Tipping Gone Mad: Hotel Booking Site Solicits Tips After You’ve Made Your Reservation

When I wrote about an airport shop that required a tip when paying by credit card for a bottle of water – not that just solicited a tip, but that wouldn’t allow credit card payment without one – most readers were aghast at how far U.S. tipping culture has sunk.

You’d think that tipping couldn’t get much worse than standing in line, showing your bottle of water at the cash register, and then being forced to tip for it. But there’s a version of this story that does seem like it would be worse:

Usually when you’re asked to tip, you’re asked to tip a person. But what about being solicited for a tip on a travel booking website? You’ve just made a hotel reservation, and the computer asks you to voluntarily pay them more money because reasons?

There are a number of hotel booking websites that undercut the prices you’ll find booking direct on chain websites like Hilton and Marriott. They take wholesale rates and charge you less instead of capturing the full commission. Sometimes this is allowed (true membership sites) while other times it runs afoul of price parity rules.

One website along this lines is Traveluro. Reviews of the site are generally not good, including complaints that they didn’t actually book the room though customers were charged, and that they changed dates and shortened trips. Their parent company went public in a SPAC deal last year.

Apparently you have to pay Traveluro extra if you want telephone customer service (for when you find out you don’t have a reservation at the hotel you booked?). They solicit you the extra $4.99 after you complete your reservation. But that’s not all. The online hotel booking site solicits for tips!

The range of things for which tipping is being solicited in the United States has grown tremendously. Tipping, it seems, is no longer just for personal services someone provides – like a waiter in a restaurant, or a stylist in a salon. You’re asked to tip when you bus your own tray after waiting in line for food at a restaurant. You’re asked to tip when picking up food for carry out. And the amount you’re asked for has grown, from 15% to 20% and now sometimes 25%.

Surely there has to be a line. How much will we stand for? Isn’t a reasonable principle that tipping ought to be reserved for service provided by people and not machines?

(HT: Sam O.)

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. This culture has lead to poor service being the norm. I wish we would do away with it and do like the service industry in Europe

  2. We are hardly ever forced to use providers that do these disgraceful things. Vote with your feet and let them know why.

  3. in many industries people are barely making a living wage, I’m all for trying to remedy that- some restaurants have higher prices, with tip of 15-20% included and I”m all for it- the service in the two I visited was good- if service outstanding , leave more- Those of us lucky enough to be able to afford eating out, staying in hotel have to understand how little some of those folks make- so tips well when you are able, and leave the housekeeping staff a tip, but individually we can’t solve the problem. HOWEVER being asked to tip when taking out post pandemic times doesn’t float my boat either. Tipping before a stay? not for me-

  4. @Sandy “Tipping before a stay? not for me-”

    This isn’t even tipping housekeeper or other hotel staff before the stay, this is tipping *the online travel agency company itself*..!!

  5. I have already devised my tip strategy. I only tip 20% in restaurants and a couple of dollars for a taxi. These are the only professions that rely on tips. All others I simply refuse. Full stop

  6. That site need to get delisted by Google. They always promote a better rate in hotel searches, but then tack on a bunch of website fees and “tips”. Can’t believe Google hasn’t made a real Google Flights competitor to their hotel search game.

  7. One of my bigger pet peeves about tipping culture is that some companies, such as Uber, have shifted – I can only assume deliberately, they can’t be that dumb, I’m a software engineer at a tech company myself – from calculating tips based on the subtotal / base fare to calculating tips based on the total after taxes and surcharges. Among other problems, that means you’re paying more or less of a tip in different jurisdictions for what would otherwise be roughly “equal” underlying service. And people that are growing up or don’t know better are starting to internalize that as the norm.

  8. As long as businesses want to keep an underpaid class of employees compensated by someone else, tipping will remain part of the culture.
    Pay people a living wage, eliminate tipping.
    But that won’t happen.
    Look at your trash pickup bill, or airline or hotel bill breakdown: it’s all about shifting costs to new catagories, that are then added after the fact.
    My actual electric snd gas bill is less than fees charged.
    Tipping is only one symtom of a much worse CFO driven disease.

  9. The push for tipping has been counter productive for me. I always tipped well (and will continue to tip 20% or more for restaurant servers, haircuts and similar such services). I will leave a reasonable tip for bartenders and cocktail waitresses plus I always leave $5 of so for housekeeping when I check out of a room (I know service isn’t provided during stay and cleaning the room is part of what you pay for but I feel better helping out some of the hardest working, lowest paid employees in the hotel – definitely a personal choice). Don’t get me wrong, I wish we had more of a European model where tips are not expected but appreciated – most of Europe now you basically only tip restaurant servers and 8-10% in cash left on the table (since no tip line on most receipts) is the standard. Wherever I am I comply with the social standard and in the US tipping well is absolutely expected for certain professions so don’t be cheap and penalize those employees.

