Guide to tipping: How to tip and use rewards points to save on tipping

Here's everything you need to know about tipping etiquette and how to leverage credit cards for tipping

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Tipping guide: Who, when, why, how much to tip

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Tipping has never been easier, thanks to mobile card readers that allow you to choose a pre-calculated tip at the push of a button.

While some might argue that tipping should be done away with altogether, being generous with tips could be a way to increase your credit card rewards. The rewards you’ve earned could come in handy for spreading cheer at the holidays.

This guide breaks down everything you need to know about tipping with your rewards card all year-round.

See related: Millennials are the worst tippers in the U.S., new survey finds

Tipping etiquette basics

The first rule of tipping is knowing who to tip, when and why.

As to the “who,” there’s quite a long list of individuals who would be considered customary to tip, says Jacquelyn Youst, modern manners expert and president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol. “When determining who to tip, start with people who help you care for your family, yourself and your home.”

Your list might include a babysitter or nanny, a housekeeper, pet sitter or dog walker. Aside from the people you may see regularly, tipping is usually expected for a slew of other people in the service industry, including:

  • Hairstylists or barbers
  • Pedicurists and manicurists
  • Hotel housekeeping staff and room service
  • Cab drivers
  • Bar and restaurant wait staff (including delivery persons)
  • Bellhops and porters
  • Movers
  • Furniture and appliance delivery persons

But what about the barista who pours your morning coffee or the person who rings you up at your neighborhood self-service froyo bar?

Maryanne Parker, an international business and social etiquette consultant and founder of Manor of Manners, says tipping should be standard for people in service roles.

“I always say that there are three reasons for us to tip: to show appreciation to people in the service industry; to help them, because in many instances they work simply for the tip; and to create opportunities for excellent service in the future,” says Parker.

Get rewarded when you tip

If you’re already using a rewards card to earn miles, points or cash back on purchases, there are three simple ways to get more rewards from tipping:

  • Leave a tip on your card whenever possible, instead of tipping cash.
  • Offer to pay the bill for the entire group when you’re out dining out or having drinks with friends – but make sure that you are paid back. You and your friends can use a peer-to-peer (P2P) tool like Venmo, Zelle or PayPal to reimburse one another for any expenses you share.
  • Use your rewards card to buy gift cards that you can offer as tips in place of cash.

Gift cards may be more appropriate if someone isn’t allowed to accept a cash tip, and it can help you maximize rewards, says Madelene Vestlund, social media specialist at credit repair site ScoreShuttle.

Vestlund says grocery stores are often the best place to purchases gift cards that you plan to offer in lieu of cash tips, as they tend to have the widest selection and there are rewards cards that offer a higher rewards rate on grocery purchases.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, offers 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on the first $6,000 in purchases each year and unlimited 1 percent cash back after that.

See related: Best cards for groceries

If you’re planning to tip when dining out, stick with a card that offers a stepped-up rewards rate at restaurants. Here are a few to consider:

  • Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Earn unlimited 3 percent cash back at restaurants, plus 2 percent back at grocery stores and 1 percent on everything else.
  • Costco Anywhere Visa Card: Earn 4 percent cash back on the first $7,000 in gas purchases 1 percent thereafter; 3 percent cash back on restaurants and dining; 2 percent cash back at Costco; and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
  • Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card: Earn 3 points per dollar on dining, travel and transit, gas station purchases and select streaming services.
  • None of these cards charge an annual fee – but you need to be a Costco member to be eligible for the Costco card.

You could also consider redeeming your rewards for gift cards. However, pay attention to the redemption value since you might get more mileage from your rewards when you redeem for travel or statement credit.

See related: Redeeming miles for gift cards: Usually, you lose

"There are three reasons for us to tip: to show appreciation to people in the service industry; to help them, because in many instances they work simply for the tip; and to create opportunities for excellent service in the future."

How much should you tip?

Youst says determining how much to tip depends on several factors, including how long you’ve used someone’s services, how important the service is to your life and where you live. This table highlights three of the most common scenarios where a tip might be expected and how much to offer, according to experts.

