COVID-19 pandemic 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 how much you should tip during specific travel situations, from tours to hotels to all-inclusive vacations, here’s what to know.
Tipping tour guides
Let’s start with how much to tip tour guides. Not unlike when you dine at a restaurant, there’s a general consensus to tip tour guides based on the level of service you receive.
For tour guides, we recommend tipping 10% to 20% of the overall tour’s cost. Of course, you’re always welcome (and encouraged) to tip more for exceptional service if you feel inclined.
Whom to tip at hotels
When many hotels eliminated housekeeping services during the COVID-19 pandemic, I got out of the habit of traveling with the cash I used to carry specifically for tipping housekeeping.
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But if there’s anyone within hotels you should tip, it’s housekeeping. Many experts agree that you should tip housekeeping $3 to $5 per day, depending on the length of your stay, your room rate and the level of service.
“These are the hardest-working people in the hotel and the least recognized,” Tom Waithe, general manager of the Alexis Hotel Seattle, previously told TPG.
You should, however, be on the lookout for hidden housekeeping fees that some hotels have been adding to room charges — sometimes up to $40 per day. In these cases, a gratuity is not expected, though it’s still possible that those hotels are not sharing these fees with staff.
A rule of thumb states that luggage attendants who help you with your bags at hotels (and airports) should receive $1 to $5 per bag. Round up for large groups of bags or if the attendant must take multiple trips or handle fragile or special-request items.
For car valets, a couple of dollars is typically appropriate; you may want to tip 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 of about $10 dollars, and explain your situation. You’ll likely get your car parked closer and delivered ahead of other people’s cars daily.
Butlers and concierges, especially at luxury hotels, should also be tipped an amount determined by what services they’ve delivered for you. Tipping the head door person 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 do not necessitate a tip. Of course, you can still feel free to tip them. In the rare cases when gratuity isn’t included or if you’ve asked the staff for some out-of-the-ordinary services, those circumstances would warrant tipping.
Tipping around the world
If you’ve ever traveled outside the U.S., you may have received mixed messages about tipping or confused faces from non-Americans when discussing tipping culture in this country.
In some countries — such as Australia, Japan and China — tipping is not common. It’s actually frowned upon in Japan.
“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 Australia, where tipping is “not a common transaction,” it can even make recipients a bit uncomfortable.
Otherwise, you should distribute tips as you do in the U.S. when visiting most of Europe, touristy areas of Mexico, the Caribbean (excluding all-inclusive resorts) and Canada. Tipping is also customary in India and the Middle East.
In Central and South America, leaving small amounts of 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.
If you’re unsure what’s customary in a specific destination, feel free to ask around or err on the side of being overly generous.
When to tip on an all-inclusive vacation
Speaking of all-inclusive resorts, know that daily service charges are typically included in your bill if you’re on a cruise or staying at an all-inclusive resort. However, be sure to double-check your folio carefully or inquire with the front desk upon check-in. Also, be sure to verify what’s included in a property’s resort fees, even for non-inclusive properties.
According to Lindsey Epperly Sulek — founder of Jetset World Travel and a Caribbean travel expert — most traditional all-inclusive resorts, like Sandals in the Caribbean, include gratuity.
If gratuities are not included, you can follow the previously mentioned hotel guidelines: $1 to $5 per bag for the bellhop, $5 per day for housekeeping (left every day), nothing extra for room service (if included on the bill) and a sliding scale for concierges, depending on the task’s difficulty.
If you’re taking a tour from an all-inclusive resort — such as for a safari — tip your guides and the driver.
Tipping staff during a cruise
Whether they’re called service charges or gratuities, the automatic fees cruise lines charge daily to passengers’ onboard accounts — sometimes as much as $25.50 per person, per day — are designed to replace cash tipping. It’s a policy that was put in place so cruisers won’t feel obligated to tip or worry about when and where to present gratuities.
In addition to passenger-facing crew members, such as waitstaff and cabin stewards, many other crew members see a portion of service fees. This includes people who wash dishes and work in cruise ship laundry rooms. You can pay these fees in advance or have them added to your onboard bill. You can adjust the gratuity amount up or down by visiting the guest services desk during your sailing.
If you want to provide an extra boost to a crew member who has gone above and beyond, mention them in your post-cruise survey so they can receive higher-level recognition. This is something that could come with more long-term benefits than a tip.
If you find yourself on a sailing that doesn’t charge daily gratuities or you want to tip extra for stellar service, be sure to bring cash. There might also be a tip box by the reception desk.
Have a favorite bartender or waiter on your sailing? An extra gratuity paid early during your trip will go a long way to ensure that above-average service continues throughout your vacation. Keep in mind that most cruise bar purchases and spa treatments automatically include gratuities ranging from about 15% to 18%. There’s no need to tip extra unless you want to.
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 members are permitted to do so.
One notable exception is Frontier Airlines, which has an inflight tipping program.
Airline employee unions have fought against allowing flight attendants to accept tips, which may seem counterintuitive. However, 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. For example, Southwest Airlines has its Commend an Employee program that lets you leave positive comments online. This may have a more positive impact than the dollar tip you offered for your gin and tonic.
Should you want to show your appreciation for a particularly friendly or helpful flight attendant, note that gifts such as snacks or coffee shop gift cards are OK.
Tipping is often customary when traveling, depending on where you go, what service you receive and the level of service provided.
Bookmark this guide for your next international trip.