    HOWEVER, I previously tipped 15% or so on takeout and often added 10% for fast casual where I ordered at the counter and picked up. Then there are the constant request to “round up” the bill or add an extra dollar or two for some needy cause. That is ending, along with all the add on tip requests for self service items in airports or other instances where you used to never tip. I’ll probably still tip 10% on takeout (my daughter was a server and worked takeout so I know there is work involved to prepare it and ensure it is accurate) but that is it. I have no problem at this point hitting “no tip” on the tablet!

  10. That’s one way to make people never visit your site again. Ridiculous. Essentially bait and switch.

  11. Some fast casual restaurants have a tip line. Some don’t. I generally give my business to those who don’t. It burdens me to be responsible for their employee’s prosperity.

  12. I personally encourage tipping for blog comments.

    @Gary, will that be $1, $2, or $5? Let me know and I’ll send you my Venmo information.

  13. I am going to abide by what the word TIP actually means – “To Insure Performance”. If the wait person goes above and beyond with their service then absolutely a good TIP is deserved. If they don’t or if I do all the work (I.e. the airport bottle of water) then I will abide by the word – NO!
    Picard

  14. This whole subject is tiresome. We have a capitalist economy. That means that sellers strive to raise as much revenue as possible. If you can’t figure that out, you’re doomed to giving away your hard-earned money for no reason except to be made a fool of. This is the same concept as consumers believing the tip they leave on a credit card actually goes to the server. Stop being stupid. If consumers just ignored all the foolishness about tipping for nothing, pretty soon it would go away. Meanwhile, don’t tip unless you receive good service. Tip generously in cash for good service and extras. If consumers stopped playing this idiot game, soon it would be over.

  15. So they want a tip on the entire transaction amount, from the amounts and percentages they listed (which are even themselves inconsistent)? I mean, I sort of understand if some rare thankful soul decided to tip on the 54 dollars savings amount, but the entire amount????

  16. I don’t know what a living wage means, but entry-level wages in hospitality aren’t meant to support a family. They’re designed for unskilled labor to gain experience. If you’re 26 and working fast-food, I expect you to be sharing an apartment with 3 others, riding a bus, splitting bills and not complain about the price of a mortgage.

  17. I decided at the beginning of this year that one way I was going to control costs was to control my tipping. While I don’t mind tipping generously for great service, I will tip *after* the great service is received, because I am grateful for it. Otherwise my standard for “nothing wrong with it but nothing memorable either”-level service will be 15% on the pre-tax, pre-service charge total, and I will decline all round-up opportunities.

    If folks want to be tipped, it’s time to put the work in.

  18. In San Francisco in Ghiradelli Square at a nice restaurant last weekend, the bill added a previously undisclosed 6% “Healthy SF Surcharge” to the check. A helpful note I found provided the following explanation: ” A 6% surcharge will be added to all checks, in part, to help off set the cost of doing business in San Francisco. This is not a gratuity for service provided, nor is it intended to replace or supplement gratuity” A separate item suggests a tip of 20% or more, including on the total that includes both the surcharge and the tax. All just to cheat the customer without obviously raising prices.

    We enjoyed the restaurant but will never return due to the scummy aftertaste of the greedy proprietors.

  19. Why do people tip on the tax?

    I am absolutely a curmudgeon here. If I have navigate some crazy tip screen at the paint store (yeah it happened) then I just don’t ever come back.

  20. The “round-up” scam:

    Companies ask for YOU to round-up.

    Then THEY make a bundlesdonation, earing THEM a tax deduction.

    Never miss a beat, these CFOs.

  21. @Retired Gambler
    You are wrong about Europe tipping and that is actually starting to create issues because of American tourists like you!
    I have lived in Europe for most of my life and there is absolutely NO tip needed whatsoever in restaurants or anywhere UNLESS you request something that is above and beyond their job duty.
    For example, if you bring kids that will leave a mess, then yes, you should leave a couple € on the table for the extra cleaning needed.
    The only thing that is common is to round the check to the next whole € to avoid changes when paying cash that’s it.

