Tipping in an American Express Centurion Lounge

The Dallas and Miami Centurion lounges offer complimentary spa treatments. I love a good spa treatment, I will take up the offer of the Thai Airways spa in Bangkok and the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney. But I generally give it a miss in Dallas and Miami. My only treatment was in Dallas when the lounge first opened.

I got into an interesting discussion with the therapist, the spa menu noted that the treatments are complimentary but that gratuities are not included. I pressed him for what he felt an appropriate tip would be. At first he was reluctant, but he shared that he thought an hour-long treatment would warrant a $20 tip (perhaps 20% on a $100 service), so $5 for a 15 minute treatment seemed right to him.


Dallas Fort-Worth Centurion Lounge


Dallas Fort-Worth Centurion Lounge

A reddit thread prompted me to think about what’s customary tipping in a Centurion lounge for other services — and whether it might vary by airport?

[T]he [Las Vegas] Centurion lounge was terrible today. No seats available, men’s room broken, half of the food was empty and, while the lounge attendant was great, the bartender was rude and actually made a comment about my 5$ tip for two drinks being too low.

Indeed, what’s appropriate at the bar? Should you tip staff who may offer to bring you drinks at your seat? If the Member Services desk assists with something, perhaps a restaurant recommendation or booking, should they be tipped?


Philadelphia Centurion Lounge

I reached out to American Express to see whether they have any policy on who may accept tips or guidance to cardmembers on what may be expected? Here’s what American Express had to say,

Card Members are not expected to tip our Member Services professionals. While tipping at the bar and spa are not expected, Card Members may tip these staff if they’d like to.

I’ll say that I hate tipping. I’d much rather employees be paid their full wage by their employer, with prices set accordingly (including the annual fee of an American Express card that offers lounge access).

I don’t always have small bills, if I’m carrying cash it might just be $20s, and I think it’s silly to have to plan to carry pieces of paper for tipping. I also don’t think you should have to avoid a drink at the bar in an airport lounge because you lack those strips of paper. If tipping is expected, then let you sign for it or Venmo it or at least make change.

However it’s a very American thing and I’m American, I’m pretty much stuck with it unless I want to work on a British accent.


Houston Centurion Lounge

My own take is that if you’ve got cash in your pocket then $5 for a 15 minute spa treatment is appropriate, and a buck or two per drink unless the bartender is going out of their way for you and doing something special. If you think my approach to tipping generally is wrong, you should feel free to tip more, but American Express says you’re not expected to.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I’d be shocked if a Centurion lounge ( or any airline club) bartender actually said $5 is too cheap for 2 drinks…seems like someone adding a slight bit of fake news to an internet thread. I think a $1-$2/drink is a pretty standard tip in most bars so i think that translates well to the clubs. I personally usually do $1/drink. If they provide great service I might round up to a $5 for the few drinks I have. If they suck they get a goose-egg.

    But I’ve found most club bartenders are pretty attentive and provide good service….even when lounges are packed.

  2. No. Please, no. Do NOT encourage tipping. If we’re not expected to by AMEX, then don’t do it. Tipping needs to end. Tipping is wrong, not tipping is how it should be.

  3. The worst is airline clubs that don’t have soda fountains. I end up buying a Diet Coke for $1 and hoping I have small bills.

  4. Personally, I think people’s attitude toward tipping is a reflection of their character. I have a friend who was a very high level exec with Hyatt. Part of their management training was a rotation with housekeeping. He talked about how hard those women worked, what nightmares they had to clean, and how few and far between tips were, but that it made their day when they received even a couple of dollars. A lot of people are flat out rude to service industry providers.Those of us lucky enough to enjoy a lifestyle that includes travel should feel grateful that we are in a position where we can brighten someone’s day with a few dollars here and there rather than begrudge the people earning far less than we do. If you can afford the annual fee on a platinum card, you can afford to tip. If you can’t afford to tip, stay home and save up until you can before traveling.

