Airport Self-Serve Kiosks Now Demand Tips When Buying Snacks

Real Estate Twitter famous New Yorker StripMallGuy flew out of Newark airport and was shocked to be confronted by self service kiosks asking for tips.

  • OTG, which manages concessions at the airport, was a pioneer in replacing staff with electronics (iPads)

  • Just because you aren’t being helped by a person doesn’t mean those iPads won’t ask you if you want to pay more for your items

This is really just price discrimination. Nearly everyone on a flight has paid a different price for an identical seat going to the same destination. Different people have different willingness to pay. Airlines have become good at figuring out how much they can charge each customer for each flight.

Why shouldn’t airports get in on some of the action. And the simplest way to do it is just to ask a customer, did we charge you too little? Would you like to pay more?

StripMallGuy wasn’t the first person to notice this at Newark airport.

The next step, by the way, is replacing those OTG airport iPads with ordering and payment using your phone. So soon your own device will ask you to pay more when checking yourself out.

Think this is always optional? Back home at the Austin airport I’ve even had a tip requested at self-checkout that did not permit opting out. The machine wouldn’t accept $0. The minimum tip amount you could enter, after going through the hassle of rejecting default amounts, was $0.01.

Unbelievably, 14% of people believe they should tip at self-checkout. Those people would probably be ok tipping the website where you book your hotel. One online travel agency website actually solicits tips even though it’s a computer and even though the company is earning commission.

So what happens when you tip a machine? Soon machines will be self-replicating, AIs training other AIs. At that point, perhaps, they’ll use real world funds given as tips to acquire real world items and take control of the world. We should stop the practice of tipping machines before that happens.

In the meantime, at Newark, the tips go to concessions company OTG. Since a percentage of revenue earned gets kicked back to the airport, Newark airport itself receives a portion of your tips. So you’re enriching the Port Authority of New York New Jersey, best known for Bridgegate and for its chairman accepting bribes from United Airlines.

Speaking of United, they actually benefit from revenue generated in their terminals at Newark too. If you feel like you got too good a deal on your airfare, why not consider tipping United at retail self-checkout kiosks inside the airport?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It’s like a 1950s MAD magazine cartoon about Vend-O-Vend, self-replicating vending machines that soon cover the world!

  2. Since it’s relatively easy to pack a sandwich, a snack, and a drink, I find it unnecessary to buy anything other than perhaps a newspaper in an airport.
    So many places now suggest a percent and an amount to leave as a tip, it’s only natural that even a kiosk will solicit a tip.
    Americans need to break the tipping habit by refusing to tip unless the service is outstanding and the price of the food reasonable.

  3. This allows OTG to make the people restocking the self-serve kiosks tipped staff and not pay them the non-tipped minimum wage. Sure, OTG has to make up the difference if there aren’t enough tips to meet the real minimum wage, but probably less than what they would otherwise have to pay staff. And, OTG still has to pay FICA on the tips. There have been plenty of lawsuits over management taking tips, or tips being split with non-tipped staff (like the kitchen), so about the only place that money can go is to the worker who is stocking the kiosk.

  4. Suck every last cent out of the passenger at all costs, buying anything at the airport is painful, this just makes it unbearable.

  5. I would love to break the tipping habit, but tipped workers may not get enough to cover their groceries if I don’t…and I *hate* having that power.

    But I ain’t tipping a self checkout machine. I don’t normally tip for counter service, I did some during the pandemic because the small places I go to were struggling, and now I’ll sometimes give 10% to a place I like.

    Now if it’s true that the workers stocking are on Starve If You Don’t Get Tips then that should be illegal. It should be required that tipped workers have some form of direct contact with customers. Well, actually, tipped wages should be illegal anyway. I’ll happily pay more on the menu and tip less.

    I’ve always gotten better service in countries that don’t force wait staff to hustle for tips!

  6. Y’all talk like it’s required to tip… Why wouldn’t they try to get as much money as possible? You can’t tell me that you’d turn away a possible revenue source just to do the right thing. Just say custom amount and leave 0%. If anyone is foolish enough to tip at these machines then it’s not different from playing the lottery. And we all need some spine to decline a tip at counter service restaurants too. I’m all for tipping when there’s actual service performed but preparing food isn’t service, it’s what I’ve paid for.

    Quit whining about these machine run tip prompts, it’s not a problem to not tip anything.

  7. Gary, you must have been desperate to tip the penny. I would have walked away. And not cleared the transaction, just let it be dysfunctional.

  8. Since these machines do need to be replaced, I would say let’s calculate the tip based on cost of operation per transaction.

    If the $1,000 tablet inside needs to be replaced once a year, then that means it cost about $2.74 per day.

    If a hotel is going to be moderately busy 75% of a day, that’s 1080 minutes per day of usage.

    So that means 0.2537 cents per minute of the day for the cost of a replacement.

    I did some brief research, and they only use about 1.0 kilowatt hours per day average, with an average rate nationwide of 16 cents per kilowatt hour. That means they use about 0.0148 cents per minute of electricity cost.

    That comes out to be 0.2685 cents per minute of operational cost.

    If it makes a new sale every minute and 45 seconds, or 1.75 minutes, then that makes the operational cost per sale of 0.4699, or 0.47 cents per sale.

    Now, of course we get to round that off to the nearest penny, Just like they do for our taxes.

    Therefore, they are owed zero cents in tip!

  9. My sister showed me recently a baby clothes website asking for a tip at checkout. tipping has gone wayyyyyy to far. Returned this week from Paris where a small euro coin is appreciated gives me pause for where we are at in the states

  10. I think people are just annoyed about the extra step when they’re in a hurry. And somebody did run into a machine that wouldn’t LET them enter no tip. (That certainly should be illegal).

  11. If the machine forces a tip and doesn’t allow an opt-out, you bet your @$$ I’m grabbing an extra bag of chips or candy on my way out.

  12. Two weeks ago, a JFK store charged $25 for two soft drinks and two bags of chips. The clerk wanted to know if I wanted to include a tip?!? The lady standing next to me became more irate than me as in “Are you out of your mind for this s**t service!!!”

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