Should I leave a tip at my Airbnb for housekeeping? We asked experts.

Judith Zeng
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Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

On the last day of a recent Airbnb stay in Costa Rica, my friends and I did a quick cleanup before leaving the rental. But before we walked out the door, I wondered if I was forgetting something. If this were a hotel, I would leave a tip for housekeeping. We had paid more than $100 for a cleaning fee — and a $150 service fee, which is set by Airbnb. Does that mean a tip is still expected? In this week’s By The Way Concierge, I talked to etiquette experts to find out.

Tipping brings the same confusion and anxiety as doing my taxes: I’m never 100 percent sure I’m paying the precise amount. Part of that is because I’m terrible at math. The other part is because the perfect tip can be a moving target depending on the level of service you’re getting and what kind of establishment you’re patronizing.

It doesn’t help that we don’t regularly talk about tipping or formally teach tipping, despite the practice being a regular occurrence in the United States. So when I have a question about it, I go straight to the experts. After the thought crossed my mind on my last trip, I contacted etiquette professionals to find out if you should leave a tip after your next Airbnb or VRBO stay.

Do you know how to tip? Take this quiz to find out.

Although gratuity is not required, experts were mixed on whether you should leave some cash behind.

“I tip housekeeping in a hotel, but I don’t tip in an Airbnb because I know I’m paying a cleaning fee,” says Ben Pundole, founder of A Hotel Life, who has worked in the hospitality industry for the past 30 years.

Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, also always recommends tipping housekeepers at least $2 to $5 per day at a hotel (unless they specifically request you don’t). They’re often providing services for you throughout your stay, and they’re usually “the hardest-working staff in the hotel while being the least recognized,” she said.

However, there’s no way of knowing if the cash you leave behind at a rental is going to the host or a housekeeper. Therefore, “it’s not necessary,” she told me, “because the hosts set their own rates and Airbnb’s platform provides the option for hosts whether or not they want to charge a cleaning fee on top of their nightly rate.”

Those cleaning fees already enrage many travelers, even though it’s set by the host. Airbnb offers advice for hosts to decide on a reasonable cleaning fee, even suggesting they don’t charge one at all. According to the company, 45 percent of listings worldwide do not charge a cleaning fee. The listings that do usually have a cleaning fee that costs less than 10 percent of the total reservation.

“If cleaning is already a charge that I’ve paid for — which it typically is — then there’s no need to tip,” says Aimee Symington, CEO and founder of the etiquette and social-skills training company Finesse Worldwide. “They’ve set the price for what they think is fair for their services, and it’s not expected to give a tip on top.”

How to tip while traveling without cash

When Symington is leaving a vacation rental, she does a scan of the place and assesses the damage. If she’s done a good cleanup job herself — and some cleanup may be required per the Airbnb’s house rules — she doesn’t tip. If she stayed somewhere for a week with a big group or small kids and recognizes there may be a bigger cleanup job needed, “I might consider leaving an extra tip for the housekeeper,” she says. “Maybe it’s even a gift for the host — a bottle of wine or some flowers.”

Lisa Gaché, founder and CEO of Beverly Hills Manners, agrees. Her suggestion for an alternative to gratuity is for guests to “take the time to clean up after themselves, do the dishes, strip the beds, take out the trash and tidy up before departing,” she says. To go the extra mile, she also recommends leaving a thoughtful thank-you note.

Tsai agrees. “If you want to show your appreciation for how much you enjoyed your stay, you can leave a nice review which would encourage other travelers to book with them,” she says.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.

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