Dining out Standard tip At the salon Standard tip When traveling Standard tip
Maître d’hotel
$10-$20 to secure a good table Manicurists/pedicurists
15%-20% of the bill
Hotel housekeeping
$2-$5 per day
Bartenders and wait staff
15% for good service
20% or more for excellent service

Hairdressers/barbers

15%-20% of the bill

Room service
15%-20%*
*Note: Some hotels include an automatic gratuity for room service
Delivery service
10%-15% of the bill or $2 to $5 for pizza delivery
Facial/massage
15%-20% of the bill
Airport porters
and bellhops
$2 for the first bag
$1 for each additional bag

Hosts and hostesses/busboys

Tips aren’t expected
Waxing/threading
15%-20% of the bill
Taxi drivers
15%-20% of the fare
Valet
$2-$5
Full spa services
18%-20%
Concierge
$5-$30 if they go above and beyond standard service

Parker says one important rule to follow is being consistent with people you tip on a regular basis.

“If you’ve been visiting the same hair salon for 10 years and you tip less than usual on your next visit, I’m sure it will be noticed,” says Parker.

See related: Beware of double tipping

Tipping rules for the holidays

During the holiday season, you might be inclined to tip more than you normally would or tip people you ordinarily don’t the rest of the year.

For example, Parker always offers a small tip to her mail carrier and garbage collectors. Other people you might target for tips over the holidays include your doorman, landscaper or gardener, newspaper delivery person or personal trainer. For these people, $10 to $30 is usually appropriate.

Youst says there are different guidelines to follow if you want to go above and beyond for the service people you tip regularly.

  • Babysitters: Tip the average amount you normally pay them for an evening’s care.
  • Housecleaner or housekeeper: Offer a tip equal to one week’s pay.
  • Hairdresser/barber: Tip an amount equal to what you spend in a single visit on average.
  • Manicurist: Tip the cost on one session.
  • Pet walker/groomer: Tip up to the equivalent of one week’s pay.

Keep in mind that not everyone will be able to accept a tip over the holidays. For instance, you may want to tip your delivery driver for lugging all those packages to your door, but their employer may not allow them to accept cash gifts.

“Our goodwill might create potential conflict for person we would like to show appreciation to,” says Parker. When in doubt about whether a tip is acceptable, ask.

"Tipping builds relationships... Being frugal and cheap are two different things and as much as most of us respect frugality, we don't always appreciate the cheap."

Use apps to make tipping easier

If you need help calculating the right tip amount, there are plenty of apps that can help.

  • iHandy [tip calculator] is a great free app that tells you how much to tip and split the bill between the dinner company, says Vestlund.
  • Similar apps include Tab, Splitwise, Tip N Split and Tip Me.
  • The TipFlip app lets you tip anyone, anywhere using your phone when you link the app to your credit card or mobile wallet. If you’re paying for everyone in a group so you can leave a larger tip, you can use Venmo or Zelle to get reimbursed.

Regardless of who you’re tipping, it’s important to get the amount right.

“Tipping builds relationships,” says Parker, and you can’t expect great service if you’ve got a reputation for being a bad tipper. “Remember that being frugal and cheap are two different things and as much as most of us respect frugality, we don’t always appreciate the cheap.”

When it makes sense to tip cash instead

While tipping at restaurants and bars with your credit card can be rewarding, it may be less so for those on the receiving end.

“It used to be that all credit card and cash tips were cashed out and taken at the end of the shift,” says Greig Leach, a Richmond, Virginia-based artist and bartender for over three decades. “The industry has moved to putting all credit card tips on paychecks, while cash tips are taken home at the end of the shift.”

Cash tips spare wait staff from having to wait on a weekly or biweekly paycheck.

At the same time, credit card tips also become less appealing if servers are required to hand some of them back to their employer. Restaurant and bar owners increasingly deduct the cost of processing credit card transactions from a server’s or bartender’s tips.

Both Leach and Darron Cardosa, hospitality expert and author of The Bitchy Waiter blog and book of the same name, agree that paying those fees are an annoyance to wait staff.

“To me, it seems like the restaurant should be responsible for that cost as part of doing business,” says Cardosa.

When in doubt, ask your server whether the restaurant charges wait staff a fee for processing credit card tips.

Parker, of Manor of Manners, says that, while she uses her card most of the time when dining out, she keeps cash on hand for circumstances where she knows the recipient prefers cash tips.

That’s one option; the other is increasing the amount of your credit card tip to cover the processing fee for the server.


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Updated: 01-19-2019