Valet services at hotels can make life very easy since you don’t have to worry about dealing with parking yourself, especially when you are worn out from traveling. However, whenever you utilize valet services in the US you will be expected to provide a tip.
But just how much should you tip the valet at a hotel?
In this article, I will take a deep dive into tipping the valet at hotels. I’ll break down a few different situations when you will be expected to tip and give you some recommendations on how much to tip.
I’ll also provide you with some special tips to use that will make your experience much smoother when utilizing valet at a hotel.
How much should you tip the valet at a hotel?
Generally speaking, you should tip the hotel valet $2 to $5 at each interaction you have with them.
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How does valet work at a hotel?
It’s worth taking a quick look at how valet works at hotels because it can help you better understand when tipping is appropriate.
Each hotel might do things a little bit differently but generally this is how valet works below.
When you arrive at the entrance of the hotel, a doorman, bellhop, or valet driver will greet you and ask you if you are checking in.
After that, they usually go directly into asking you about your parking preferences.
(Some hotels will have a dedicated zone for valet drop off and if you pull in that lane it is assumed you want valet services.)
When you are greeted by the staff, they should let you know about the different parking options at the hotel which normally include garage parking or valet.
Valet is usually more expensive than on-site parking (assuming they have on-site parking). You can also ask about nearby lot parking which sometimes can be cheaper than both of those options but YMMV.
Tip: A lot of valet services do not ever mention price so be sure to verify the price of valet and remember that they will quote you in the price per night. Expect valet prices at a hotel to range from about $30 to $50/night on average.
Once you have confirmed that you want to utilize valet parking, you (or the bellhop) will take out all of your luggage and personal items from the vehicle and then hand over your keys to the valet.
They will probably place a tag on your keys and an additional tag in the vehicle (taped on a windshield, hanging from rear view mirror, etc.).
They should also give you a claim check with a number on it for you to hold onto (do not lose this!). You will utilize that claim check and the number on it to call for your vehicle whenever you need it.
Tip: If you are going to need your vehicle very soon after check-in be sure to let the valet know.
Some hotels now utilize an app or a text message service to facilitate their valet.
So for example, you may text a phone number found on your claim check with the ID number for your ticket and that is how you will let the hotel know that you need your vehicle.
Some hotels may make you go down to the front desk during peak hours (I’m guessing because that can help reduce the clutter).
It usually takes about 5 to 15 minutes for your vehicle to be retrieved during off peak hours. However, sometimes, things can get backed up and it might take closer to 30 to 40 minutes during rush hour.
Once you arrive at the entrance you’ll be given your keys after you show your ticket and you’ll be free to takeoff with your vehicle.
Different tipping situations for valet
Below are a few different situations when you would consider tipping.
For suggested tips I use a range and I would choose which end of the range to tip on based on the type of property you’re staying at. For example, at a five star luxury property I would go with the higher end. At a three star hotel, the lower end.
Dropping off your vehicle
Whenever you initially drop off your vehicle at the hotel, it’s usually expected for you to tip the valet at that point.
That tip will set the tone for how that particular valet will respond to your requests for the remainder of your stay so you want to make that a respectable tip. Generally, you should tip about $2 to $5.
I would tip on the higher side when dropping off your vehicle to ensure better service later during your stay.
It’s worth noting that some people do not tip when dropping off their vehicle and only choose to tip when it is getting picked up.
Getting your vehicle picked up
Whenever you use valet you’re going to have to get your vehicle picked up at least once and probably more than once. It’s expected for you to tip whenever a valet retrieves your vehicle. Generally, you should tip about $2 to $5.
If you already tipped whenever you dropped off your vehicle, then dropping down to around $2 to $3 is perfectly acceptable at a lot of hotels.
Try to make sure that you are available to come down as soon as your vehicle is ready and on deck.
The valet will allow your vehicle to sit out front for a while but at a certain point you will be contributing to the clutter down there and they will eventually have to move your vehicle (perhaps to the back of the line).
Also, some cities have strict ordinances that prevent the valet from being able to keep your car out for too long.
Getting something out of your vehicle
If you ever need to get something out of your vehicle the ideal choice is to simply contact the valet service and ask them to retrieve the item for you.
You can do this by telling them where in the vehicle the object is located and giving them a description of what to look for.
This is much more preferred than asking the valet service to retrieve your vehicle. It’s expected for you to tip whenever a valet retrieves an item from your vehicle but you can probably down your tip a little bit. Generally, you should tip about $2 to $3.
If for some reason you are not sure where the item is and you are worried about a stranger digging through various crevices and compartments in your car then I think it’s okay to ask them to get your vehicle for you to search.
This is especially true if you have something like marijuana in your vehicle that would be uncomfortable for them to discover.
Sometimes you might even be able to see where your vehicle is parked and if you have an extra set of keys you can just access it yourself.
