Airline Chauffeur Service — Should You Tip?

There are many airlines that offer premium cabin passengers complimentary chauffeur service, including several that offer the service on award tickets.

Emirates first class chauffeur service in Dubai

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked when it comes to the chauffeur service is whether or not you should tip. Over the years I’ve spoken candidly with some drivers doing these airport pick-ups, so figured I’d share what I’ve found out:

Tipping norms differ depending on where in the world you are

This goes without saying. Tipping norms in Japan are different than in the US, for example. For the most part, I try to adopt to local tipping norms when traveling. For example, in Japan I won’t try to tip anyone because it’s considered rude. But at the same time I’ll sometimes be overly generous by local standards depending on where I am. In taxis in the UAE I’ll often round up to the next “bill.” So if a taxi fare is 30AED, I’ll sometimes give them 50AED. They work crazy hours and are away from their families, and after having heard so many of their stories over the years, it just feels right.

Airport “runs” are generally least profitable for drivers

In general, airport pick-ups aren’t especially profitable for drivers. That’s because they’re expected to be there once the flight arrives so that the passenger is never waiting on them, even though it can sometimes take 60-90 minutes for someone to clear customs and immigration, collect their baggage, etc. That’s all time that they’re “waiting” and can’t otherwise be working.

Airlines negotiate great rates with limo companies

Of course that’s how the free market works. Airlines offer limo companies a ton of volume, often 100+ pick ups and drop offs a day even at an outstation. So they’re negotiating great rates with the limo companies.

How are drivers paid for airline chauffeur service?

If you use the complimentary chauffeur service offered by an airline, what are the drivers getting paid? First of all I should say that this varies by country, and I only have insight into how it works in the US.

Typically the drivers for the big companies which do these pick-ups are only getting paid what would be the equivalent of a 20% gratuity, so they do somewhat rely on tips. Say an airline is billed $100 for a chauffeur service. In turn, the driver will only get ~$20 of that, and they may very well be waiting for your pick up for over an hour. And that doesn’t account for positioning on either end of your pick-up.

Like any industry, there are profitable trips and less profitable trips. It’s kind of like the Uber effect. You give up margins somewhat in favor of volume, and that’s what’s happening here.

Why I think you should (but don’t have to) tip

Let me try to sum up my philosophy on this as simply as possible:

  • I like to “live and let live.” I try to understand how people make a living, and do what I can to be “fair” towards them. For example, if someone works in retail and on a commission, I don’t want to waste an hour of their time if I’m not serious about buying shoes.
  • You don’t have to tip, because at the end of the day the airlines are “selling” you a product that includes a car service, presumably with tip included. It’s not your fault that they’re arranging it at an especially attractive cost for the airline, and a cost where the limo company comes out ahead, while for the most part the driver is making less than minimum wage on these airport pick-ups.
  • A good driver will appreciate that different cultures have different perspectives on tipping, and won’t be disappointed if you don’t tip, because they realize it’s nothing personal against them.

So for a “normal” ride to or from the airport in the US in a complimentary chauffeur service arranged by the airline I’ll usually tip ~$20.

You don’t have to tip, and it’s not your fault that the drivers aren’t getting paid much. But a while back when I realized that drivers are typically making less than minimum wage on airport pick-ups, I decided what I considered to be fair based on my standards.

What do you guys think — do you tip when use a complimentary chauffeur service, and if so, does it vary based on where you are?

Filed Under: Advice
  1. I agree with you. In countries where it’s acceptable, I do tip about $20, if the service is good.

  2. Never ever tip! Not a dime!

    If they need more money than they can charge more for their services

  3. I had Emirates car service pick me up in Singapore… I tried to tip him… he was looking at me like I am not from this planet.

  4. I think Brian takes it a bit too far, but I have to say that tipping in America has got completely out of hand. Apparently I’m to tip everyone with whom I come into contact because they’re not being paid a living wage. Then Americans traveling abroad tend to tip like mad–for feelings of guilt or whatever reason–and this leads business owners to cut wages where they can get away with it. Tips replacing wages is sheer lunacy and unfit for a developed society. (I’ll apologize in advance for the rant.)

