To Tip or Not to Tip, That Is the Question

I received an email yesterday from someone about to take an overnight trip on Amtrak. She wanted to know who and how much to tip. Good question! About the only reference I’ve ever seen in any of the material Amtrak puts out is pretty vague … just saying that tipping is optional, but appreciated. Well, for what it’s worth, here’s how I deal with this issue, whether on Amtrak or VIA Rail in Canada.

First, don’t tip the conductors. (Believe it or not, I’ve been asked that question more than once over the years.)

Tip car attendants in coaches if they are especially helpful or friendly or if you have asked for and received some special service. How much? I’d say $2 or $3 for each night you’re on board … or more if, for example, you’re traveling with kids and the attendant has had to clean up after them.

My rule-of-thumb for sleeping car attendants is $5 per night per person … meaning if there are two of you traveling in a roomette for two nights from Chicago to Seattle, tip $20 when you get to the end of your trip. If you’re traveling solo, 10 bucks.

It’s customary to leave some extra change for the lounge car attendant when you make purchases there.

In the dining car, follow the normal custom for any restaurant by tipping 15 percent of the cost of the meal. I’ve noticed that many sleeping car passengers fail to tip because their meals are “free” … meaning they’re included in the cost of the ticket. That’s really a shame because the IRS assumes the servers receive tips and their income tax is computed accordingly. So note the price of the meal when you order and tip accordingly. Furthermore, assuming the service is good – and it almost always is – be generous, because the dining car crews work very hard, usually starting at 6:30 in the morning and often going well past 9:00 p.m.

All that said, don’t hesitate to tip less, or even not at all, if you get poor service. Hopefully, that will be a rare experience.