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As a matter of habit, I never deal with cash while staying in the US. All I have on hand is a few credit cards, which also means using the ATM would incur fees. At the same time I am aware that it's expected to leave a tip to room cleaning, at least in 3+ star hotels. But how am I supposed to do this if I don't use cash? Is it expected that one takes out a few bills just for tipping purposes? Or should I ask the reception to add a tip to my bill?

  • Additionally, unless you were planning on tipping in multiples of $20, you'd then have to break whatever larger bill was dispensed into smaller denominations. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jul 5 at 20:31
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    @RoddyOfTheFrozenPeas how would one do that if they don't normally use cash? I especially like using cards because my bank generates live stats on how much I spent on travelling, groceries, eating out, etc. When I somehow do have cash I immediately top up my bank so that I can just pay for everything by tapping and getting accurate spending stats. – kiradotee Jul 6 at 10:54
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    @kiradotee - no idea what you're talking about, sorry. My comment was in reference to the fact that ATMs often only dispense $20 bills. So if you did withdraw cash you'd then have to break it into smaller denominations. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jul 6 at 20:17
  • Downvoted as this is not a travel problem but a result of unwillingness to deal with a financial choice. – Willeke Jul 7 at 16:14
  • @Willeke it is both a travel problem and a result of unwillingness to deal with a financial choice. – phoog Jul 7 at 18:26
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Yes, you are expected to have some cash for tipping purposes. You might also need it if a bellman carries your bags to/from your room or you receive other tipped services. Many people don't tip housekeeping, but if you're going to leave a tip, do it in cash. The front desk should be happy to make change if you need it; they want you to be able to tip. With planning, ATM fees can be low to zero, and you can further reduce their effects by taking out more cash and holding onto it if you travel to the US more than once.

Asking the front desk to add a tip to your bill would be unusual and may not be something the hotel could handle (besides a hotel restaurant and room service). I'd have little confidence of it working, or the tip actually ending up with the correct person.

Not all businesses in the US take credit cards, and small independent businesses will often prefer cash for small purchases, so it's helpful to have a bit of cash on hand anyway for something as simple as a water or soft drink from a cart on the street.

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    That's a shame, looks like I'm unable to tip these kinds of services then. – JonathanReez Jul 6 at 10:44
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    @jonathanreez come ooooon if you can afford to travel, you can afford a little atm fee. Show the people who pick up after you some love. – Carl Jul 6 at 13:28
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    @Carl it's not just about ATM fees. Cash is a hassle to deal with, I try not to have any while staying in developed countries. – JonathanReez Jul 6 at 14:06
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    @JonathanReez you are not unable to; you are choosing not to. – ajd Jul 7 at 9:19
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    Just to add another thought: tipping in cash provides more anonymity and leaves all money at the tipped person - tipping by card means that the payment provider takes its fees and that the money ends in the hotel's base account. So, even if you could pay the tip by card (as the hotel might provide that option), it should not be prefered: tip the people directly, without any middleman – Nico Haase Jul 9 at 9:02
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If you don't want to tip the people who serve you in the US, then don't stay in a hotel, eat in a restaurant, etc. That's the only real answer.

When you travel to other countries, you are expected to make at least a token effort to accommodate local customs and expected behavior, even when it's inconvenient. Tipping service people in the US is expected behavior. In a restaraunt, you can add the tip to the bill and pay with a credit card, but tipping hotel bell service / coatcheck / housekeeping / valet / etc. is done in cash. You might not like it, or agree with it, but that's the way it is.

You are unwilling, not unable, to pay a $2.50 ATM fee (or to deal with the "hassle" of paying someone in cash) to someone who is likely earning $2.50 an hour, and largely dependent on tips to survive.

(BTW, I hate the tipping culture in the US as well. I think all people should be paid a living wage. But I don't believe punishing the people who are already struggling is the proper way to make a point.)

  • Housekeeping is not paid $2.50 an hour. You're thinking of wait staff (in some states). Check out the link in the other answer. I'm not saying they're paid enough, but they aren't expected to depend on tips for their wages like wait staff are. – Kat Jul 31 at 21:28

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