  5. @ Will — I don’t disagree at all, and I think you’re spot on. The tip culture in the US sucks. But given that, I don’t think it’s fair to “punish” people that work in the service industry as a result of that.

  6. We need to stop this tipping nonsense.
    The employers can pay THEIR employees the correct amount and if the workers don’t like the job or can’t get enough money, get a different job. it’s not our job to support their finances. Second, tipping ALWAYS degrades the service in the long run. This western idea of giving extra money for a job they were hired to do is simply crazy. Do I go to my boss at my office job and say “where’s my tip? I did the report you wanted”

  7. Yes, I am one of those people who tip for just about anything. Why? It’s not guilt, for one reason it’s karma. For another, my dad worked in a job that depended on tips. Although he didn’t make that much, he worked hard and raised me to care about other people. I am blessed in my life despite coming from a “poor” family.

  8. The only airline car service I’ve taken is Emirates’s here in NYC and when they called me to reconfirm the scheduled time of pickup, I asked whether tip was already included and they told me it was!
    I used to work for a bank and whenever we took car service to the airport, tip was also included with our company’s voucher!

  9. I’ve tipped the driver in Dubai before flying EK. I had a lot of bags! When I moved to Jakarta from the USA, tipping was not expected. However I did tip some. They are poor and I was making serious cash so why not. Now I am back in the USA and I agree tipping is out of control here. Good on Seattle who just voted in $15 an hour. The entire USA should be that and stop tipping.

  10. I live and breath by the theory that if I (or anyone) can afford to travel on Emirates or another airline in a class that offers a car service (even if on points), I can afford a $20 tip. Open your wallets people – these service providers deserve it!

  11. @Kelly Henry… Now THAT type of comment is what really gets me. TELLING me what to do with MY money. Maybe I’ll tip and maybe I won’t, but please don’t TELL me what to do with my money. Tell us what YOU would do but don’t try and dictate what others should.

    Off the soapbox now…

  12. @Kelly
    I’ve been told several times that Emirates includes the tip. If you want to open your wallet that is fine by me, but are you leaving a $20 after meal service? Are you leaving a $5 when the agent takes your bag and checks you in? What about the person who brings you room service and is already getting 18%? Are you tipping on top of that?

  13. I’m sure this sounds naive but I wish there was no tipping anywhere. I only have so much RAM in my head and trying to keep up with when and how much to tip is crazy. Stuff should just cost what it needs to cost and people should be paid for doing the job. I’m okay if my steak is more expensive if I know the wait staff isn’t being paid $2 /hr and is paid fairly and I don’t have to tip.

  14. I generally err on the side of tipping too much (at least when in the US), but I’m not sure I agree with your logic here Lucky. I agree that the driver may get only $20 out of the airline’s billed $100 fee, but I am not sure that is any worse than the driver would do if you had booked directly with his limo company and paid $80 plus given him a $20 tip; most or all of that $80 likely goes to overhead and operating costs. As long as the gratuity in the airline’s contract is actually paid to the driver and not skimmed off the top by their employer, I would think it’s about the same outcome. If I felt that the limo driver doesn’t make enough money and therefore wanted to tip him $40 on my $80 personal booking, I could, but at what point does that stop?

    I also suspect that the airlines are not getting a tremendous volume discount on these limo services. There’s something, but in my experience with Etihad and Virgin Atlantic, they use quite nice services and book premium car classes. They are clearly not looking for the cheapest option they can find, and in a place like New York, the customers would “feel” it by the quality of the service they received if the drivers felt these trips weren’t a good moneymaker. (Yes, the fact that service providers would preemptively retaliate against poor tippers is one of many problems with our system of tipping, but I’m just describing the world as it is.)

