When you’re traveling, it seems that every service employee is looking
for a handout.

Your valet pauses for a moment after you hand him the keys to your
car. Your luggage porter lingers after delivering your bags to your
room. A server signs your check with a smiley-face, hoping for a
generous gratuity.

Knowing whom to tip, how to tip, and when to tip can save money and
help you avoid awkward situations.

I never understood the power of tipping until a trip to Hawaii. After
I checked in, a bellman name John showed me to my room. On our way
there, I asked John about the type of rooms that the hotel had, and he
started to describe beautiful ocean-front rooms and suites.

When we arrived at my room it was average, nothing very special. So I
asked John if he could call the front desk and see if perhaps I could
be upgraded to one of the nice oceanfront rooms. As I said this, I
pulled money out of my pocket so that John would know I was ready to
reciprocate his goodwill.

John immediately called down to the front desk and asked them if it
was possible to upgrade my room. After that brief phone call I was on
my way to a beautiful oceanfront suite.

In return, I tipped John $40. That might seem excessive, but I
received a room for a week that cost hundreds of dollars more than I
was actually paying. In addition, every time John saw me in the hotel
he was very attentive and always asked if he could help me with
anything.

On that occasion, I invested $40 for a great room and at the same time
made a hard working-employee very happy.

The ultimate decision to tip, when to tip, and how to tip, is yours.
As you travel you’ll find that customs vary from city to city, country
to country, hotel to hotel, making the tipping process confusing at
best.

Here are a few guidelines that have served me well and are based on my
own extensive experience as a value-conscious luxury traveler.

— Tipping is not a requirement it’s an investment or reward for good
service. Subtly let service employees know that if they take care of
you, you’ll take care of them.

— Be sure to see the goods before handing over a tip. My friend Greg
handed over $50 dollars to the front desk agent at a Walt Disney
Resort and asked for an upgrade. Sure, she replied taking his money,
but poor Greg ended up with a standard non-upgraded room.

— If your service is not up to par, don’t leave a tip. It’s perfectly
acceptable to write a note on your restaurant bill, or inform a manger
why you’re not leaving a tip. Often you’ll end up with a free meal or
some other compensation.

— A note or letter can be more effective than money. Recently, I
conducted a survey of service industry employees. An overwhelming
majority — 80 percent — said they would prefer a written letter to
their supervisor over money. The reason? A letter helps them with
promotions and merit-pay increases.

— Carry small bills. Have a stack of $1 bills readily available so you
can quickly and easily hand over your tips, without having to ask for change.

— In foreign countries it is perfectly acceptable to tip in U.S.
dollars. The advantage to you is that you don’t have to compute your
tips into the local currency rates.

Many of the employees who work in the travel industry derive the
majority of their income from tips. Consequently, they have a vested
interest in providing the best service possible, since a higher
quality of service ensures that they receive better tips.

In other words, when you tip and how you tip will be important to
these employees, who will go out of their way to give you preferential
service.

Look at your tips as an investment in your quest for luxury travel. If
you tip wisely, you will be able to gain benefits far in excess of the
average traveler. This does not mean you need to be extravagant to
receive preferential treatment, but you do need to be prudent and
perceptive.