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To Tip or Not to Tip (and How Much?)

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Carnival Cruise Lines just announced a hike in the standard tipping rate from $10 a day to $11.50 a day, effective December 1. And that announcement raises the question that continues to vex so many travelers—how much and whom to tip.

Tipping has always been an issue with cruise travelers, and, accordingly, most cruise lines now implement a standard tipping schedule and add the standard tips to your bill. The website Cruise Tip Calculator maintains a detailed list of the largest cruise lines, and it shows typical total tipping rates range from a low of $7.50 a day for Costa Cruises in Europe to $12.50 a day for Oceania, with most of the big lines between $11 and $12 a day; a bit more for premium cabin categories. Although these lines automatically charge you the specified tipping schedule, you can change it, up or down by going through the purser’s office.

Crystal, Disney, and Royal Caribbean still leave the tipping entirely up to you. But if you’re unsure, Cruise Tip Calculator provides guidelines, broken down among the main recipients. As you might expect, about half goes to the dining staff, the rest to room attendants; recommended daily values range from $11.50 on Royal Caribbean to $13 on Crystal.

All-up tipping schedules are gaining popularity because so many of the giant ships have multiple dining options. If you have your meals in eight or 10 different venues, it’s pretty hard to keep track yourself.

As for other travel service personnel, the United States is by far the most tip-happy nation in the world. The several online tipping guides suggest tips for people I never considered tipping when I first started traveling. Now, however, most guides recommend $1 to $5 a day for hotel housekeepers. And tipping guidelines for U.S. restaurants, at 15 percent to 20 percent, are the highest in the world.

The best worldwide tipping guide remains, as far as I can tell, the one published and regularly updated by Magellan‘s, the large online travel store:

  • In general, tipping is least pervasive in Asia and the Pacific. Travel personnel expect no tips at all in only a few countries: Brunei, Fiji, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, Oman, Samoa, Singapore, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. Tips are considered insulting in many of these countries—Magellan’s says to be careful not to offend.
  • Most European and South American restaurants automatically add a service charge of around 10 percent, so additional tips, if any, are typically just a round-up to the nearest even figure. Where service is not included, Magellan’s says 10 percent is the usual norm.

Except in no-tipping countries, porter tips should be the equivalent of about $1 per bag just about everywhere, going up to $2 in a few places, and taxi tips are either about 10 percent or just a round-up to the amount of the loose change. Again, U.S. rates are higher.

Several sources report some confusion about supposedly “service included” inclusive vacation destinations. Apparently, many Americans tip there, anyhow, especially at all-inclusives in Mexico.

“If in doubt,” say most of the information sources, “Do what the locals do.” Obviously, like much travel advice these days, that’s a lot easier said than done. How many locals do you spot at Mexican all-inclusives?

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more information—or detail on individual countries—check any of the online tipping guides. In addition to Magellan’s, I’ve looked at CNN Money; Conde Nast; iTipping, which also posts individual reports about lots of non-travel tipping situations; and Tipguide.


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