Austin Airport Shop Demands Tip When Buying A Bottle Of Water ‘To Go’

I ran into a retail shop at the Austin airport that requires a tip when paying by credit card. This isn’t a sit down restaurant with table service. You pay at the counter, and I was buying a bottle of water.

My upgrade wasn’t going to clear so I decided to stop at the store closest to my gate to buy a bottle of water. The payment terminal at the concession requires you to select a tip amount prior to processing your card.

  • They suggest amounts like 20% and 25%, but you can go to the extra effort for a custom tip aount

  • The terminal would not accept $0.00. You must tip at least $0.01.

You can call me cheap if you want but when did we start tipping for bottles of water to go?

To be clear the terminal would not allow payment to proceed until a tip amount other than $0 was chosen. $0.00 would not submit. Staff confirmed this. As soon as the amount was changed to $0.01 payment was permitted. I’m also not the only one to report this:

Maybe I should have boycotted that shop, but if I’d gone elsewhere I’d still be paying the same company, Delaware North! You aren’t usually doing business with a local brand when you walk into a store at the airport, regardless of the store name. You’re usually dealing with a company like OTG (iPads!), Delaware North, or HMSHost. The airport, for its part, promised to “check[..] on this.”

You might think ‘the employees just make a couple of bucks an hour and rely on tips’ and I’m being unfair to those workers thinking that the store should take some of the margin on their $4 water bottle to pay them But, in fact, starting salary is $20 an hour.

Tipping is out of control in the United States. Being presented a terminal requesting a tip, where you have to go through hoops to avoid tipping, while standing in front of the employee – when it’s not an activity that traditionally involved tipping at all – is a huge turn off as a customer. And I’m going to go out of my way to avoid dealing with these merchants in the future.

Unfortunately at the airport concessions companies are given a monopoly, which isn’t good for passengers but makes lives easier for management at the airport and often fills political coffers like in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Atlanta.

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, 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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  1. I was just as surprised to find that at Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, I was charged a mandatory 5% fee to buy a bag of beans to go. They said that it was for finding their employees’ healthcare benefits.

  2. Uncle Jeff,
    Austin is solidly Blue, so all of your bleating is for naught. The local government sets up the airport monopolies, so there you go with your transparency.

  3. Easy solution: put in a tip equal to the price of another, cheap, item you want, and then deftly “lift” the other item which you essentially “paid” for with the tip.

  4. I agree. Tipping in this country is out of control. Even places that pay employees a good wage are still requesting tips! Absolutely ridiculous! We gotta end tipping.

  5. @David: That is different. Unbundling part of the cost to highlight local regulation. The other thing this is often done with is local minimum wages above the Federal level.

    What Gary encountered was a scam appropriating a fee and describing it as a voluntary payment.

  6. @ Raven Ross
    Mr. Leff writes about the airline experience, this IS his hill.

    This website is about the travel experience so it is a priority.

    But yeah, this bigger picture is forced automation (self check out and such), forced Tips for service that may or may not have been provided ( sounds as if the retail staff did little more than ring up the item).

    Sounds as if you’re triggered is there more to your context that you’d like to share so we all can understand your perspective?

  7. I am confused- ABIA prides itself on locally-owned vendors at the airport and in fact just had several articles written about it. How are they actually all conglomerates? I’ve shopped at Annie’s a metric crap ton of times as its at the United end of the airport and I travel monthly for work and literally never had this happen. So I am guessing it was a problem with the terminal and they can fix it. Hopefully they will.

  8. @Lara S- the BRANDS are mostly local (no longer exclusively local like they once were) but those are licensed by a national concessions chain, in this case Delaware North (other big ones include HMSHost, OTG)

  9. Well the famous TSA force that,you cant bring a outside bottle of water outside value 1.00 inside airport 4.00 or more same wirh cokes.

  10. As David said, it is SFO that really forces fees on you. I haven’t bought anything from SFO concessions in a few years now and I fly through there regularly.

