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Richard Drew, Associated Press
In a file photo from Dec. 12, 2013, Christopher Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide, center, poses in a Hilton robe after his company's IPO began trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Nassetta was widely criticized in June 2019 for saying that he doesn't tip hotel housekeepers, a practice he has since changed. It has renewed debate over whether housekeepers should be tipped, just as the vacation season begins in earnest.

SALT LAKE CITY — They make our beds, clean our toilets and put out fresh towels, but 70 percent of Americans don't believe hotel housekeepers warrant a tip, multiple studies have shown.

Even the CEO of Hilton hotels said he didn't leave a tip for housekeeping until public outcry in June convinced him to reverse his position. The backlash over Christopher Nassetta's admission has renewed debate over whether housekeepers should be tipped just as the vacation season begins in earnest.

Nearly 100 million Americans plan to take a family vacation this year, and 68 percent of them will do so in the summer, according to AAA Travel.

“The great American road trip is still one of the best ways for families to relax and reconnect with one another,” Stacey Barber, executive director of AAA Travel Information and Content, said in a statement.

With some of us spending two to three weeks' salary on our trips, a vacation is a big expense, and some of us overspend on things we forget to budget, such as airport meals, airline baggage fees, and yes, tips, according to Kenneth Kiesnoski, reporting for CNBC.

But Margaret Carlson, writing in The Atlantic, argues that hotel housekeepers deserve tips, and we shouldn't try to save money by pinching pennies at their expense.

"A waiter would have to spit in your soup, and you would have to see him do it, to stiff him. Housekeepers are stiffed every day," Carlson wrote.

"I’ve heard every reason why guests treat hotel workers so differently than other service workers, but I’ve not heard a good one," she added.

Nassetta, Hilton's CEO, thought he had a good one until social media took him to task: He said he wanted all of Hilton's employees, not just the housekeepers, to be rewarded for their hard work. Likewise, people who object to tipping don't begrudge anyone a fair wage; they just don't think customers should be the one to pay it.

No matter where you stand on the issue, families on vacation will encounter a wide range of people who want to be tipped. Here's what's behind the housekeeping debate, and what constitutes a fair tip, from the bellhop to the pet sitter.

Pros and cons

Nassetta was attending the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference at the New York Marriott Marquis when he was asked by CNBC co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin how much he was tipping housekeeping.

According to Business Insider, Nassetta replied, "I typically do not leave a tip."

When asked about this later, a Hilton spokesperson quoted on the travel website The Points Guy said Nassetta did not believe that one group of workers should be singled out for a reward.

"It's Chris's view that every Hilton team member works hard. Rather than selectively reward some team members, he is focused on providing meaningful economic opportunities for all 400,000 team members."

For many Twitter users, that explanation wasn't sufficient. "It is general courtesy in the U.S. to tip housekeeping at your hotel, along with most other people who perform a service for guests, including the concierge and bellman," wrote Bert Myrin of Aspen, Colorado.

Nassetta got the message.

Ben Margot, Associated Press
In this Oct. 4, 2018 file photo, hotel workers strike in front of a Marriott hotel in San Francisco. The debate over whether housekeepers should be tipped continues just as the vacation season begins in earnest.

A week later, Travel + Leisure reported, he issued statement that said, "When it comes to tipping in hotels, I have always had a different approach to work and personal travel. I also never meant for my approach to work stays at Hilton properties to discourage others from tipping when they are traveling. Going forward, I will tip when traveling for both work and personal travel.”

Daily Beast columnist Carlson, writing in The Atlantic, said that her views on hotel tipping were shaped largely by the experiences of her grandmother, who was a maid for 10 years at the Hotel Washington, now the W Hotel, in Washington, D.C.

She remembers her grandmother showing her a few $10 bills left for her by Clare Boothe Luce, an ambassador and congresswoman.

"Luce was opposed to freeloaders and thought others should tip like her. She had an idea: have each maid leave a note on a nice card next to the mint on the pillow, hoping the stay had been pleasant, and wait for the tips to pour in," Carlson wrote.