  15. Sorry, I feel that tips should be for exceptional service – if they’ve just done what you contracted them (or their employer) to do then I don’t see the logic for a tip. I find particularly weird when the tip is asked for in advance – for example when booking online with Super Shuttle they asked how much tip (suggested 20%!!) I wanted to add. Clearly I hadn’t had the service yet so I said nothing. In the end I (along with everyone else) had to wait 20 min to get picked up and then they went a route that meant despite staying closest to the airport I got dropped off midway through the route – very glad I hadn’t tipped as there was nothing at all special about the service!

  16. @Brian & @Mike may be philosophically pure, but it’s awfully convenient that it benefits their wallet while they wait for the rest of society to catch up with their enlightenment. My guess is that if service personnel started charging independently (I.e., it’s $10.00 to the restaurant for the burger, but the server charges $1.00 to bring it to you, $0.50 to fill your water, etc.) that they’d develop another philosophical objection.

    When your philosophy hurts real people without a reasonable prospect of changing the system, it’s just selfish.

  17. Tipping is out of control. People need to take it down a notch. 20% in restaurants is common. For what? So an out of work History major who screwed around in college getting a joke degree can make $40 an hour? While the busboy is doing most of the real work?

    Same with drivers. Mostly immigrants – maybe spending tons of hours not “working”, but how hard is it driving around in a nice car all day? The guy digging a ditch/pounding nails works significantly harder for far less money.

    That said, I do tip. But way too generously. I’m going to cut my tip % in half – 10% and no more.

  18. @JEM, if tipping is absolutely necessary in your philosophy, how do people working for non-tipping restaurant (such as Chick-fil-A, Chipotle,…) survive? You are telling me that the wage system at those restaurants is not “reasonable”?! All I could see is that the staff at those restaurant is more passionate about their jobs without being so cheesy asking you to buy a 4th Martini.

  19. I wish people would be less ideologically blinded, and more keen to separate their own cultural preconceptions from their moral judgments.

    There is no analogy between tipping a server in the US, and tipping any other profession anywhere else. The US has a wage system in which tipping servers is culturally mandatory. Period. It has nothing to do with whether to tip a foreign limo driver.

    The fact is, outside of the US, if no money changes hands, it’s just weird to tip. Tipping a cab makes some sense as you’ve already got your wallet out. Tipping a limo driver is an awkward, slightly condescending American quirk. Period.

    @Kelly Henry writs that if you can afford to tip $20, then you should. Well, I can afford to tip my neighbor $20 for raking his yard. Must I? I can afford to tip my mother-in-law $20 for doing the dishes after I come to dinner. Should I? Not unless I want to engage in some bizarre display of largesse.

    On the moral question, tipping $20 in a country where $20 is the sum that many locals earn for a full day’s work dramatically pushes up wage inflation and makes life harder for locals who don’t work in the tourism industry. So it’s not a clear-cut case of doing the right thing.

    @Lucky, you’ve unleashed a monster in the tipping question! It always does. The bottom line is: you can do whatever you want with your money. But there is neither a cultural nor a moral case for tipping workers in countries where the practice is not indigenous… ESPECIALLY when no money is changing hands. Airport limos fall into that category.

  20. At this point I’m so used to NOT tipping in cash, using Uber, that I’m worried it wouldn’t even cross my mind when using another car service that allows tips.

    @Will, I roll my eyes at that sort of UK / European snobbery over tipping. It’s how things are done here, and this has been going on for many, many decades. Unlike Brits and Europeans, Americans are friendly and chatty with their service providers, and so feel like a tip is a nice gesture, even while traveling abroad. Who cares? It sounds pretty cheap to say you care because it makes YOU look cheap.

  21. @Colin,

    To answer your question, I believe the folks at fast-food restaurants are paid at least minimum wage, whereas folks who work in restaurants where they receive tips are paid the “tip minimum wage”, which is like $2 or something. I looked it up and evidently it has something to do with Congress never raising the tip minimum wage as they were expected to over the years. I agree that the whole tip culture is in need of overhaul and would love to see it adjusted.

