Monday, December 15, 2008

Tipping Primer - Don't Stiff the Skycap

Posted by Travel Sentry


Travel requires a lot of work, particularly if it is not a daily or weekly routine. How many ounces of liquid can I get through security? What size carry-on is permissible? How much for the second checked bag? Then add to the airport basics the tipping conundrum for all the occasions and transactions that accompany travel.

So here we go again ... What to tip the skycap? And the hotel doorman? Then there's the hotel maid. Add in the conversion rate ... well you can see you have to be on your toes.

With holiday travel upon us I decided to do a quick primer review of some tipping guidelines. Gratuity ground rules are fraught with gray areas and tend to change from time to time - sometimes driven by the economy and evolving business practices.

Here is a few general guidelines from MSN Finance for who to tip, how much and when in the U.S.:

Let's start at the airport. Rule #1 - Don't stiff the skycap. They may be one of the few examples of consistently pleasant service at airports these days. And they usually even come with a personality, checking you in at the curb avoiding the long lines inside the terminal.

"And they used to be such a bargain: $2 a bag was considered a good tip. These days, though, many airlines have muscled in by charging a mandatory $2 fee per bag. That's money the airline gets, not the skycap." Peter Post from the Emily Post Institute recommends tacking on another $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag. "Sure, that means checking a couple of bags can cost $7. If you'd rather wait at the counter for 20 minutes, before the 30-minute line through security, you still have that option."


These days some large airports like Atlanta have the check-in kiosks and easy bag check and no skycaps. For those of you old enough to remember, once upon a time there were full service gas stations where a gas jockey filled your car up, checked the oil and cleaned the windshield. In the airport world, that is the equivalent of skycaps today. And they, like the old gas jockeys, are in danger of extinction. So while they're here, if you employ their services, don't forget to tip accordingly. One of these days you'll be telling your kids of the days when skycaps existed.

Executive Travel reports that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average skycap earns $21,580 a year, though it was widely reported that prior to the introduction of the airport bag fee, a skycap at a major airport could earn as much as $75,000. For a little perspective a skycap on a busy day will handle bags for 1,500 to 2,000 customers. Most airports do not allow skycaps to openly ask for tips or demonstrate in any way that tips are the majority of their income.


The service providers listed above, like the skycaps, rely on tips for a great portion of their income, if not completely. Even though economic times are stressful, remember they are equally tight if not more so, for the service providers.

1 comment:

Ron Amundson said...

Many years ago as a traveling musician with a fair amount of gear... skycaps were the best thing ever. They could do a lot of things the ticket agents couldnt, or were unwilling to do, especially when it came to lots of gear or unique needs..

Back then, I remember tipping $5 a bag, and with a bunch of cases, it got spendy. Otoh, the consensus in the music world, was it was best to make the skycap really happy rather than to get hosed at the ticket counter.

I dont get this $1/bag tip thing today... even the average pax tipped $1 a bag in the 80s, or course inflation adjusted ticket prices would be pretty shocking to todays travelers too. No wonder air travel is viewed as such a commodity and a hassle.