Tipping Your Amtrak Car Attendant – When and How Much?

One of the things I enjoy most about train travel is meeting people. And once folks find out I’m a veteran at train travel, the question I’m asked most is about tipping. That bothers a lot of people because they don’t know the correct protocol and I’ve never found any guidelines in any of the Amtrak literature to help them out.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what I do.

 For the attendant in a sleeping car, I start with a very basic $5.00 per person per night and, depending on what kind of service and attitude I get, the amount goes up or down from there.  So, if I’m traveling with my wife and we’re aboard the California Zephyr all the way from Chicago to Emeryville, that’s a minimum of $20 … two people for two nights.  If we ask for or need any extras during the trip – having a meal brought to our room instead of going to the dining car, for instance – I’ll increase the amount appropriately, usually in $5.00 increments. Conversely, I’ll deduct from my basic minimum when a car attendant does less than what’s reasonably expected.

Here’s a wonderful example: Last fall, I was on the Sunset Limited traveling from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The scheduled arrival time in LA is 5:30 a.m., but Amtrak usually allows passengers to remain on the train in the station until about 6:30.  Well, not on that trip! The car attendant woke everyone up at 4:30 a.m. with a P.A. announcement saying she would be coming around in 15 minutes to collect our sheets and towels. In other words, 35 or so passengers, paying top dollar for sleeping car accommodations, were rousted out of our nice warm berths at least 90 minutes early for the convenience of the car attendant.

You can be damn sure that my 10 bucks stayed in my wallet at the end of that trip. Furthermore, as a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ board of directors, I am allowed to file a trip report each time I complete an overnight ride on Amtrak. You can also be sure I noted that incident in detail and peppered it with a few extra exclamation points!

That said, I have found the vast majority of Amtrak car attendants to be friendly, efficient and very good at their jobs … jobs that often mean several 16-hour days in a row and can include everything from passengers falling ill to trains running many hours late. If they do a good job of looking after me and my needs for 40 or 50 hours, I’m more than glad to have $15 or $20 included in a warm handshake at the end of my journey.

Next time: tipping in an Amtrak dining car.