    As far as their ‘surviving’ as you mentioned, you might want to ask people who are in those positions that question. You’d probably find that many of them have to work multiple jobs just to ‘survive.’

  22. I used to work in the fast food industry and I have also worked at a restaurant where I was tipped (I’ve come a long way since then). Fast food wage earners make minimum wage with small incremental raises. They tend to be able to work overtime if they want it. Many dast food workers work two jobs. Waitstaff at decent establishment can make a lot better but they start off with a wage that is lower than minimum wage (the company factors in that they will receive tips). When I was a waitress I made about 1.50 less than in fast food which was 30% less of my hourly wage as a fast food worker.

  23. the tipping debate always brings out the ignorant cheapskates as shown above. it’s disgusting.

  24. I agree tipping is way out of hand in the US. I almost never fill the tip jar at places that don’t have table service. But I have two points in favor of tipping:

    First, most minimum wages are different for positions (like waiter) where tipping is expected. So without tips, many waiters aren’t even making minimum wage. That is different for baristas, deli counter clerks, fast food, etc.

    Second, @P, your comments make it very clear that you have never waited tables, or probably done any job that involves serving people on your feet for 8-10 hours at a time. I find that tipping attitudes vary markedly between people who have worked in the service industry and people who have not.

    At the end of the day count me as +1 in the let’s get rid of tipping in the US category. But we can’t do it from the demand side, it has to be on the supply side, that is the jobs have to pay better.

  25. I always find tipping a complicated issue. I realize it’s a cultural (and financial) expectation in places like the US, but to some degree I also agree with P.

    In the end, it comes down to “What is adequate compensation for this job?” I’ve certainly picked up the tab at business dinners where a 15% tip comes to $200-300. Is that a reasonable wage for 3 hours of (intermittend) service by a waitress? Yes, I understand that’s split among a few people, but I’m sure she’s still getting $50/hour for what I consider a fairly low-skill job. Should I tip the barista at Starbucks for my coffee, or is the $10/hour they’re paid appropriate given their job and level of training? If my haircut takes 20 minutes and costs $35, should I have to pay a gratuity? FWIW, I think the kids at McDonalds work harder than almost anyone else I’ve seen in the service industry, and they don’t have a tip jar on the counter (I did see one at Subway once, which I found offensive as I thought Sandwich Artists did it for the love of the art, not for the money).

    At the end of the day, if a limo driver makes $20 to drop me at my hotel, I think that’s probably a reasonable amount considering the only real skill involved is driving.

  26. I went to one of those places where you paint and drink wine while a teacher guides you. 12 of us paid $38 each for this two hour experience. The artist did the painting once on her own to work out how to lead the class, and spent about an hour before the class setting up our canvases and palettes with paint. A few of my friends tipped her a total of $40. To me, that’s crazy. I also think that it influences tipping culture in the wrong direction, i.e. towards more tips and lower wages.
    I don’t know what the solution is. I was a waitress and also a fast food worker in high school and college. I don’t actually think I have gained any special insight into the tipping culture from those experiences. Working in the fast food industry as a teenager certainly taught me that real families rely on those minimum wage jobs, though. There were a lot more adults than high schoolers working at my Wendy’s.

  27. Tipping depends on the service provided, say if the limo is clean and stocked with water then I might tip the amount equivalent to a local taxi ride from the airport to the hotel location. I think of the free limo service as a bonus and give back the value to the driver.

    However, I tend to disagree that airport “runs” are generally least profitable. In fact I think they are the most profitable for drivers. In Singapore and Jakarta, at least, drivers queue up to pick passengers, and they even have to pay a premium in Jakarta. The idea is that the journey from airports to city centres are usually via expressway which are more fuel efficient and less tiring for the driver since traffic runs smoother over longer distances. While they wait for one passenger, it makes more sense rather than spending more time to source for other passengers. Some cities add on an airport surcharge to fares as well which adds to the profit for “airport runs”!

  28. If say unless it was in the US, tipping shouldn’t be required. As josh said above, it artificially inflates wages which creates severe economic issues.