  11. I Gate the Airport Cartels of Over charging. Even more annoying is their NO CASH POLICY at US Airports and on US Carriers! My Fiance was flying from Sacramento to San Antonio and had to pay for a second bag at check in. She’s from the Philippines and has no CC That works in the US ! And the airlines refused cash ! Finally the agent had her go but Southtown get chanfe for a $100 and tge agent used their own card and accepted cash from my fiance to pay the Agent back ! This is nice of the agent but clearly SOO COMPLETELY WRONG ON THE AIRLINES AND AIRPORTS TO EXCLUDE PEOPLE DUE TO THEIR ECONOMIC STATUS OF NO CC OR ATM CARD

  12. I was at DALLAS recently on a work trip and had to pay a $2 Airport toll just to enter the airport to drop off a traveler ? How is that even allowed I’ve learned traveling thru Texas ! That Texas Sucks

  13. I dispute the charge with my credit card Telling them I was charged a surcharge for using it. I do have the receipt to prove it. This is called a charge back and most companies do not dispute them since they are so small. You should also file a complaint with the state AG as the workers areNOT getting those tips

  14. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because all things considered the tip itself isn’t a lot, but I sometimes wonder what the justification is. I’ll tip a hotel shuttle driver who puts my bags up and retrieves them, I’ll tip waiters because I feel like they’re all providing a service for you. Operating a cash register isn’t really a service on top of what you’re already being paid to do, but I see it more and more. I’m a pilot so maybe next time I deliver you safely from A to B I’ll stand in the door and smile nicely as I hold out my hat for tips.

  15. It is fascinating that elsewhere in the union contract, it states that in some venues (doesn’t specify exactly which) that the company has no hand in distributing at least cash tips and leaves it up to the union/employees to do so equitably and report results back to Delaware North for tax filings.

    I find it interesting, and these don’t get as much coverage, that the big proponents of things like using new laws to force work rules or fighting for tips in every which job (anybody remember after 9/11 when TSA had tip jars out and how well that went?)… there are unintended consequences they don’t always think of, or were warned by others in their organization.

    -Take Seattle airport and the living wage ordinance (LWO). This was successful in passing and for awhile meant fewer jobs and outlets but market has somewhat adjusted. Alaska Airlines formed its own ground handling company McGee Air Services and took its outsourced ramp from Menzies to this new wholly owned. They touted being worker friendly and approached the IAM to organize it as a union shop before they even hired a single employee! Well, guess what – LWO doesn’t apply if you are under a collective bargaining agreement so Alaska was able to pay less in exchange for flight benefits.

    -California flight attendants getting legislation passed to extend CA labor laws concerning breaks/lunches to flight crews. The national AFA cautioned them and wasn’t for it. It got passed. American announced closure of its SFO crew base. Alaska significantly changed schedules so many are less than desirable, but comply with the laws (all of this they somewhat warned of ahead of time). Now, the same flight attendants are wanting an exception carved out to the law allowing union contracts to govern their break times as long as it follows the spirit of the law. They got what they want and then didn’t like how it tasted.

    -Some Starbucks outlets unionizing are now complaining about lower takehome pay than non-union store workers. Why? Well absent a contract, or while organizing, the company cannot make changes to anything like compensation so it stays status quo as it did on day one of the union recognized as having enough interest to hold an election (laboratory conditions). Starbucks implemented the iPad screen default to tip screen after that date in some areas but now cannot put it in recently unionized stores. Some new union members have been in media complaining they have to pick up shifts at non-union locations to make sufficient money because it includes the pre-set tip.

    -What’s next? I think all credit card merchant agreements don’t allow businesses to put up barriers to using credit cards or charge a fee outside of some sort of uniform processing charge they can substantiate. How long before they weigh in on the tip issue and start penalizing merchants, or someone make an extreme case and drop a company? Can you imagine being a business owner at LGA and not being able to accept American Express? Even when Spirit Airlines looked at the savings associated with stopping taking Amex (like Allegiant had at one point) the reason they did not was the CEO loudly saying that you can’t do business in New York without Amex.