  22. I just don’t get this American approach to tipping (and taxes). Here in England it’s good to pay a the stated price and then add a gratuity based on service quality. If your server or whoever has been good or especially nice they deserve a bit more.

    However it sometimes goes too far when you local Starbucks doesn’t allow you to tip the team at Christmas (yes seriously)

    Also you can argue whether the minimum or living wage is enough but that’s a different matter.

  23. @Mike – I understand tipping is a personal choice and many in Europe elect not to tip. However, if you do any research on tipping protocols in various European countries you will see that tipping at restaurants (up to 10% max with cash typically left on the table) is the most accepted practice. I understand tourism may have influenced this but the sites I visit before each trip are written by locals with respect to local expectations and I compare multiple sites to ensure consistency. We spent 2 weeks in Italy and that was the norm for restaurants in major cities. In smaller towns and more rural areas I understand tipping isn’t as prevalent. Also, we typically didn’t tip taxi drivers (rounded up if maybe 18 Euro and didn’t tip if fare was 50 (like flat rate from our hotel to Rome airport)). Also didn’t tip many hotel employees and others you typically would in the US. Again, you are entitled to your opinion and where you lived that may not be the practice but it is documented as such and I typically do leave something. I mean leaving a 5 Euro note on a 45 Euro meal isn’t a big deal (at least to me).

  24. @AndrewP – One thing I really like in Europe (and most of the rest of the world) is that the price listed is the price paid. VAT and other taxes are all baked into it so if a pizza and half liter of house win in Venice is 18 Euro on the menu that is exactly what you pay (prices are about right BTW based on trip I took there in November). I also found the level of service, even in casual restaurants, to be much higher than in the US. It seems many in the service industry in Europe take pride in their profession and try to do it to the best of their ability while many in the US are either very informal and uneven in service or just don’t give a damn.

  25. I just read this after going to the website that supports education in Mexico. I was going to make a donation. After inserting the donation amount, they asked for a tip (said everyone gives 15% or more). After I checked to pay by credit card, the website asked for 2.5% more to pay the credit card company. At that point I just exited the site cancelling everything. Charities take note. If people think they are being fleeced while making a voluntary donation, there won’t be any donations at all.

  26. @Retired gambler

    Just a note of caution you. We live in Malta, and followed the belief that service was added in all restaurants until we found out otherwise. Our favorite pizza restaurant in our home village of Naxxar does not. On our third visit, we finally noticed a line of fine print stating that service not included.

    As for this issue in general, I note that in the States, there seems to be two schools on this subject. On one side we have the hardass who says it’s not his job to pay the employee: Fu–k ’em. On the other side, we have those who say it’s our job to assist the employee to make enough money.

    Both are wrong. You’re both wrong. Bandaids on an injury is wrong. All should be paid a liveable wage and benefits. Stop talking about how other countries are different, because they solved the problem.

  27. Hopper has been doing this for years and they are “the fastest growing travel app in the U.S.” Consumers are stupid and deserve to be fleeced.

  28. I was going to order something on line. A material item from a company that produces it. They asked for a tip. Guess who didn’t order.

  29. All you people are fooling yourselves if you think that tipping will go away if people are paid a “living wage”, whatever that may be. Is there any evidence that people tip less in California or Washington because wages are higher there? Face it, it is just an American disease worse than Covid.

  30. People and these corporations are just greedy thieves. I will not be intimidated into tipping when I don’t feel it necessary or an amount I feel is not necessary. And that’s what Everyone need to start doing.

  31. Terrible in WA State. All restaurant servers are required to be paid minimum wage–not get supplemented to minimum wage if tips don’t make it to that level. And min wage is $16 now. And with increased prices and expected higher tip %, it all adds up. So servers in Seattle make out like a bandit. Imagine serving one table for one hour with total bill of $200 (which is not unusual for 4 people). Tip 20%–$40. Plus “minimum wage”–$56/hr. Serve 2 tables–very doable. Do the math.

  32. @Alex King – Exactly. I don’t know about California but I know Washington doesn’t have a sub minimum wage for tipped positions like most states so they are making $15+ per hour base and still asking for 20-20% on the total bill. Maybe I’m cheap but I find out off the state pays servers the full wage (especially in states pushing $15/hour as the minimum) and, while I still tip, it is more like 15%. Doesn’t bother me – they will never see me again.