Luce also proposed that hotel bills should have a line where travelers can leave a tip for housekeepers on their credit card. (This would benefit housekeepers even more, since people who tip on credit cards leave larger tips than those who pay in cash, researchers have found.)

Carrying on her grandmother's legacy, Carlson recently left $10 for a housekeeper at the Sheraton. She didn't say how long she had stayed, but most experts on tipping etiquette suggest $2 a day, while the American Hotel and Lodging Association suggests tipping housekeepers anywhere from $1 to $5.

Some people don't tip because they don't have cash, they forget, or they're in a hurry. Plus, unlike restaurant tipping, the guidelines for hotel tipping aren't widely known. Do you tip every day, at the end of the stay, or at the beginning? (Daily, says Amie Taylor in USA Today. "You may have a different maid on different days of the week, so leaving a tip daily ensures that it gets into the hands of the person who did the work."

Others don't tip on principle, believing that all costs are covered by what they pay for their stay.

Travel blogger Ben Schlappig says he doesn't tip housekeepers unless he made a special request or left his room especially dirty. He also doesn't believe in tipping people who make at least minimum wage; unlike waitstaff at restaurants, who may receive just a few dollars an hour from their employer, housekeepers generally make minimum wage.

"What I guess I don’t understand is why housekeeping should be tipped but not the front desk clerk that checks you in?" Schlappig wrote on his blog One Mile a Time.

That controversy extends to other jobs where people solicit tips, such as the barista at a coffee shop whose job is to make your coffee. Proponents of housekeeping tipping, however, point out that a barista is never asked to handle medical waste and note that housekeeping can be physically demanding.

The organization A Woman's Nation, founded by Maria Shriver, advocates for housekeeper tipping through envelopes left in hotel rooms that encourage guests to "express your gratitude." The program was launched in 2014 at Marriott hotels, but generated controversy, including an article by Claire Zillman on Fortune.com entitled "Marriott to hotel guests: Please pay our maids for us."

The program has since been discontinued, a spokesperson for Marriott said.

Guide to vacation tipping

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens called housekeeper tipping a "small, easy way to make the world a tiny bit better."

She cited a survey from Indeed.com that said the typical wage for a hotel housekeeper is $10.80 an hour for work that includes "flipping heavy mattresses, breathing in toxic cleaning supply fumes, scrubbing tubs and toilets, removing waste."

Of course, the shuttle driver and parking attendant might not be making much more, even if they're not emptying your trash. They expect tips, too, so don't forget them when you figure out your vacation budget.

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, these are suggested gratuities:

  • Shuttle driver: $1-2 per person or $4-5 per party.
  • Parking attendant: $1-5 when your car is delivered. (Tipping when your car is parked is optional.)
  • Bellstaff/porters: $1-5 per bag when you are escorted to your room, and when getting help checking out.
  • Door staff: $1-2 for getting a cab. Tip for unloading luggage varies based on amount and weight.
  • Concierge: $5-10 depending on difficulty of service.
  • Special delivery to room: $2 for one item, $1 for more. "Tipping is not required for someone fixing something broken or bringing something missing," the association says.
  • Other: Taxi drivers, 15 to 20 percent of fare, and curbside airport skycaps, $5 for one bag, $3 to $5 for each additional bag, according to Thrillist.com.

And if someone at home is taking care of your pets, Petsit USA recommends a tip of 15 percent of the total bill.

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But be forewarned: These are tipping guidelines for the U.S. and may not apply to other countries. In most places in Asia, for example, tips are not expected, even at restaurants, according to Hilton's "Mom Voyage" Guide for Tipping Around the World.

There's also another way to solve the housekeeping tipping dilemma: Stay at an Airbnb. People renting out space in their homes aren't prohibited from accepting tips, but the practice isn't encouraged, either. "Your host set a price they expect will fully cover your experience," the company says on its website.