Whether you live in the United States or are just visiting, tipping can be a contentious topic. And when it comes to tipping within US airport lounges, it’s even more so. You’d probably be accustomed to tipping for food and drinks and restaurants and bars when out and about. But what about when it’s ‘free’, and there’s no bill to pay?

Tipping, of course, is a personal thing. When, where and how much to tip is generally at the customer’s discretion. But there are some common practices that it pays to be aware of. Here’s the approach I take when enjoying the hospitality inside US airport lounges.

Tipping when drinking and dining in US airport lounges

When enjoying the food and drinks in lounges, common tipping practices can surprise some Aussies – even though it’s still discretionary. For me, the United States is my most-visited country. I’ve spent months of my life over there, and am already gearing up for my next visit – set to be my 25th. Here’s what I do – and it’s what I’ve observed many others doing too.

  • Dining from a buffet: No tip, because there’s no ‘service’. After all, you’re plating up your own meal.
  • Dining from a paid menu: Tip (18-20% on the pre-tax amount), as you’re ordering food that’s being served to your table like a restaurant.
  • Enjoying a meal from a menu without pricing: Tip a fixed amount, such as US$10 for a quick meal or US$20 in a more lavish setting for a multi-course meal with table service.
  • Pouring or preparing my own drink: No tip. Hey, I’m doing all the work, and you can’t tip a machine!
  • Getting a drink from the bar: A ‘single’ (US$1) for something standard like a glass of beer or wine, or a spirit with a mixer. For something more complex like a proper cocktail, US$2. But if charged on a ‘check’ with paid food as well, the customary 18-20%.

For me though, there’s one big exception. I don’t tip by default inside Qantas’ Los Angeles International Business Lounge and International First Lounge. I’m reliably informed that the staff here are paid on the assumption that visitors won’t tip – which I think is wise, given that many Australians can find the US tipping culture confusing.

It pays to remember that tips are common because the base wages earned by many in service positions aren’t ‘liveable’. But when they are, like at restaurants in Australia, there’s more room for discretion.

Ad – Scroll down to continue reading.Minimum spend, terms & conditions apply.

Tipping at spas and shower suites at US airport lounges

Food and beverages aside, there’s another place where it’s common – and perhaps, expected – for travellers to tip in a lounge. That’s when receiving a spa treatment. For instance, at the American Express Centurion Lounge spa in Los Angeles.

Of course, the massage itself is complimentary. But it’s a personal service. And just as Americans customarily tip their hairdresser, a tip for the massage therapist doesn’t go astray. For a treatment of about 15-20 minutes, I’d generally tip about US$10. But there’s no hard and fast rule.

Then there are the shower suites in lounges, which have to be cleaned and prepared in between each guest. I’ll admit, I generally don’t tip here. In my view, it’s in the same category as the lounge’s shared restrooms, for which there’s also no expectation to tip the cleaner. But some prefer to leave a small banknote – or ‘bill’, in the local lingo – in the shower room after using it. And if that’s your preference, the staff certainly aren’t going to complain.

What about at the front desk of the lounge?

As to tipping staff working at the lounge’s reception and services desks, it’s a no from me. This includes when booking a spa appointment, and when these staff perform favours for you. And my reason for this is simple. Generally, these staff members are prohibited from accepting cash tips at all.

For instance, I tried to tip the reception staff at the Centurion Lounge in LA. They’d not only rustled me up a spa appointment, but also managed to help me avoid the long wait time for entry after seeing how long my connection was in between lengthy Economy flights. But they had to say no.

It was the same for me at American Airlines check-in, for that matter. After some earlier disruptions, the staff had got me onto an earlier flight at no cost. And with a complimentary upgrade to Premium Economy at that, when I was resigned to flying overnight in Economy. But they also couldn’t accept the tip.

But when you can tip, what are your own preferences and habits inside airport lounges? Share your approach with fellow readers via the comments below!

Also read: Australians are no closer to enjoying US Global Entry

Feature image courtesy of Qantas.

Stay up to date with the latest news, reviews and guides by subscribing to Point Hacks’ email newsletter.
Should you tip at airport lounges in the United States? was last modified: February 29th, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin