Tipping on Amtrak
Who do you tip and how much do you tip when you travel by Amtrak? This page
tells about the tipping I have observed from dozens of long distance train
trips and what I have learned from books on rail travel.
My first knowledge of tipping came before my first Amtrak trip. To prepare
for that trip, I read the book:
"All Aboard! The Complete North American Train Travel Guide" by Jim Loomis.
I highly recommend that you do obtain and read this book, even if you read no
other book about Amtrak. It probably contains more basic information about
Amtrak travel than any other book.
Loomis's book says that you DO NOT TIP the conductor, the chief of
on-board services, or the dining car steward. The book says that you
DO TIP the car attendant, the lounge-car attendant, and the service
people in the dining car.
How much should you tip?
The Loomis book suggests that you tip $5 per night per passenger if you are
in a sleeping car, $2 more per person per meal if you request that meals be
brought to your room. (Side note: If you have limited mobility, the car
attendant is more than happy to bring the meals to your room for you and the
people that accompany you. I have been told that requests to bring meals to
the room of people that can easily walk to the dining car is unusual and can
be a problem on trips where the car attendant is very busy with a full car of
passengers. You are normally expected to make your way to the dining car
unless you do have limited mobility.) The Loomis book also suggests that
coach class passengers tip $1 or $2 for a one-night trip and $3 or $4 for a
two-night trip, assuming you have been helped with your baggage and received
cheerful attention. Most passengers tip the car attendant as they leave the
train at their final destination. Others prefer to tip after each special
service is provided.
What has been my own personal experience with tipping of car attendants?
I've taken many single day trips in the Economy Sleeper. Being a veteran
at this, I usually don't need much "orientation" from the car attendant,
but I really do appreciate those that keep a pot of coffee on for the whole
trip and help me off with my bags (I usually travel heavy, even when I only
have one suitcase). For these single day trips I will usally tip $5, even
when I don't spend a night on the train. If I spend more than one night on
the train, I pretty much follow the guideline of $5 per night. If I'm
traveling with more people, usually other members of my family, I'll start
by calculating the $5 per person per night. From there, I'll either
increase or decrease what I give as a tip depending if what little we ask
of the car attendant is taken care of in a reasonalbe time and cheerfully.
I've seldom been disappointed with car attendants, so I often go with the
full tip (See below for changes I have made to my own personal policy
regarding this. On a 6-day round-trip with a whole family, I have found that
exactly following the policy in the Loomis book would be extremely expensive
and overly generous, even for excellent service).
I've gone on long trips with just two of us in a sleeper and short trips
with my whole family of four. Somehow, when I'm not traveling alone, the
tip almost always seems to work out to be $20 to $30 for the whole trip.
I'm about to embark on a trip that will put my whole family on Amtrak for
a total of 8 days round trip. Somehow, I don't see myself giving a tip
of $80 each way! I can see myself tiping something in the $40 range each
I can't honestly tell you what other people tip. It is usually done
discretely and is not easy to observe. I do see a lot of people tip, but
I also see a lot of people that don't tip. I usually give the car attendant
their tip when they make their final rounds to ask if I'll need help with
my bags. It may be my imagination, but their eyes usually widen and the
friendly service becomes a bit more friendly after I have given them the
amount of tip suggested by the Loomis book. It does lead me to believe
that the amount suggested by the Loomis book is either much higher than that
paid by the average passenger, or the number of people that give any tip at
all isn't what it use to be. I don't know which is right, but I do know that
following the Loomis book suggestion will yeild a highly appreciative car
attendant! If any of you that are reading this are car attendants or have
further knowledge of this subject, be sure to e-mail me at:
According to the Loomis book, if you purchase items from the cafe or lounge,
extra change left behind on the counter after each purchase is appropriate.
However, you need to use your own judgement here too. If you purchase many
items and end up with 10 cents change from a $20 bill, I don't think that
is adequate. However, leaving all the change from $2.00 for purchasing an
item that costs $1.15 is probably a bit too generous! The suggestion from
the Loomis book is simple and works most of the time, but be reasonable
when you use it. Personally, I always leave tips for food and beverage
items but never for the purchase of souveneirs.
Now for the Dining Car!
The Loomis book suggests tipping just as you would in a restaurant. That
is, start with 15 percent and move up or down according to whether you
receive really good service or inadequate service. If you are in a
Sleeping Car, your meals will be complementary. However, you should still
tip the Dining Car service people. Loomis suggests to use the same 15%
rule based on what your meal would have cost if you had paid for it.
What happens in real life? I've made a habit of almost always being the
last one to leave the table after each meal. I've also glanced at every
table that I have passed where the diners have just left. I've eaten
hundreds of meals in the Dining Car. I've sat and dined with many strangers
on Amtrak trains. I always wait till last to put down my tip, just so that
nobody tries to follow my lead. I purposely want to observe what
people tip, especially the older more experience Amtrak travelers. To be
totally honest, I've never seen anyone ever leave more that a single dollar
after breakfast or lunch! I have encountered many people that have not left
tips at all. At dinner, most people also leave just $1 per person or
nothing, but I have also seen some people leave $2. Rarely have I ever seen
anyone leave more than that or attempt to calculate a 10, 15 or 20% tip based
on the price of the meal. I'd really like some feedback from dining car staff
and other travelers to dispute my observations on this one. I certainly think
the 15% to 20% rule of thumb is fair, but only a tiny number of people seem
to use that method to calculate the tip for meals on the train.
Originally, I did tip as the Loomis book suggested and left 15 to 20%
tip after each meal. I started questioning the book's suggestion when
I began to observe that seldom did anyone leave more than a $1 tip for
any meal! For breakfast and lunch, the $1 tip comes close to the 15%
suggested by the Loomis book. Breakfast and lunch will run you about $5
each (but no charge to sleeping car passengers), maybe a bit more when you
add in your beverages, desert, coffee, etc. Dinner, however, can easily add
up to $20 or $25. But still, many people just leave $1 per person, even for
the dinner tip. I'd be happy to hear some Amtrak staff tell me that I must
be riding some unusual trains, but I've as yet to see or hear anything to
dispute these tip amounts. Let me know what you have observed while you
were on Amtrak. I usually tip 20% in restaurants and wouldn't mind doing
the same on Amtrak. If I'm traveling alone, I'll usually tip $2 for dinner.
If I'm traveling with other members of my family, I'll usually tip $1 for
each of us plus an extra $2 to $4 total depending on the service. From
current observations, however, leaving a 20% tip would often be more money
than the tips left by everyone else at my table! I'd be very uncomfortable
and embarassed leaving that large a tip, especially since it is the same
dining staff that I'll see time after time at each meal during the entire
My own observation is that leaving more than just $1 per person at dinner
time is a tip above the norm. I always do that and the dining car staff
almost always seems to remember me and be very freindly every time I
return. Is it because I truly am leaving a tip that is more than the
average? If I'm out of line and am leaving a below average tip, I would
almost expect to often receive some bad service, or at least get the
cold shoulder. Instead, from my own perception, I seem to almost always
get "extra" friendly service!
Just as another side note, as a sleeping car passenger, it seems you are
welcome to order as much as you would like without charge. It is not
ususual for such passengers to order a salad AND soup before each meal,
the main selection and a beverage, and then follow up with coffee and
desert. There is no extra charge to a sleeping car passenger for all that!
If you are a coach passenger, beware! Most of those items are "al a carte"
and ordering all of them may produce a bill much larger than you expected!
As a consolation, Amtrak does accept most major credit cards.
I'm going to continue my observations because it just doesn't seem right
to me that the dining staff should only be tipped $1 per meal, especially
at dinner time. They certainly have a job that is just as hard as any
restaurant waiter or waitress. If anything, their hours are longer and
their job is much harder than what it would be in a normal restaurant.
Please do send me your observations and feedback on this matter. Most of
the travel I have done is on the Coast Starlight up and down the coast of
California. Maybe Californians don't tip as well as people in other parts
of the country, but that hasn't been my observation in restaurants. I have
taken a number of trips on the Sunset Limited, the Southwest Chief, the
Pioneer, and the California Zephyr and the tipping behavior of passengers
seems to be about the same on all of them.
Tipping is always a problem topic, except for the most veteran of travelers.
I've received about as many e-mail inquiries on this one as I have on
Amtrak ticket prices, which is quite a few! Amtrak does not have any
official policy on tipping except that the staff are prohibited from
actively soliciting tips. They are certainly welcome to accept your tips.
You may think this strange for a quasi-governmental operation. Tipping on
the train has a very solid historical foundation. At one time, it was the
ONLY income for car attendants! Today, car attendants receive a reasonable
salary ... but income from tips is something that one expects when
calculating the total income expected from the job. Unfortunately, the IRS
figures this in too!
As veteran rider of AMTRAK, I use $2 bills when tipping in the
dining car. When my wife and I travel, we tip $2 for breakfast and
lunch and $4 for dinner. If the service is superb then up to $8. The
$2 bills are unique and seem to be remembered by the staff. Try it!
As for the sleeping car attendant, you are right on. For two people,
$20 if the service is up to snuff - for most long distance trains. As
you say $10 a night is what I use. I love your web page - it's in my
bookmark. Will keep dropping in every now and then. Looking forward
to your review of the new Viewliner Sleeping cars. Bob Conery
I really like your idea of using $2 bills for tipping! One thing
that was not clear to me though: Do you tip $2 for the both of you
($1 each) or do you give a $2 bill from each of you (for a total of
$4)? I am going to guess that you give a single $2 bill for the 2
of you for breakfast and lunch. That would be about normal tipping
since the dollar value of breakfast and lunch runs about $5 or $6
each. A $1 tip would be about a 15% to 20% tip on a $5 or $6 meal
and is what I usually see everyone tip for those meals.
Observing what people leave for a tip for dinner is what baffles me.
So far, all I have seen most people leave is $1 each even for dinner, and
I have had dinner dozens of times on the train. Dinner on the train
usually runs between $15 and $20 if you include the cost of beverages
and desert. That would mean a tip somewhere between $2 and $4 per
person to leave 15% to 20%. I just seldom see that. I'm going
to assume that you do mean that your leave between $4 and $8 for dinner
to again mean that is for both you and your wife, thus leaving a tip
between $2 and $4 each for dinner. That is right in the correct range
if you are trying to tip the same as in a restaurant. Please correct
me if I am wrong.
I personally feel that the Dining Car server deserves at least the
same tip that is left for servers in regular restaurants. If anything,
their job is a lot more difficult and it is a lot easier to end up
with an unhappy customer for circumstances beyond the control of the
server in a train. More often than not, it is necessary to go beyond
the call of duty to keep customers happy and I often see the dining
staff do this without complaint and with little reward.
My only problem is that I feel very uncomfortable and also make everyone
else at my table uncomfortable when I leave a $3 or $4 tip for dinner.
From my experience, that is a tip greater than the rest of the table put
together! Using $2 bills may be an easier way out of this dilemma. It
is easy for everyone to see how many bills you have left on the table,
but not as easy to see what they are unless you pick them up! Now my
only question is, where do you get those $2 bills? Does every bank just
keep a supply of them?
As far as being remembered by the staff, don't try that $2 bill trick
with Susan B. Anthony $1 coins! I tried that and only ended up with a
confusing disasters as a result. Probably one of the reasons that coin
was a total failure. If you leave Susan B. Anthony coins for tips,
they will most likely get shuffled into the attendants pocket without
looking and he will assume that you only left him a 25 cent tip!
I once tried to pay for a glass of wine on a plane with a Susan B.
Anthony $1 coin. The attendant did not know such a coin existed and
had to check with her supervisor to see if they were allow to accept it!