    I’ve never seen a bartender hesitate to break a $20 for me so that I could tip appropriately. For people who say they don’t have cash, you need to change your habits. Part of my travel “go” list is cash for tips. I wouldn’t leave home without ID, Priority Pass, and credit cards, so I always make sure I have cash to tip along the way. People will be helping with luggage. I always request a robe at checkin if one isn’t in the room, and I need to tip the person who delivers it. Some hotels don’t have ice machines, and you have to call room service – they don’t charge for the ice, so you can’t add the tip to the room slip. I always tip housekeeping $5 day for cleaning the room.

    I agree that $1-2 per drink is fine, especially for wine/beer, and basic cocktails. If you order something difficult, or that takes a long time to make, you should tip more (If the bar is busy, and you’re holding up others getting their drinks, you shouldn’t order it.). Remember, that a lot of bartenders and waiters make $2.13 an hour because it is expected they receive tips.

    I also agree a $5 tip per 15 minutes is a good benchmark for complimentary spa services.

    Basically, be a decent human being and do unto others. There’s enough greed and meanness in the world already.

  5. I also hate tipping as it puts pressure on me whenever I receive any kind of service in a lounge, and as someone who usually doesn’t carry cash, it’s really a lot of hassle to get cash just for tips.

  6. I’ll second that the LAS bartenders are the moodiest in the Centurion Lounge network. While I was never criticized for my tipping, I was criticized for ordering off the cocktail menu (which is all 3-5 part cocktails), when other drinks order would be easier for them. They need an attitude adjustment.

    As far as tipping goes, I think American tipping culture stems from money already changing hands. If no transaction is taking place, the customer doesn’t reach for their wallet, and the tip is never given. The exception is obviously hotel housekeeping (housekeeping tips needs to become obsolete more than anything).

  7. I rarely carry cash and rarely can get a massage time at DFW. The few times I’ve gotten a massage and I haven’t tipped the staff haven’t said anything but I can tell they’re disappointed by the looks on their faces…

  8. I don’t tip at the Centurion Lounge. I think you nailed it, Gary. Why do only the bartenders deserve tips? The lounge attendants are usually great and also working hard.

  9. “If tipping is expected, then let you sign for it or Venmo it or at least make change.”

    This. 100% this. I don’t carry cash. Period. If you want tip, let me do it without cash.

  10. I think the main perspective on tipping that is missed in this post is that it adds a cost to something that is supposed to be complimentary.

    One of the main benefits of the lounge is going in and having all of the food/drinks/services/etc are already paid for (in the membership). If I have to tip for everything that happens in the lounge, I’m effectively paying for all that stuff just like I would be outside the lounge at the myriad of restaurants and bars out there. I know you get fancier drinks at a reduced price (after tipping), but given the choice between paying (tip) for a fancy drink or paying nothing to drink from a water fountain I would take the water virtually every time. Tipping ruins the equation and (to me) is one of the worst forms of the bait-and-switch (“This is free –> But you’re a worthless human ruining other people’s day if you don’t tip them”).

    I’ve heard the argument that you must feel sorry for the people who work for the tips and it’s “not their fault”, but the reality is when you take a “free” service and add a guilt trip of someone with their hands out, the end result for that person is a one-time pity tip and then no repeat visits – which ultimately harms the person who is supposed to benefit from being viewed as a charity case.

  11. “I’d much rather employees be paid their full wage by their employer”

    Except in many cases they actually are! Many people serving you drinks at conference facilities in NYC are members of a union – fully salaried with benefits. And, if an event is hosted by another company, that company has likely paid a service charge already. Flight attendants are salaried, and I’ll bet, so are airport lounge workers. An idiot would double tip.

    Tips are for personalized service delivered face to face. Hotel maids don’t meet that standard. They are like kitchen staff – you don’t go back to the kitchen and tip the cooks, do you?

    But a lot of people just like throwing away money or like feeling important.

  12. Stop trying to push tipping where its not expected. We already pay for the lounge access. Im sure amex pays them more than average bartenders.

  13. A dollar or two isn’t going to break anyone. Although I tip $5 for the hotel cleaning person, I find the narrative offered by @Angie from the high level Hyatt executive very odd. If a high level Hyatt executive is powerless to improve compensation for cleaning crew, who can?
    BTW, a TPG sighting at the Philadelphia Centurion.