  16. I picked up the water bottle.
    I scanned the water bottle at the iPad/Register
    I processed the payment at the iPad/Register
    I (might) have even bagged the purchase

    So who am I tipping? The stock person who put the water bottle out? Is that the service I’m tipping for?

  17. @Tomri – merchants in all but a handful of states can add a surcharge for using a credit card (usually 2.5-3%) and I’m seeing it more and more as margins get squeezed. I hate this practice since numerous studies have shown merchants benefit from credit cards (larger purchases, reduced admin cost, less theft, etc) so really hate this fee. However outside of not going back nothings you can do. Disputing it won’t work is you willingly signed the receipt. Similar to the forced tip – if you made the purchase and agreed to the transaction you will not be able to successfully dispute it.

  18. At a Starbucks in the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu I grabbed a sandwich and a juice from the rack. When paying, the cashier turned the terminal to me so I could select a tip. I told the guy when he goes to the rack to pick out my sandwich and drink, I’d provide a tip. Boy, did I get the stink eye. This tipping for no reason has gotten way out of hand.

  19. Meanwhile as a rideshare driver no one is tipping anymore. I back track 20 miles to the airport to pick them up then another 30 miles to their destination and leave me hanging l. I have a ton of overhead to keep operating . Tip your drivers and actual severs or they loose money serving you.

  20. One benefit – the Delaware North run airport gift shop in AUS codes as fast food for those with dining category multipliers like US Bank Cash + or Chase Sapphire Reserve. Not sure on Amex since their merchant categories can vary from Visa.

  21. America has gotten so out of control with tipping because it’s disguised panhandling. Businesses can ask for more money, with zero services provided, and people will give it out of guilt.

  22. This sounds very illegal. They cannot charge more than the displayed price and by forcing a tip they are charging more. I would contact the states AG office to investigate.

  23. Tipping should only happen for actual service as it was traditional. Self- service must not be tipped unless the person taking or making your order did something above and beyond the norm. Reserve your tips for people that put in the extra effort like when someone chases you down because you forgot your cellphone at the counter. We need to stop this stupidity of everyone getting rewarded for normal behavior like when all kids get a medal because we all of a sudden cannot disappoint anyone.

  24. at local restaurant I got my bill and they were suggested tip starting at 18% and going up from there! At counter ordering I do not like having to feel I have to tip !They’re really not doing anything other than taking my order !recently the two employees were chatting the entire time I was placing my order, annoying.! One last rent if I’m ordering french fries at a fast food restaurant, I should not have to ask for ketchup!

  25. I have always heard that the word ‘TIP’ comes from the words “To Insure Performance”. Unsure if that is indeed accurate but it makes sense.
    Also, in one way, this Tipping tsunami sweeping our country seems to be just an extension of the ‘Nickel and Dime’ mentality that has swept our country since airlines started charging for checked luggage.. For example hotel resort fees, early check out/in fees, airline seat fees, change fees (particularly galling when you do the work on line) a gazillion separate taxes on your plane ticket, rent a car fees, phone fees and on and on and on. If we keep paying it companies will continue to come up with new but stupid ways to ‘nickel and dime’ all of us.

  26. @Raven Rose- Really? You wish him to die on a hill? Isn’t that kind of harsh and mean? Many of us enjoy his take on anything that has to do with traveling… sounds to me you are extremely jealous of him and his success and followers…..