    As for those who think cultures who don’t tip are cheapskates, we actually not cheap, we pay people what their worth to begin with and value a society which has equality

  29. Lucky, Similar but related question . Did you tip the Aman driver in Bali that brought you from the airport to the resort, between the resorts, and back to the airport?

  30. @ puck — Hmmm, don’t recall for sure. Definitely didn’t feel like I was supposed to, though I think on one ride I did because the driver was especially awesome.

  31. Most people who tip, do so because they are afraid of what the staff will think of them when they leave!

    Their self worth is so low that they need to give a little extra money so that other people will feel good about them!

    It’s really sad that people grow up worrying about what other think about them, be a man, have a back bone and stand up to these people! Tell them if you don’t like the fact that I don’t tip then that’s your problem!

    Stop trying to make friend’s using your money, I have plenty of money, but I’m secure enough not to have to use my money to make people feel better about me! At the end of the day I could care less about what they are thinking, I just wish the rest of the world would do the same!

  32. I tip 20% at restaurants for good service? Why? My family has depended on tip income to pay bills in the past, and in appreciation of their hard work, I pass it along – for good service. As for foreign tipping, I do this in part out of habit, in part out of guilt, but mostly because I can afford it, and I typically make some type of connection with those who provide good service, and knowing how hard they work, I’m happy to share a little of my wealth.

    As for others and their opinions and practices, hey, I’m cool with whatever floats your boat. This is my take on it.

  33. Jobs depend on tips only because of people who tip.

    Tipping because the job pays little is the cause of why the job pays little–and makes people dependent on tips.

    Restaurant jobs pay less now that people tip 18% than when people paid 15%. If tips get to 30%, employees will have to pay to work at a restaurant (just like dancing girls already have to do in order to work at a club).

    Tipping the homeless living in front of your house will only get you more homelessness (OT: homeless people should be treated with dignity and charity, making them dependent on tips is neither–donating to a charity that helps eradicate homelessness is what I do).

    Tipping in the US is completely out of hand. And tipping is one trait of the ugly American abroad (“we’re so rich and show-offy that we will simply piss dollars on your local century-old customs”).

    Rant over. Flame away if you must, but the above are facts.

  34. Typical American viewpoint and trying to make yourselves feel better. The rest of the world (the majority) isn’t going to follow your foolish standards.

  35. Tipping someone because you think she/he deserves it for providing good service it’s called reward, tipping someone because you think doesn’t make enough money it’s called a donation. There’s a thin line in between. I find offensive giving huge “tips” to any worker (be it a waiter, taxi driver or a porter) in under developed countries. People feel good “karma” giving away 20$ to a random tuk tuk driver. I am not sure Buddha was after that kind of philosophy. Then people are bothered when they travel to third world countries where tourists are seen as walking wallets.
    I was once tipped by an American couple because I gave them a ride to a hotel up on a hill near my work place. Seriously, WTF?!?

    Coming to the US from Europe it’s always “fun” to do the math at the end of every meal. Most Europeans do not get it because they don’t know the minimum wage story behind it. I respect 110% the local habits but I think it’s not going to work in the long run for the reasons other posters explained above.

    Anyway there are some bizarre examples, like tipping hotel porters (a job with so little interaction) 1$ a bagā€¦it’s like tipping your secretary every time she answers your phone.

    I don’t tip when I receive a complimentary service.

  36. Lucky, you’ve managed to hit the second most hotly-debated travel issue (after children in premium cabins).

    In response to my being called cheap–a lesser man would demand an apology–let me just say that I follow the tipping guidelines of the society I’m in at that moment. I live in America, so I subsidize the purveyor’s bottom line by paying his staff for him and I regularly do so at or above 20% for standard or excellent service (though I can remember when it was 15-20% here). When I travel, I simply conform to the local culture instead of trying to export a system that many would argue is broken by first world standards. Tipping can sometimes cause the receiver confusion, shame, or even feelings of hostility in some places and people who go round handing out money at every opportunity fail to see this.

