No matter how carefully you budget for your vacation, there's one cost that's hard to nail down: Just how much should you tip the hotel maid? The airport skycap? The shuttle-bus driver?
Even if you're traveling only within the U.S., it's important to understand what will be charged to you automatically and when you are expected to tip.
To be a tip-savvy traveler, inquire about local customs and mandatory policies before you go. But a word of caution: An online search for "travel tipping" will produce thousands of results, with opinions that run the gamut. Much of the advice on the Web is based on the experiences of whoever wrote it. So we culled guidance from experts in the field to compile the suggestions that follow.
Many employees depend largely on tips for a living. However, experts suggest that tips should depend in part on the quality of the hotel, with larger gratuities expected at high-end properties. Here's a rundown of common practices:
$1 to $2 for hailing a taxi.
$1 to $2 per bag; up to a $10 tip if he shows you to your room and again if he assists you when you check out.
$2 to $5 each day.
$5 to $9 per night.
$5 to $20. Tip toward the low end for simple tasks such as delivering a package. Be more generous for services like securing you tickets for a "sold out" show. (You may tip at the time of service or when checking out.)
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of tipping during your hotel stay is when ordering room service, because of perplexing nomenclature. A "service charge" means a tip has been included. But a "room service charge," "delivery fee," or "delivery charge" means you still need to tip. If the bill doesn't list a service charge, 15 to 20 percent is customary. If a service charge has been added, then $1 is appropriate.
The Cruise Lines International Association says that tipping is a matter of individual preference. But some lines now include gratuities in the ticket price.
There is little uniformity within the industry these days. Consider the following policies as posted on the Web sites of several leading cruise lines:
Gratuities of $10 per guest, per day are automatically charged for dining and stateroom staff; however, at your discretion, you may adjust the amounts.
Guests "should not feel obliged to offer a gratuity," but staff may accept tips. In addition, all passengers must pay a service fee of $12 per person.
Gratuities are included in the fare. Passengers may also donate to the Crew Welfare Fund.
All gratuities are included; no other tips are expected.
Because procedures vary, inquire about tipping policies before you board the ship. When tipping is expected, the experts recommend the following:
$3 to $4 per person, per day.
$1 to $3 per person, per day.
$3 to $4, per person, per day.
$4 per day.
Other personnel, including bartenders, bellhops, and deck stewards, can be tipped at your discretion. TravelSense, a travel discount program from the American Society of Travel Agents, suggests tipping according to your comfort level and only on the last evening of your cruise.
You also might want to check out the Cruise Tip Calculator, developed by an independent cruiser. It's programmable for a dozen leading cruise lines and allows you to determine customary tips and service charges for any number of nights.
Here are suggested gratuities for miscellaneous assistance:
$1 per bag; $2 for very heavy bags (unless tipping is prohibited).
10 to 20 percent of the fare.
$1 to $2.
$1 to $2 per person.
With tours, gratuities might be automatically included. If not, tip the local guide $2 to $5 per person, per day but give a private guide or tour manager $3 to $10 per person, per day. The tour bus driver typically gets $2 per person, per day.
Tipping customs vary tremendously from country to country. Because what's expected changes from border to border, it's best to seek out specific information about the locations you'll be visiting. Go to the Web site of that country's national tourist organization, which should provide advice for travelers.
This article appeared in the May 2009 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.