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How much should I tip?

The act of stealthily sliding money into someone’s palm seems to make most people nervous. Add to that the uncertainty of who gets what, and tipping becomes a source of stress for many travelers, rather than a show of appreciation.
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The act of stealthily sliding money into someone’s palm seems to make most people nervous. Add to that the uncertainty of who gets what, and tipping becomes a source of stress for many travelers, rather than a show of appreciation. Here’s a list of hotel employees who customarily receive tips, along with some suggestions on how much to give them.

The doorman is there to welcome you each time you enter the hotel. He will usually help you remove your bags from your vehicle, and will pass them on to a bellman. He is often the one to call a taxi for you, too.
Customary tip: $2 for hailing a cab; $1 per piece for handling luggage.

Valet attendants park and retrieve your car. They may assist with your bags, helping the bellman load and unload the car. They can also help with special requests. For example, if you know you’ll need your car again very shortly after parking, you can ask the valet to keep the car close, or “stage” it, so it’s easy to retrieve upon your return.
Customary tip: $2 for each car retrieval; $1 per piece for luggage assistance.

A bellman’s main job is to help you with your luggage. Bellmen will store your luggage if you arrive before your room is ready, or if you must check out of your room before you are ready to leave the property. Bellmen take your bags upon arrival, wait as you check in and escort you to your room. Great bellmen will check your room before having you enter, give you a room orientation (explaining where light switches are, how the remote control functions, how the phones work, etc.), check for your satisfaction and grab anything else that you might immediately need, such as ice or an extra pillow. Bellmen can often be found making room deliveries throughout your stay. Ever wonder how that package you were expecting magically appeared on the desk in your room? The bellman probably brought it.
Customary tip: $1 to $2 per bag, or a flat $5 plus $1 per bag, for storing bags or taking them to your room; $1 to $2 for a standard delivery; tip extra if you get a great room orientation.

Room-service attendant
These are the folks who get your room-service order from the kitchen to your room. If they’re really good, they’ll uncover your food and present it nicely on the table. It’s common for hotels to tack on a “service charge” or gratuity for room service in advance, so check your bill before tipping. I usually feel compelled to give an extra two or three dollars, because who knows if that employee ever sees any of that service charge? Lyra Beck, corporate director of Hotel Yield and Teleservices for Boyd Gaming, agrees, saying, “Room-service tipping is already included on most bills, but if they set up my tray and show me everything that was ordered, then I'll add an additional $5.”
Customary tip: 15 percent, or at least $2, if no gratuity has been added to the bill; if a gratuity has been added, an extra tip is at your discretion.

Most people don’t tip the housekeeping staff if they stay just one or two nights in basic accommodations. After all, you expect a clean room with fresh towels to be included in your room rate. But when you stay for a while, you may get extra services. The housekeepers may take the time to tidy your personal items for you, or you may run them ragged with extra requests for coffee or pillows during your stay. Some hotels service your room more than once a day, and some rooms, especially at boutique hotels, are difficult and time-consuming to service. Under any of these circumstances, you should probably tip your housekeeper. Customary tip: $2 per night, more if you’re leaving a huge mess; $2 per delivery, unless they’re delivering something that should have been in your room but was missing (in which case no tip is necessary).

I love hotels with a concierge staff. These guys take care of practically anything you might need: dinner reservations, tour bookings, transportation, flight check-in, dog walking -- the list is endless. I try to stick with one concierge throughout my stay, and then take care of him with one lump sum at the end of my trip. Many people just tip per service or request, however. Customary tip: $5 and up, depending on the service; 10 percent of the cost for hard-to-get tickets or services.

Here are a few other considerations.

Location, location, location
Tips can vary with location. Expectations are usually higher at luxury properties and in large cities, and everything is different abroad, so always check local guidebooks before you go.

If you don’t pay, you don’t play
People choose not to tip for many reasons. They may be traveling on a budget, or they may feel that certain services should be covered by the room rate, or they object to subsidizing wages when the government should really increase the minimum wage. These are valid reasons, but here’s the deal: That bellman doesn’t care about your principles; he cares about paying his bills. If you have no intention of tipping employees who are in tipped positions, do not use their services. And for goodness sake, don’t ask the bellman if you can borrow his cart while you go it alone; he can’t make money from paying guests if you make off with the tools of his trade!

When in doubt, ask
You’re not the first person to be confused about tipping expectations, so don’t be afraid to ask an employee if you’re unsure about a situation. The front desk agent is usually a good person to ask about tipping conventions. Employees are often trained in the exact wording to use when a guest asks about tips, so they won’t feel the least bit uncomfortable assisting you.

More is always OK
It is always better to overtip than undertip. Rarely will you make someone uncomfortable by overtipping, and if you do, they’ll let you know. Tipping is supposed to be a heartfelt expression of gratitude, and it should make both the guest and the employee feel good. Reader Janet Williams sums it up beautifully: “Unless the service is absolutely horrible, I always leave a tip and I usually lean towards overtipping. I always like to let people know that I am appreciative of their efforts to provide good service and to make me comfortable and happy in their establishment.”

I hope some of these suggestions help make tipping easier. Use them as a guide, but remember to do what makes you feel comfortable. After all, no one needs more stress when traveling!

Editor's note: We are delighted to announce the birth of Amy's second child, a big, healthy boy, born January 5. Mother and child are doing fine, though Amy is a very sleepy, as the baby has his days and nights mixed up!

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties -- from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. or on!