Thanks for confirming what I have read to be the practice of tipping
the Sleeping Car Attendants. That once is even more of a mystery since
I can only acquire this knowlege from books and from other people that
I have asked. It is not as easy to observe as what others do for
tipping in the Dining Car.
Thanks again for your input! Sorry about being so long in my reply,
but I'm going to post your input along with this reply to the web
pages about tipping. I feel that passengers can use all the feedback
they can get in this area.
The tipping issue is actually a much more serious issue than Amtrak
might imagine. I have received e-mail from several people who have
told me they have explicitly avoided taking the train because they
did not want the embarassment of not knowing how to handle themselves
on the train. That is, not knowing who to ask for help and who not
to, and who and how much to tip and who not to tip!
This is understandable. Most Conductors will attribute to inexperience
a passenger's attempt to tip them or to ask them to do some housekeeping
chore. But some Conductors will take this as a direct insult and will
educate the passenger in not the most polite manner of their ignorance.
How a first time passenger is suppose to guess that the Conductor is the
most senior person on the train, even above the Engineer, is beyond me.
Collecting tickets and helping the Car Attendants with baggage doesn't
help clarify that the Conductor is in a position "above tips" either!
If I hadn't prepared myself with a stack of books on rail travel, I
wouldn't have been aware of these facts before my first trip either!
With continued input like yours, we will hopefully all become educated
about the Amtrak tipping issue. Since Amtrak cannot say anything
official about tipping other than to state that it is not prohibited,
we are all left in the dark. Where is Emily Post when you need her?
October 14, 1996 Update:
From continuing observations I have updated my opinion about what people
tend to tip Car Attendants and have modified my own guidelines for
tipping Car Attendants. Feedback from a real Amtrak Car Attendant on
my observations would be great, but still could not be taken as the
gospel truth since self-interest could easily influence such comments.
For short trips with one or two people, I think the $5 per person per day
tip is about right, especially if you ask for more help than the average
passenger. However, if you travel with a family of four on a three or
four day trip and seldom ask the Car Attendant for anything, maybe even
putting beds up and down yourself, then I think a $60 to $80 tip is far
out of line! The $5 per person per day guideline seems to be overkill for
long trips with a number of people.
I generally follow the $5 per person per day guideline but stop at a
maximum of $20. There is one exception to this rule. The Sunset Limited
changes crews in New Orleans and I will tip both Car Attendants up to $20
for good service. From the reactions that I get from most Car Attendants,
I suspect that any tip over $5 for any party on any length of trip is above
the norm. After giving the Car Attendant their tip, they have gone so far
as to help us with our luggage all the way to the taxi, even though they
risked not getting back on the train before it left the station!
If you require meals be brought to your room, which is generally discouraged
unless you have limited mobility, or have other reasons to need more than
usual help from the Car Attendant, then the Car Attendant should be tipped
at least $5 per day per person and possibly more.
You will find that some Car Attendants are real "characters" and
"entertainers". I don't feel that a Car Attendant has to be a "character"
or "entertainer" to earn the maximum tip that I will give, but it certainly
does bias my decision! What really wins my opinion about a Car Attendant
is if I can see by what they do that they are really trying to make the
journey comfortable and enjoyable to their passengers. They don't have
to do a lot to show me that they are concerned about their passengers.
Just having the coffee urn turned on along with the supplies needed to
make a cup of coffee in the morning goes a long way to keeping me happy!
Here are the duties that appear to be official for a Car Attendant
in the Sleeping Cars:
- Greet passengers as they board the train:
- Suggest that passengers leave all luggage that they don't
immediately need with them in the downstairs luggage racks.
- Direct the passengers to their rooms.
- Explain that each passenger will be visited individually in their
room as soon as the train starts moving and further information
about their accomodations and the journey will be explained.
- Once the train starts moving, visit each passenger in their individual
- Explain the function of every control in the room.
- Explain that meals are included in the fare without extra charge.
- Explain about announcements for meals, about when they are servced,
and how reservations are made for dinner.
- Explain where the restrooms are located, where the shower is
located and how to obtain towels.