  14. It’s funny how @Angie is such a proponent of tipping yet urges us not to order complicated drinks – the ones that yield the biggest tips – when the bar is busy.

  15. I think tipping is important for anyone in the service industry, particularly those “forgotten” workers like housekeepers. I always tip at the AmEx lounges and the Admiral’s Club and keep a stash of fives, tens, and ones easily at hand. Whether they work for a lounge, hotel, or restaurant, they are serving and helping and deserve recognition. Plus you get better service…

  16. Wait, @Carl – are you saying we should aspire to the Italian service norms? haha. hahahahahahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAAAAAHAHAHA!

    HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHHAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAA.

    Good one. Oh gosh give me a minute, my stomach hurts.

    Okay, now: I generally tip a buck on the first round, but not on the second round, which usually happens. Shows I care some, yet I’m not going to overtip in an environment where it is not and should not be expected.

    If the Las Vegas example in the story actually happened, I’d probably get kicked out of the club. Certainly Amex would get a note about it with an employee name.

    G-d I hate Vegas.

  17. I am absolutely not a fan of tipping. I feel that businesses underpaying staff with the expectation that customers will pay them directly is deceitful. This is why I get exceptionally triggered when hotels seek to encourage their customers to tip housekeeping instead of paying them what they deserve. Tipping is full of discrimination that would otherwise be flatly illegal: customers tip white staff more than black, and pretty women get higher tips than homely men. Sadly, in America, tipping culture is not going away any time soon, but there’s no reason to go crazy with it. I think $1-2 per drink is sufficient, and I think $5 for a 15-min spa session is good.

  18. My problem with tipping culture is very simple. I do not have access to and thus cannot possibly tip everyone who contributed to the service and experience I am receiving.

    Sure you can tip the waiter who brought you the food. But what about the cook, the dishwasher, person who carried the produce to the kitchen. Bartender and ice cream shop cashiers we tip, but what about those at grocery and department store counters and cash registers? The guy who walked around Coctco and Home Depot helping you locate something?

    So I mostly prefer not to tip individuals who just happen to be there in front of me. If a hotel or restaurant has a tip-sharing system, I’d contribute to that. However I would be happier if the whole thing went away.

  19. My view is that tipping, when in a tipping culture, should be based on some percentage of the cost of the price charged to the consumer. If the provider does not present a bill to the consumer for the goods or service then the provider should either make sure the employees are compensated for the lack of tips and post a sign saying tips are not required (preferably not allowed) or they should post a sign saying tips are not included. This obviously is a personal opinion but it makes sense.

    Especially in the context of an airline lounge it seems wrong to tip because people will consider it part of their ticket benefit. Think about it. No one is expected to tip a FA for serving them a free drink on a plane. Why then should a passenger expect that tipping is needed in the airline’s lounge which is a benefit of the same ticket that provided the no-tip drink service on the plane?

    That said, I rarely drink alcohol and I tend to avoid unclear situations where there may or may not be a tip expected. It is uncomfortable to me not to know whether a tip is required or not and how much is expected so I usually just avoid the service or over-tip when it may not be expected. It would be much better if the policies were clearly spelled out so all parties are aware of what is expected.

  20. 1: If you don’t carry cash when traveling, you are an idiot. Bad things happen, and you can’t always use a credit card. If telecommunications systems go dow, are you ready to die because you can’t buy anything?

    2: Waiters / bartenders split their tips with the support people who don’t get them. Sorry, you can’t use that as an excuse not to tip

  21. I tip $5 on the spa services and $1 on any of the cocktails that require a bit of effort. I don’t tip if all that’s involved is pouring a drink (like a soda or a draft beer) or mixing something basic (like a gin & tonic).

  22. I think most Americans who have spent time overseas know how terrible our “tipping culture” is. It rarely improves service, and is just a hassle. And it results in illogical compensation schemes; like waiters are WAY overpaid compared to other restaurant employees.

