When you book a guided tour, it may seem like you’re covering most of your vacation costs before you even depart. Most tours include accommodations, trip leaders, local guides, transportation during the trip, admission fees, and many meals all in the upfront cost. But the addd cost of tour leader tips and other customary gratuities can sneak up on you unless you’ve factored them in at the beginning.
Inspired by my own frustration about the vague information available about how much to tip on guided tours, I’ve compared tipping guidelines and recommendations from a dozen different tour companies to create this tipping guide for tours. You can use it to get a sense of tour operator tipping norms and then plan accordingly.
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Which Gratuities Are Covered in Most Tours?
Many tour companies build tips for support staff into the tour price. That could include hotel staff, waiters, and sometimes (but not always) bus drivers. If your guided tour has a dedicated motor coach driver for the entire trip, for example, you may be expected to tip the driver in addition to your guides.
And almost none of the tour operators I spoke with include the priciest of all tips—tour leader gratuities—into the cost of a tour. The exception is Road Scholar, which includes group leader gratuities in the up-front tour cost.
Which Gratuities Are Not Covered in Most Tours?
Beyond the above-mentioned exceptions, most tour companies do not include tips for guides and hotel housekeeping. Often, these people rely on tips as a vital part of their income, so it’s important to set your own budget accordingly to make sure you’re tipping at an appropriate level for their service.
- Tour Leader/Director: I’ll go into more detail below about tipping tour leaders, but in terms of the biggest gratuity expense to budget for on a tour, this is it, since the customary amount may well be in the hundreds of dollars.
- Local Tour Guides: Some tour companies will include local tour guides into the gratuities covered in the cost of the tour, while others say you should tip local tour guides individually. If you’re expected to tip local guides on your own, the daily amount usually falls somewhere in the $2 to $10 range. Local tour guides tend to be used for day tours, so you’ll want to tip them at the end of the day, as you may not see them again.
- Hotel Housekeeping: In-room tips for the cleaning staff aren’t generally paid by tour companies. TourScoop’s sister site FamilyVacationist has an explainer about hotel housekeeping tipping etiquette, but generally speaking the customary range is $3 to $10 per day depending on the hotel class.
- Independent Meals: Learn tipping customs for your destinations before you go, since you’ll likely have some meals on your own and will want to be able to tip or not tip as the culture dictates.
Why You Should Always Tip Your Tour Leaders
Ask a tour company why you should tip your tour leader and you’ll likely get some version of, “Well, it’s the customary way to thank them for all their hard work” or “It’s how you show appreciation and gratitude.”
Intrepid Travel goes a bit deeper on its explanation, noting that “tipping is still a big part of leaders’ overall income” and that tipping locals for their guiding services is actually a powerful way to inject cash into the local economy. Since tip money doesn’t pass through a third party, the money “either go[es] straight to the leader, or get[s] divided up among your porters and local guides.”
A great tour leader turns a good experience into a great one, and it’s natural to want to make sure they feel appreciated, even if you have some resistance to the structures that require guests to heavily subsidize these hard-working wonders.
How Much to Tip Your Tour Leaders
The less helpful but most accurate answer to the question of how much to tip your tour leader is that information about tipping is generally found in the final documents you receive before your trip, so be sure to read those pages carefully when you get them (usually somewhere between a month and two weeks before the start of a tour). To give you a ballpark estimate, though, the daily per person tip for a tour leader tip should be somewhere in the range of $7 to $12, with $10 per person per day being the most widely recommended amount.
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That amount can add up quickly, especially if you have more than one tour leader and/or are traveling with a family group. For instance, Adventures by Disney (which is refreshingly up-front about its tipping recommendations) pencils out gratuities for a 10-day tour with a family of four at $720 to $880, since its family travel adventures always include two tour leaders. That can be sticker-shock territory, which is why I suspect so many tour companies are so cagey about how much to tip tour leaders.
How and When to Tip on a Guided Tour
Some companies—including Trafalgar, Globus, and Collette—may give you the option to pre-pay tour leader tips with your credit card at the time of booking. On the one hand, that’s great, since it means you don’t need to carry around cash to give at the very end of the trip. On the other hand, it pokes holes in the industry-wide story that the tip is tied to the service you’ve received.
Most tour companies still recommend tipping your tour leader at the end of the tour. Plan to tip in either the local currency or U.S. dollars if it’s a widely accepted currency in the destination country. Some tour leaders also accept Venmo or PayPal.