    I would hazard that, the next time someone feels tempted to give a gratuity, one should make use of his smartphone and quickly investigate the local custom. Face, and dare I say money, can both be saved.

  37. I don’t mind tipping but I really wish that US regulations were changed to ensure that all jobs would be paid at least minimum wage, including restaurants. Perhaps those establishment can make-up the money by serving smaller portions which would be better for all of us šŸ˜€

    P.S. This site is very helpful —

  38. @Hillrider – It strikes me as ingenuous that you end your ‘rant’ with the statement that ‘..the above are all facts.’ You must have missed your syllogism class in school. LOL.

  39. For clarity, in the U.S., your chauffeur is paid a commission on the negotiated base fare. In my experience, the Emirates transfers are drastically discounted and subsequently, is the chauffeur’s compensation. Since every Emirates arrival is international, the chauffeur is on location to greet you and assist with your luggage before your flight lands. Consider your delay from the time your flight lands until the time you emerge from customs may extend well beyond an hour, and then there is the drive tone to your destination…potentially 2-3 hours. Since the commission generally is about 15-20% of the negotiated (30-40%) discount, your chauffeur is usually putting out 2-3 hours for 65% of what he would otherwise make if he were driving a standard fare. That said, consider that ‘your’ fare is complimentary with your up-class ticket, but (in the U.S.) if you receive good service, it’s customary to extend a gratuity.

    $20 is the norm for spending one hour with your chauffeur…less time in transit, maybe a little less, longer, maybe a little more.

  40. Tipping is indeed out of control and it is just a royal pain in the butt to figure out what is fair where and to which type of service provider. Keep tipping what it was meant to be, a voluntary extra for service for those who can afford it and want to do it. If people are so underpaid that they need tips to survive, for goodness sake, raise the price if necessary and increase their wages. As far as I’m concerned both the workers and the confused, irritated tipper should be complaining until changes are made. Guilt tipping has become an excuse for employers who are benefiting from the labour of their employees (from the good ones, anyway) to not compensate and take proper care of those employees.

  41. I am a Driver here in LA that does a lot of Emirates “runs”. We do not see any of that “included gratuity”. I make less than minimum wage per hour if you count in travel time to Terminal B (International), wait time for pax to get Customs/Immigration/Baggage Claim~and, add on to that $5.00 per Trip Ticket and anywhere from $5.00-7.00 parking that the Driver has to pay! Pax are being truly misinformed; the Limo Company Owner keeps that gratuity for themselves! Any tip (at all) is appreciated, as it is the bread/meat upon my table! šŸ™‚

  42. I’m a driver in San Francisco and it is correct that compared to airport rides arranged by private parties we don’t make much on these Etihad/Emirates/Virgin Atlantic “complimentary” rides.
    On Complimentary service you should tip 15-20% on the value of the ride ($75-$150).

    For a 5am pick up at your hotel/residence, I often have to leave at 4:00am (wake up at 3:00am). Most of the time I’m counting on you tipping $20 so I can afford coffee & to eat that day! (it is insanely expensive to live here on a Chauffeur’s earnings!!)
    Or I’m required to be onsite 15 minutes before your flight lands, and often have to wait an hour or more for you to clear customs/immigration & get bags.
    Most of us have no benefits like sick days, paid vacation, 401k health insurance etc.
    When I load & unload 2-6 50lb bags in the car & open the door for you with a smile and get little or no tip from someone who can afford such an expensive flight, my opinion of them and all humanity is often soured for the rest of the day. Conversely when I’m thanked for my service and palmed a $20 bill, I’m filled with a sense of pride that I’ve done my job well and that there’s hope that maybe soon I can afford some much needed dental work!!!!

    Consider that we are on the road most of the day often navigating horrible traffic, being cut off multiple times, avoiding getting into accidents with really bad drivers, finding parking, tracking flight times, making sure we arrive early, restocking the water, cleaning & refueling the car…..
    Please tip your driver- it will make his/her day!!!

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