Whether we’re skiing near Lake Tahoe, relaxing in a spa retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona, or museum-hopping in Washington, D.C., what we often remember most about our stays at hotels and resorts across America are the people who helped us have an easier, more comfortable, and more memorable stay. That could be the bellman who wrangled that heavy bag up to our guest room, the housekeeper who left extra chocolates by our bed, or the concierge who pulled strings to score hard-to-get theater tickets.
But in a country where tipping often still takes up a large portion of hospitality staff wages, the etiquette behind hotel gratuities remains inconsistent and hard to navigate, unlike restaurant tipping, where 20 percent of the bill is considered the gold standard. For guests, it’s a challenge to know exactly how to express thanks in gratuities. While room service attendants often receive an automatic gratuity as part of the room service bill, other employees may only receive tips occasionally. Then there are the all-inclusive resorts, which cover gratuities as part of your stay. It often depends on the situation, the services, and how luxurious the hotel is.
One study found that 70 percent of hotel guests don’t tip anything at hotels. For some, that’s an intentional choice—but for many people, they simply don’t know who to tip and when.
Emily Van Voorst, director of lodging at Enchantment Resort and Mii amo in Arizona, said that tipping should always be done at the discretion of guests and dependent on service and hotel experience. Still, it’s a nice way to show thanks to those who made your travels smoother.
There may be no hard and fast rules, but we’ve turned to industry professionals and etiquette experts for some guidance on whom to tip, how much, and what to do if you don’t have cash. Read on for a cheat sheet to tipping at hotels in the United States.
How much to tip a hotel housekeeper
At a mid-range or business hotel, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) suggests tipping housekeeping $1–$5 per night.
When at a luxury hotel, experts we asked said they’d leave housekeeping anywhere between $2 and $20 per day (the higher rate being for hotels that offer daily cleaning services and nightly turndown service and large or multiple rooms, like a multi-bedroom villa).
If cleaning your room takes longer than average (20 to 30 minutes for a one-bedroom room), leaving a little more is good. Some examples of situations requiring extra cleaning include food spills (maybe your kids accidentally ground cereal into the carpet); extra trash or recycling from an in-room gathering, or a pet that might require additional cleaning due to fur shedding and the allergies of subsequent guests.
When it comes to whether to tip daily or as a lump sum at the end of the stay, responses vary depending on the source. AHLA said tips should be left daily, as the person who cleaned your room one day might not be the same person the next. Justin Nels, managing director of Isla Bella Beach Resort, an EOS Hospitality property in Marathon, Florida, said tipping at checkout is fine, adding that it’s not meant to be a task for you to do each day. But if a housekeeper did something special or went above and beyond in a noticeable way mid-stay, he said it’s nice to tip in the moment.
As for where to leave tips and how to present them, Jason Harrison, director of operations at Thompson Washington DC, said, “It’s always nice to hand the tip directly to the team member, but a note left behind in a room with some kind words means a lot and often ends up on the refrigerator at home.”
Pamela Eyring, owner and president of the etiquette-focused Protocol School of Washington, said if you’re going to leave a tip in the room, put it somewhere noticeable. However, she advised against leaving it on the bed or pillow since it could be lost when pulling off the sheets and bedding. Both Harrison and Eyring agreed that it’s perfectly OK to leave an envelope at the front desk and ask that it be distributed to the housekeepers who attended to your room during your stay.
How much to tip a hotel valet
Across the board, industry experts suggested tipping a hotel valet between $1 to $10, adding that more should be given in instances where the valet went out of their way to provide snacks and drinks for the road or offers directions.
How much to tip a hotel bellmen
Nels said he would “suggest $2 per bag or up to $5 per bag for hotel bellmen, subject to the size and weight of the bag.” He added that if the bellman goes above and beyond in assisting you to get settled in your room (such as offering a short tour or bringing ice), you should consider tipping more. If you request bell staff help at checkout, be sure to tip then, too.
How much to tip a hotel concierge
Because what concierges can do for guests varies so much, ranging from booking a hard-to-score restaurant reservation to decorating your room for a romantic anniversary (flowers and more), it’s best to tip based on what the service was, according to AHLA (it also recommends tipping at the end of the trip).
Van Voorst recommends tipping hotel concierges “$10 for booking a spa experience or dinner reservation, and between $20 to $50 for an extensive itinerary that includes booking outside vendors, tours, or activities.”
How much to tip a hotel shuttle driver
“People often think complimentary shuttle drivers shouldn’t get tipped, but if it saves you an Uber, taxi, or Lyft charge to the airport or mall, tip at least $5 per ride—especially if they handle your luggage for you,” Eyring said of shorter trips.
How much to tip massage therapists, trainers, and activity guides
Tipping for spa services and guided activities is easy, Eyring said—it hews closely to what you’d tip a restaurant server at 15 to 20 percent of the cost of the experience.
When should you tip more?
“If you feel the impact of a staff member’s service, leave a little extra,” said Harrison. “Hotel employees speak with hundreds of people some days. A lot of effort goes into even the smallest things, like remembering names, making the right suggestions, and perceiving guest needs before they ask. If a ‘wow’ moment or experience comes your way, a tip is just as equally a ‘wow’ moment for the team member that assisted you.”
What if you don’t have cash?
While it’s always best to use cash, as the money goes directly to the employee, we’ve all been caught in a situation on our travels where that’s not an immediate option.
Van Voorst noted that most hotels and resorts have an ATM available for guests (or can direct them to a reliable one near the hotel). Some hotels accept tips on credit cards, but if you’re planning to tip that way, be sure to ask at the beginning of your stay whether that’s the case.
It’s important not to leave “food or gifts [in the room] as they could be confused with personal items left by a guest,” Van Voorst said. You could give a gift to someone directly, though it’s not recommended. As Nels said: “I would tip with cash unless you really know the individual. Giving away an unused bottle of wine should not be considered an alternative to cash.”
Another creative way to tip if you don’t have cash in the moment is to leave a glowing review online.
“Most hotels have an incentive program based on name mentions on positive reviews, so dropping a team member’s name on TripAdvisor will get them extra recognition and maybe a little something extra on their paycheck,” Harrison said.
Bailey Berg is the associate travel news editor at AFAR, where she covers breaking news, trends, tips, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. When not interviewing sources or writing articles, she can be found exploring art galleries, visiting craft breweries, hiking with her dogs, and planning her next adventure (at present, she’s been to 75+ countries and hopes to spend time in every one someday).