  33. As someone who used to work for tips I would go above and beyond to earn the 10%-15% tip people would typically leave. You want a box for the buffet food you didn’t finish, absolutely, want to switch to coffee for dessert no problem (and no charge) because as I told the owner of the restaurant-You pay me $1.81 an hour, that covers my taxes and my pre and post shift duties. The CUSTOMERS pay for my rent, babysitting, utilities, and car payment. If you really want me to say no, then bump my pay to $10 (this was 25 years ago) an hour and I will do exactly as you ask. I only tip a VERY limited number of people. Waitstaff is 20-25%, delivery drivers get 15-20% unless it is bad weather, then I bump it to 25%. Hotel maids get $7 a night, left each day, and on check out day we leave $15 because I know it takes longer to clean. Then the person cutting my hair get a tip. Everyone else with their hand out will get a fist bump 🙂 It kills me that so many places report millions of profit (looking at you Starbucks) but can’t pay their employees a few more $$ an hour.

  34. I see a lot of comments about people tipping in Europe based on what they read on travel websites. I imagine these travel websites are in English and may be influenced by locals who came from the USA or may work in the industry.
    I live most of the year between France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. My friends there are people who were born in these countries and grew up there. Absolutely none of them tip more than rounding up the bill, or maybe leaving a Euro on the table. These people are from a range of professions from yoga instructor to CEO to judge.

    I’ve repeatedly brought up the issue of tips with all of them since I come from the USA, and they all look at me like I’m crazy. Locals do not tip other than rounding up the bill. It is just not done in these countries. If you hear otherwise, you are being mislead by someone — maybe intentionally or maybe they’re just mistaken.

    Please don’t spread the American tipping culture any more than it already has been.The “to insure promptness/performance/whatever”definition of tipping is silly and is not where the term originates. It’s a holdover from the abolition of slavery in the States (which is why some US jobs ended up with tips and some didn’t). It does not need to be spread to places where people are already paid appropriately and have adequate health insurance, etc. provided by the system.

  35. One my main pet peeves is all these delivery service complaining tip. Why are we suppose to pay a % when they don’t even make the food. Sure tip for distance and how many. Bags u order, but c’mon if I order 1 bag food for $15 and tip $5 drives be like amazing awesome but if I order 1 bag $200 and tip $5 same distance and just 1 bag they complain c’mon wtf u complaint about same distance and same amount your not doing anything extra

  36. The argument that various, traditionally non-tip positions don’t make enough is lost on me. I choose to stay at a hotel or buy an item from a store based upon the price of each and feel ZERO responsibility to provide additional wages through my tipping. I have started to decline all tips other than when being served. For restaurant take out I provide a small tip of $3 dollars. They are simply placing items in a bag, if at all, and ringing up my charge. I agree with another comment that the European system of baking in the service into the prices much more desirable..

  37. Jean-Luc –
    Despite your accent, I assume English must not be your first language because (a) tip doesn’t “mean” “To Insure Performance” and (b) ensure != insure, even if it did.

  38. Set a timer for 90 seconds.
    It’s a really long time to wait for someone to answer the phone. Why is that a selling point?

  39. Zamzad..
    non, ce n’est pas le cas, mais mes pensées traduisent la même chose dans n’importe quelle langue
    Jean luc

  40. In Portland, every food cart expects a tip. I encounter tablets at “bus your table” restaurants (the majority of restaurants in Portland Metro) where the tip options are now 25%, 30%, and 35%. Uber Eats and others have also added guilt prompts like “It’s raining!” to make you tip. I no longer eat at or order casual food anymore unless I pick it up myself, but even burger joints and Chipotle are around $18 for lunch now. My barber just raised his prices to $70 before tip. I can no longer afford to subsidize the rest of you. Now I drink protein shakes most of the time. Eventually, people will revolt, and the working class will be replaced by automation. Even at the PDX airport, the McDonald’s there is kiosk only. I’m surprised they haven’t burned down the airport over this.

  41. One of the additional pain points on top of the infuriating situation that tax is often not included in the price either. So in the end your meal can cost 25-30% more than what is on the menu (tax+tip), whereas in most other countries the price you see is what you’ll pay. Particularly bad in the US for this is car hire where the price you pay ends up being 2-3x what is stated after all sorts of random taxes have been added on

  42. Okay, I read several comments by people about this and feel compelled to chime in. For all of you griping about how waitstaff in the USA should be paid “a living wage”, you might want to check with some of them. I know several long-term waiters including my brother who has done it for 20+ years. None of them want to be paid more and do away with tips. Firstly, they make way more in tips than they would from a paycheck, over $100/hour on good shifts even at casual places. Secondly, many of them have a bit of a gambler’s personality in that the excitement that they could get a big tip on a shift really seems to inspire them. Lastly, they don’t necessarily claim all of their tips on their taxes so it’s a double win. Paychecks are taxed. Cash you put in your pocket? Well, who knows how much is there. . . ? This is also why they prefer cash tips to credit cards. Anyway, the service industry is against higher wages and no tips and they have fought against it when it has been suggested.

