If you’re not an elite-level traveler or a jet-setting billionaire, staying at a four- or five-star hotel or resort isn’t an everyday thing. It's probably not even an every-year thing. But kind of like getting floor seats to a Knicks game or bumped to first class, most of us get to do it once in a while.
The problem is that once you arrive at said fancy hotel, you’re often bombarded with people asking to help with stuff you didn’t even know you needed help with. “Can I take your gym bag, sir? Would you like me to hold that coffee cup for you, ma'am? Do you need somebody to help recycle that wadded-up lunch bill, my friend?” And you’re not really sure if any of them expect a tip.
So, to help you figure out exactly WHOM to tip -- and how much -- we asked hotel managers and resort directors from some serious high-dollar properties which members of their staff deserve your hard-earned small bills.
First, a word about all-inclusives
Many luxury properties are all-inclusive resorts, where gratuities are included in the definition of “all.” So before you go (or, really, before you book), do some research to confirm the resort's gratuity policy.
That said, if your all-inclusive resort does include tips, do NOT tip. Good as it might make you feel to hook up your bartender for making that Painkiller extra strong, there’s a reason these places include gratuities in the price of your stay: they want all their guests treated equally. So when one person leads the tip train out of the station, it ruins the entire concept of the resort. Usually employees will tell you they can’t accept them, but not always.
If the all-inclusive doesn’t include tips? Stop at the ATM on your way to the airport. The whole, “Oh, sorry, I don’t have any cash” line might work with the guy in front of your local 7-Eleven, but not with a staff that depends on your tips for income. And if you’re traveling internationally, exchange that cash for local currency BEFORE you get on the plane. Or at least before you leave the airport when you arrive.
So... whom should I tip, and how much?
“The general rule is that if someone is doing the simple function of their job, like cleaning the floor or checking you in, you don’t need to tip them," one luxury hotel manager told us. "But some guests like to tip everybody, and we can’t stop it. We still have to be there doing the same job with the same smile on our face, so nobody should get bent out of shape about [not getting a tip].”
Keeping that in mind, here are the consensus guidelines from the staff we interviewed:
Waiters: Tip as you normally would (15% to 20%, based on service) unless a service charge has already been added to the bill. You can tip extra if you like, but always, always, always look to see if it’s been included.
Bartenders: “When I used to work the bar,” one manager recounted, “somebody might sit there, have one drink, and pry me for information about the area. So he’d typically leave $10 for the info.” But if you’re keeping to yourself, the standard drink tip is appropriate ($1 per drink, or 20% if it’s a complicated cocktail). Again, service charges are often added, so always look out for those -- bartenders might not always tell you.
Bellmen: A few dollars (although $5 is what our former manager recommends) is fine if they help you with your luggage. If you’ve got a crazy amount of stuff, add another $1 per bag.
Concierge: $5-$10 for a standard request like a table reservation. If the restaurant is impossible to get into, or it’s last minute, $20 is appropriate. If it’s something outlandish, then you should probably make it worth their while.
Room service: Tip as you would a waiter (15% to 20%). Also note that the “room-service charge” is often the hotel’s version of a delivery charge -- a flat fee you pay for not wanting to get out of that plush terry-cloth bathrobe. If that’s the only extra charge included, you should tip on top of that. BUT some hotels include a SECOND service charge as well, which is essentially the tip. Yes, it’s confusing, so look at your receipt carefully. One service charge = you should tip. Two service charges = don't tip.
Door staff: You don’t need to tip a guy for holding the door for you, but if he runs out in the rain and catches you a cab, hand him a few dollars.
Beach towel guy: No tip is required if you just walk up to a stand and ask for a beach towel. However, if he sets you up with a chair, $2-$5 is appropriate. If there are no chairs and he goes to find one, double that.
Airport shuttle drivers: These guys are some of the lowest-paid people in hospitality, so the standard $2-$5 is appropriate. More if you’ve got a ton of luggage.
Maids: It’s a horrible cheat you’re probably guilty of at some point, but you absolutely need to tip your maids. It depends on the length of stay, but for a standard two to three nights, $5-$10 is good. If it’s longer, budget $2-$3 a day. And if you leave your room looking like a Mötley Crüe tour bus every morning, you should probably think about $10 a day.
Front desk staff: No need to tip them, though if you want your room upgraded or that embarrassing “adult feature” taken off your bill before your wife sees it, it doesn’t hurt.
Spa treatments: A 20% service charge is added to most spa treatments, but always look at your bill. If it wasn't included, 20% of the cost of the service is the norm.
Daycare: If the resort has its own daycare facility where you can drop the kids off, there's no need to tip. However, if they staff individual daycare providers who you can hire to watch your kid while you take selfies at the Louvre, $20 is appropriate.
Valet: $5 is the absolute minimum, but $10 is appropriate if you have an exceptionally nice car. And if the car has already been cooled or warmed when you come out of the hotel, with water bottles in the cup holders, $20 is good.
Amenity deliveries: Sometimes at a fancy hotel they might bring you a bottle of wine or some chips and salsa as a way of saying, “Thank you for spending half your paycheck to stay here.” They tip the delivery guys for that, so you don’t need to. If hotel staff brings you an iron or a razor or an extra bottle of shampoo, however, a couple of dollars is good.
Security: Security guards perform a lot of functions beyond just ensuring nobody steals your iPod when you jump in the pool, but you don’t need to tip them for doing their job. However, if you ask Security to grab you a towel or help you with a bag, it's appropriate to tip them whatever you would if that was their actual job.
Maintenance: If you get to your room and a bulb's burned out, you don’t need to tip when they come to replace it. But if you clog the toilet and need someone to fix it, give them $2-$5. It’ll help with the embarrassment.