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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.

32 Comments

  1. How about tipping at the restaurant? We will not receive a bill (since we have a roommate), so how can we tip? We took a train about 5 years ago and I remember the food being quite good. My husband took care of all the tipping, and I paid no attention so I would not know what to do this time.

    1. Apologies for the delay in responding to your letter. Prices are listed on the dining car menu, so using those as a guide, tip as you would in any restarrant.

  2. Thanks for the info and opinion Jim. Even in 1980, when I was a single working mom and took my little girl to Chicago and back on the Southwest Chief, I still tipped in the dining car and upon arrival, a twenty to thank the sleeping car attendant. I was making $10.50 an hour in a bank, but I had saved up for our “Big Vacation” and was loving every minute of it. Felt Richer than rich.
    P.S. My Mom took me on my first train ride all the way to Vermont when I was only 4 yrs. old. She taught me to respect people who work hard instead of the ones with a silver spoon in their mouth from day one. Makes you appreciate the wonderful adventure.

  3. Jim,
    I was born in Honolulu and still live here but have travelled by rail all over India, Thailand,Malaysia in the 70’s. Rode on hippie/freak bus from New Delhi to Athens via Afghanistan in ’77. I’m sure you are aware of seat61.com…
    Juju. jujupang@yahoo.com If you want get together for coffee or a snack.

  4. Hi Jim,
    Luv the Starlight … Seattle to Martinez next week ?
    I have a roomette. Are complimentary glasses of wine included ?

    1. “Glasses?” Plural?? Oh, my dear, it has been a long time since there was a complimentary anything. But have the car attendant bring you a half bottle when you leave Seattle. It’ll be 9:45 in the morning , but what the hell! Have a great trip!

  5. On my last Roomette journey, the attendant pretty much did nothing but put on a pot of coffee down the hall in the morning. He asked if I had been in a Roomette before and I told him I had and I would lower the bunk myself. I don’t remember what I tipped him or even if I did. Would you suggest tipping 5-bucks a day for NO service?

  6. $48k is hard to live on in most places. Being away from home lot. I would say $20 for two per night is stingy. I plan my first Amtrack trip this July. I plan to tip more than that for each night. Two different trains.

    1. Your choice, of course. When it’s a toss-up, the deciding factor for me is personality.

  7. Tipping government union employees? $200.00 per day sounds right, even if a bit stingy. For two people.

  8. Could you help me please? I a 68 year old woman, handicapped and traveling alone on my very first Amtrak Train trip from Albany NY to Chicago, then transferring to a train to Dallas, TX. I will have a bedroom and appreciated your comments on tipping. Thank you! But, what should I tip the Red Caps who help me with my baggage?

    Thank you for your help! Lucy Beliveau

  9. Oddly enough, I did a little research on this topic as I am heading to NOLA aboard the City Of New Orleans in a few weeks.

    Much to my surprise, I discovered that the average salary of AMTRAK car attendants is $22 per hour, and when factoring in bonuses, overtime and other incentives, car attendants average a very healthy $48,000 per year. That figure does not even account for top quality health insurance and other perc’s. These figures come from Glassdoor, which is a research company where people can gather information on companies, management, and salaries, in an anonymous manner.
    The information specific to car attendants can be found here.
    https://www.glassdoor.com/Hourly-Pay/Amtrak-Train-Attendant-Hourly-Pay-E2912_D_KO7,22.htm

    So, while you are losing sleep over how much to tip the guy changing your bedding…he probably rakes in far more than must people who are riding the train.

    1. It’s sad that you think $48,000 is a “healthy” salary! Cheapskate I cry anything ti make a heel of a lot more and don’t tip service people.

      1. I agree. $49K. Very tight to live on. Not many people traveling in sleepers that are not makeing way more. Some people just love a way to not tip. And the attendants are dedicated professionals.

      2. My point in this conversation is simply that whatever someone feels like tipping train personnel should be adequate since they make a healthy salary. Nowhere did I say not to tip anyone. They will not starve if you tip $2, $5 or $10. It’s unfortunate when someone misinterprets things and makes themselves look foolish in the process. Perhaps some remedial reading courses are in order.

    2. $48k might be a decent amount of money in some places, but for somebody that lives in a major city, which is where many of these employees need to be based, it doesn’t go very far. The last long trip I was on, I think my attendant might have had 5 hours to sleep and clean up each night. She was great the whole trip and always wore a smile. Like anywhere, if you get good service, it’s a nice gesture to leave a nice tip. It makes up for the complete b)(&^*ds that leave nothing. Since I’m leaving this comment during the pandemic, it also has to be said that many Amtrak employees were let go and the rest are working on trains with fewer people meaning far less in tips but the hours are just the same.

      1. You are right. I try to tip generously, assuming the attendant does a good job and is courteous and friendly.

      2. Theres a logical flaw in the notion that it’s the consumer’s fault the worker is making low wages, so therefore it’s also a moral flaw for the consumer not to pay extra money to the worker. Certainly these railroad workers work long hours , and most do an excellent job, but only in America do we call consumers cheapskates for not forking over stacks of twenty dollar bills to people doing a job they are supposed to be doing.

        1. Then don’t tip! But don’t criticize me if I choose to show my appreciation knowing my car attendant is at the end of a six-day stretch being on duty for the entire time.

  10. I’m SO glad you posted this – albeit, four years ago – as I’m getting ready to take an overnight train (Roomette) next week and when I called AmTrak to find out the “average” or protocol for tipping the attendant, I was told: “When you get on the train, just ask the attendant what is normally done.” I was shocked at the answer. Firstly, I would not do such a thing, secondly, it would have created an awkward situation for both us AND the attendant. Thank you for your “tips!” :-) (I was actually planning $15 for the two of us – but your point of “being flexible” depending on service is taken. I/we tend to over-tip wherever we go – mostly restaurants.)

  11. Traveled southwest chief, Lamy to LA, sleeper car 0331, The attendant Tom was fantastic, pleasant, funny and always prompt when you needed him, I’ve traveled On Amtrak for 9 years this was my best trip yet

  12. I wouldn’t call you an *ignorant* Aussie. Australia is one of those countries with decent labor laws and pay scales that eliminate the *need* for tips for survival: national minimum wage at least $15 an hour as I write this, and most State minima higher.

  13. This was a problem for me. At the start of my travels in the USA, I had no idea I should be tipping my Car Attendant (ignorant Aussie). Towards the end I got the hang of it and was giving an average of $20 per trip. Then I had a problem; I took the Texas Eagle all the way from Chicago to LA (via San Antonio). Had a fantastic Car Attendant Chicago to San Antonio. Didn’t find out until too late that he would be leaving the train there and then had the worst Car Attendant of my travels from San Antonio to LA (similar experience to you – woken up at 5am prior to arrival in LA, when info says we can sleep late). No one got a tip that trip.

  14. I don’t know … maybe I’m under-tipping. I hope not. At least I AM tipping and, as noted, many sleeping car passengers don’t tip at all.

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