  27. @Judy L Gilbert-Blanchard – it is an expression snowflake. Clutch your pearls a little tighter and get over yourself

  28. Bring an empty drink container in travel bag and fill it up at a drinking fountain.

  29. Cash is king and is considered “LEGAL TENDER” How are these places saying NO Cash. I’ll either pay with cash or just take what I need. Call the “mall” cops – water is a necessity. Corporate greed needs to stop

  30. Being a retired airline employee, I can fly for free. Airports, airplanes and passengers make it more enjoyable to drive on my domestic trips. Certainly cost me more but well worth it. “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

  31. @Maxine – you are mistaken. Cash is legal tender “for all debts public and private” but numerous courts have ruled it isn’t required for businesses to take cash (and they can limit cash to smaller bills (e.g., no $100 bills). Purchasing an item is not the same as paying a debt.

    Outside of concepts of “free speech” the concept that businesses have to accept cash for payment is one of the most widely misunderstood concepts.

  32. AC…with respect …when you purchase an item it is a debt you are responsible for to the vendor. How many times have you said to the cashier “what do I owe you”?

  33. @Jean luc Picard – that is an expression not a legal debt. Trust me – courts have ruled repeatedly that businesses do not have to accept cash (or can limit what denominations they accept) and the language about cash being legal tender for “all debts public and private” does not apply. This isn’t my opinion – it is the law which obviously many, including members of this blog, do not understand.

    FYI the pushback of going totally cashless (and some cities have prohibited the practice) has nothing to do with this phrase or the legal validity of accepting cash. The reason is that unbanked people (or those without debit or credit cards) are excluded from making purchases. This is still a very small number of cities and I expect the US to be largely cash free (like a number of countries in Europe) within the next 10 years.

  34. @Andreblaze – because when people are fired or otherwise held accountable for something they say there are numerous idiots posting the the person’s free speech rights were violated.

    Very few seem to understand the free speech rights in the constitution only apply to government prohibition of speech and, even then, there can be adverse actions (e.g., threats or to incite action). The actual right is much more limited than most believe.

    Now don’t you feel smarter

  35. I never tip. It’s total BS. I worked for 26 years as a lecturer at Texas Tech and was paid less than starting teachers in the LISD at the end of my career and never, ever received one red cent as a tip. If you don’t like your job, get another one. $0.00 is the tip amount that I pay. Nada mas.

  36. This thread is off the rails but would just point out that I encountered this at DCA this morning for the first time. Press the red button twice. No tip and the transaction processes.

  37. The whole “take it or leave it” gambit. You could have just left without purchasing anything and gone to another vendor as you said, but as you also said, there are no other vendors because the vendor has a monopoly. So an airport that has a monopoly gives a vendor a monopoly but fails to regulate them when they have a captive audience. And the airport says they will “look into it”.

    I would have demanded to talk to a manager and demanded a 1 cent refund on the involuntary “tip” just to make a point. If a tip is “voluntary” then $0.00 should have been sufficent. And I would have refused to move out of the way so they could check out other customers while waiting for the manager just to make another point.

    This tipping needs to stop. Employers need to pay their people and stop expecting us to do it for them. Charge 10% more for what they are selling, or what ever it takes and eliminate tipping. Or better yet, the states need to ban tipping altogether.

    This is just another gotcha. Sales tax has long been a pet peeve of mine. Just increase the cost of what ever it is by the sales tax so I know what the out the door price will be in stead of charging the sales tax when I check out. I was figuring that TV would cost $1000, but now I need to cough up another $100 for sales tax? Just set the price at $1100 out the door and stop upselling us.

    Do you think they will do that in Texas? Probably not since they seem more concerned about mandating putting the 10 commandments in every classroom and mandating the ability to pray and read the bible during school time even if you are religious. We know where Texas’ priorities are, and they aren’t with the people or the consumer.

  38. Let’s be totally honest, a $Multimillion or $Billion corporation is effectively expecting its employees to beg for money, so they can buy food for their little kids, pay the rent, and utilities while simply having the privilege of working there. While at the same time that company rakes in more in profit. Time to unionize!

  39. @UnionTHAT: You on’t understand the reason for tipping. It is to adjust customer – supplier incentives.

  40. And this is one reason I carry my own water bottle in my carry on. There’s nothing wrong with city water.

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