  43. Owners of restaurants and beauty salons often serve the customers/clients themselves. So with a $300.00 color/haircut they (the owner) expects a $60.00 tip. And if the owner of a restaurant that you frequently visit serves you one time, do you tip him? Also, I stopped going to a restaurant that wanted to charge for the waiter’s insurance.

  44. Often hear Europe as a point of comparison regarding living wages and no tips but every meal bill I receive in the UK has a service charge added AND a tip line. I have charity fatigue, tip fatigue, and every first world fatigue there may be. I sense I break the server’s heart when I point out the check already has a service charge added, their head bows as they realize the luxurious American tip they lustfully pondered whilst serving me was slipping through their hands. I have been advised “we share the service charge” or “I specifically receive any tip you leave” but I am butt hurt on several levels. The American tipping culture is now in the UK and server’s expectations are changing (read greed). There is palatable disappointment when the American doesn’t throw fifties as if at a strip club. I dislike making anyone unhappy and if I don’t pay enough on top of the service charge I am making people unhappy and if I buy a banana and yogurt and a couple pieces of ham at Tesco’s my body is happy but the restaurant industry is infuriated. Alas, there is no way out.

  45. I spent 3 weeks in Europe last year and visited 7 countries. Overall I was disappointed with the waitstaff in almost every restaurant I visited. The servers has no incentive to refill drinks, ask if I wanted a second beer, or remove empty dishes from the table. I’ve never had a problem getting 2 beers during dinner in America. Servers in Europe have no reason to upsell/refill drinks/provide speedy service. They get paid the same if they sell $100 in a shift or $1000. But in America, a great server can make $50 an hour while a bad server will make $15 an hour at the same restaurant on the same shift.

  46. I never trust mandatory tips or built-in gratuities as I have no idea if the employees even get the money. It’s almost evil in many ways as it can even discourage tipping directly to the employee. I fail to understand why you are pressured to tip for take-out food. As one of the comments stated, it’s like tipping at a vending machine. I say this as someone who has worked in food service, tipping is out of control.

  47. So tired of all the wa wa I’m not paid. Several friends who make 1k a night for 4 hours on the weekend at bars. Being paid 2.13 /hr helps them. They report I made 10 dollars today to IRS. You won’t here any workers complaining about this. This is a red herring.

  48. The comments were off topic, but the post was about the website charging or asking for esters fees to support it. And even for customer service. I understand that if supposedly your getting a better price you could pay a little more for better service. But not for customer service common. Now if the people are having bad experiences with this website, post them in social media and the company should improve or die.
    About the tipping culture, as they said there are waiters that do a lot because of that. Of course that depends on the venue,.
    With respect to delivery services, the companies are making money lots of money that are not shared with the operators. Just think that for a trip in one of those shareridding companies of you pay let’s say $50 around $10 will reach the driver. And that is not enough for them if you take into account waiting times and car expenses (gas, tires’ wear, car devaluation…). But that’s not our fault, that falls on the company and the drivers for accepting those gigs. What’s happening? Those companies are looking now for ways to take out the driver, using automated systems.
    As many are doing on stores, where now is more common to find a self- checkout stations to avoid hiring people. But are prices lower? Now you’re dog their work.
    But the main effect of these is a domino effect in employment and acquisition capability. If someone is laid off they cannot obtain the same services and products than before, then companies reduce their earnings and laid off more people and the cycle repeat and expands.

  49. 1 STAR REVIEWS FOR EXCESSIVE TIPPING REQUEST. This typing culture is quickly becoming the standard. Everyone can complain all they want, but the reality is alot of business patrons are guilted into tipping. Why would a business stop asking for tips if some patrons are tipping and those that are offended do nothing.
    In order to change this behavior, we must create a need for the business owners to make the change. I propose a 1 Star review stating you are leaving the review because of the tipping policy. I believe it would be good to also state the post will be removed once the Excessive tipping request is removed. Businesses have to be very aware of their online reputation. They will have to make the decision to either pay their employees fairly or live with a poor online rating.
    If we do nothing, this excessive typing culture will grow and become an expectation. Tipping for counter service will become expected, not appreciated.
    Spread the word!

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