If you don’t know where your car was taken, you can just ask the front desk if you can access the parking area where your vehicle is.
Why you should tip the valet service at hotels
In the United States, tipping is customary for services such as valet. You may not like it or agree with it but that is just the way it is and when you don’t tip it is a breach of custom.
Valet drivers usually get paid a base rate and then will split the tips with whomever was working the same shift. The base rate of their may not be very high, especially if they are located in a state that allows for credits for tipped employees.
So they usually rely heavily on tips to supplement their income.
Tipping valet may improve your experience (in little ways)
When you tip (and have a pleasant attitude), a valet may be more likely to park your car in an area where it can be quickly retrieved, so that your waiting time is less than someone who did not tip or was rude.
They also will be more attentive to the settings in your vehicle and make sure that your seat is pushed back the same way it was, radio station is set to where it was, AC/heat, etc.
The big worry that people have is that if they don’t tip, the valet driver will intentionally drive recklessly or negligently with their vehicle.
I wouldn’t worry too much about that because their job is on the line and they will be self sabotaging if they do something like that.
However, it would not surprise me if valet drivers became even more cautious with your vehicle when they know that you are taking care of them with tips.
Can you ask the valet for favors?
Something that a lot of people don’t know is that some valet drivers will take care of special favors for you assuming that the destination is nearby and you’re incapable of driving for whatever reason.
This may not be acceptable at many hotels so don’t always expect it to work but if you have a simple task such as dropping something off or picking something up like food from a nearby destination, the valet driver may oblige, especially if the hotel is not very busy.
At that point, they are doing a special favor for you so you definitely want to adequately tip them in that scenario.
When do you pay for valet?
Typically, the valet charges for your stay will not be charged until the end of your stay when the hotel has the opportunity to tally up all of the nights that you used it.
You can pay this bill whenever you check out or you can simply allow the hotel to automatically charge your card on file assuming you did not pay with cash.
Tips for using valet services at hotels
Time your check out
Some hotels get extremely busy during check out which is usually around 10am to noon. Trying to retrieve your vehicle during these hours can mean a very long wait and super busy traffic jams.
Consider checking out a little bit early or if you’re able to get late check out, check out a little bit late to avoid the rush.
In some instances, you might even be able to speak with the valet about a specific time you will be requesting your vehicle.
If that time runs a little bit over check out they may be willing to accommodate you without charging you extra, especially if you have already proven to be a nice tipper.
Reveal your (sometimes embarrassing) vehicle quirks
If you have any weird quirks about your vehicle such as windows that don’t roll down it helps to bring these up whenever you handover your keys.
Valet drivers will likely understand if you have certain mechanical issues but don’t expect them to be understanding if your car is just filthy. Make sure that the interior is reasonably clean before handing it over to a valet service.
Also, if you drive stick you may want to verify that the valet driver can drive stick — not all valet drivers are experienced drivers.
You don’t always have to be a hotel guest
You may already be aware but you don’t always have to be staying at a hotel in order to use their valet service.
If you are attending some type of event nearby, utilizing the valet at a hotel can be a great way to easily deal with parking in busy urban areas.
Self parking in valet?
Some properties will allow you to utilize a valet parking spot while self parking.
The catch is that you will still have to pay the valet rate so you’re basically just paying for an expensive parking spot. Also, this may require an escort to make sure that you do not scrape up any other vehicles. It can be more trouble than many would like.
Don’t tip a single dollar
I would argue that it’s better to not tip anything than to tip a single dollar in a lot of cases.
There is something about tipping a single dollar that just seems slightly disrespectful. Your intentions may be well but that doesn’t mean you can’t be offensive.
So my suggestion is to always tip a minimum of two dollars.
Inspect your vehicle
Valet drivers handle hundreds of vehicles a day and in that process minor collisions are inevitable.
It’s pretty much par for the course for cars to get scuffed up here and there. So it’s a good idea to inspect your vehicle after it has been driven by valet.
And make sure that you don’t take too long because if you discover a ding several days later, you may not have a claim to get reimbursed for the damage because it will be harder to prove that the valet did it.
Don’t cut things close
Accidents do happen and I’ve even had a hotel temporarily “lose” our vehicle. Be prepared for the unexpected and avoid cutting things close when it comes to picking up your vehicle because delays can happen at any time.
Remove all the temptations
A lot of valet drivers do not want to risk getting fired so they will not steal but some will. It’s best to just remove any temptations such as having money or expensive jewelry on display in your vehicle. Take anything that could release the inner-klepto in someone.
Also be aware that some valet drivers are known to snoop around. They don’t necessarily steal anything but they could go through your belongings like an open bag if you leave them out.
As a general rule of thumb, expect to tip the valet two dollars to five dollars depending on the type of hotel you’re staying at. Also, be prepared to tip them at every interaction with at least a couple of dollars.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.