    On several occasions, I’ve seen folks throw down $5 bucks for a beer at the Miami Centurion lounge (for some reason, big tipping is particularly prevalent there). I’ve even seen the bartender reach for his billfold, which seemed to be about 4 inches wide! So they’re obviously making big bucks on tips. Personally, I wouldn’t order a beer at the Lounge for 5 bucks. It’s not worth that to me, and I don’t like feeling like a loser for not tipping an excessive amount. I’d much prefer a self-serve tap (I guess this is illegal in the US?) and not have to deal with the tipping drama. Sigh.

  23. @Angie, I’m surprised and disappointed at your takeaway from spending a day with housekeeping. I agree they work hard and rarely seen. However, It’s not my job as a customer to make sure your employees are adequately and fairly compensated. I stay at your hotel with the expectation that you are paying your employees a fair wage.

    I don’t understand the comments that if you can afford to travel or if you can afford the platinum annual fee, you should spare a few dollars to poorly paid employees. To me that completely misses the point.

    There are plenty of hardworking low paid workers. How about those who clean airport toilets, work on baggage transfer, or those who work at airport McDonald’s.

    Amex says tips are not expected. I assume that means everyone at the lounge is paid at least above minimum wage. And honestly I expect lounge bartender who makes those fancy drinks to be paid fairly well. So of course no tip from me. This is extremely different than waiters at restaurants.

  24. Tipping as an extra payment for service is the most annoying thing ever.

    The problem is the US is exporting this habbit in other countries as well. Expat-owned business in Central America are plastered with signs telling customers how they should “support” their hard working employees with a tip. At the same type, the same people advertise jobs saying they pay “a fair local wage”(read low). If you are charging the same price for a coffee as Starbucks in NYC then at least have the decency to pay the same wages, not “fair local wage”.

    Also, Lonely Planet guides mention everywhere that “tips are appreciated”. No shit, I thought I may offend someone by paying more.

  25. You should always tip your bartender. They are looking you in the eye and feeding you. It is human.

    People who complain about tipping are what I call “the mean rich.” Minimum wage is around 15000 a year folks.

    How about you just factor it into your churning expenses?

  26. Agree with Angie. And I would much rather decide who and how much to tip rather than pay the ridiculous RESORT fee. I am curious about those who do not plan ahead and carry cash . . . How do you handle thanking the bellman or the hotel van driver.

  27. I still tip $5 when I visit the Priority Pass Caper’s locations at PDX to use up my $28 allocation per visit. And since it’s a small group of bartenders (and my home airport), I get recognized, and get heavy pours the next time.

  28. @Angie
    @Mary McCombie
    @San Fran Sky

    You’re missing the point of the desire to not tip. Yes, we understand that housekeepers do a hard job that’s too often quite unpleasant. Yes, bartenders and waiters are bringing us food and drink. We want them (and all staff) to be paid a fair wage. If that means prices are raised to cover the 20% extra we used to tip, fine. We’re happy to pay upfront rather than pay an artificial low price and then be compelled to pay extra after.

    Studies have demonstrated that tipping does not lead to better service.

  29. Imagine – you’re this rich douchey snobby entitled a**hole who thinks just because they pay $450 for an amex platinum membership (that you honestly get back with all the amenities) provided by the membership – that you’re in a lounge — you’ve had a shitty awful flight and you’re just ready to relax — you get a bartender who just slams down your steak and screams “go long” for your A1. Now imagine, you’ve had the same crappy flight – but you get someone (some people) who are offering you a massage, Bloody Mary , and a delicious meal with a “can I bring you anything else”. Neither of these service industry people require a tip(and neither will get let go based on their performance), which lounge do you go to?

  30. Servers, bell attendants, housekeepers sometimes make as low as $5 per hour so tips are a part of their income. No one should ever make a comment of your tip being too low however you not tipping because you don’t believe in it it’s disgraceful. You get the luxury of being able to travel, that is why you visit lounges, hotels… maybe these people will never be able to have the same opportunity because of people like you who don’t believe in tipping. If you don’t believe in tipping … please DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.

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