- Explain when and where coffee and juice are available in each
Sleeping Car in the morning.
- Explain the availability of the sightseer louge car and the
cafe/snack bar. On the Coast Starlight, explain about the
Pacific Parlor Car.
- Explain the smoking policy and about the announcement of smoking
- Other functions of the Car Attendant include:
- Keeping the restrooms clean (though not possible between use by
every passenger. Passengers are expected to leave the restroom
neat after use, but should call the Car Attendant if their is
- Notifying each passenger individually when their stop is coming
up and helping them off the train with their luggage.
- Converting the seats to beds and night and the beds to seats in
the morning. Also, changing the sheets periodically.
- Making sure coffee and juice are available along with all the
other items needed to make a cup of coffee such as cream,
sweetener, cups, stirring sticks. You can always tell a Car
Attendant that doesn't drink coffee when half the items to
prepare a cup of coffee are missing!
I'm sure there are many other items that are the responsibility of the
Car Attendant, but the above is all I could think of off the top of my
head. If a Car Attendant does see to at least those items, then they
are pretty sure to get the appropriate tip from me.
Many times Car Attendants have gone beyond the call of duty. This will
absolutely guarantee them the maximum tip from me, even if they have
slipped up in other areas. Some of the items I can remember include:
- Having fresh coffee available along with all the accouterments for
most of the day and not just in the morning (This will just about guarantee
the maximum tip from me!).
- Getting off the train at a temporary stop to pick up some railroad
spikes as souveniers for my daughters.
- Bringing something to our room such as drinks or snacks, especially when
I'm traveling with my family, without having been asked to get anything.
- Having muffins available for passengers that get up too late for
breakfast in the Dining Car.
- Being greeted warmly by a Car Attendant that recognizes either me or
my family from a previous trip.
To be fair, I should also list some of the things Car Attendants do that
I dislike. This will not necessarily reduce their maximum tip, but it
can if the Car Attendant has come up short on a number of items:
- Not having any coffee available, not even in the morning! Or, having
coffee ready, but missing half the items such as cream, sweetner and
sometimes even cups!
- Temporarily kicking you out of your room about an hour before the
final station so they can make the beds and clean up the room before the
train stops. They want to be able to get off from work as soon as the
train pulls into the station and not hang around finishing up the rooms!
I wonder how a first class passenger in a 747 would take this treatment?
This is a very common practice on Amtrak trains. Travel in Sleeping Cars
on a train is very expensive and I feel I deserve to enjoy every minute
for which I have paid. Housekeeping should be done after the passengers
leave the train and not during their final hour of enjoying their
I have been very pleased with the service that I have received from most
Car Attendants and usually give my maximum tip amount. Even if they don't
do everything they are suppose to do and do an item I don't like, the
overall experience usually leaves me with the feeling they have deserved
the maximum tip. There have been a number of times, however, where I
felt the Car Attendant either had a "I don't care" attitude or acted
irresponsible enough to reduce the pleasure of my trip. In those cases,
I've had no hesitancy to reduce the tip. In all my travels, I can only
remember two times in which I gave no tip at all. In one of those cases,
the Car Attendant didn't even show up at the door to let me off the train!
If he wasn't around to get a tip, then I figured he couldn't have wanted
one. I had to exit through another Sleeping Car.
March 1997: I have just taken my first trip east of Chicago other than the
coast to coast Sunset Limited. This trip was on the Amtrak Crescent. So
far, everyone who I have seen leave a tip has left $2 per person. That is
contrary to what you will read of my experiences below. A couple at
dinner last night left $2 per person and the person I had lunch with left
$2. This is two few observations to say there is a trend, but it does
bring up the possibility that there are some differences between train
travelers east of Chicago vs. west of Chicago.
June 1997: Traveling on the Cardinal from Chicago to Washington,D.C., I
have eaten with 3 other individuals at dinner last night, 3 other
individuals at breakfast this morning, and 2 other individuals at dinner
this evening. I tipped $2 at each dinner and $1 at breakfast, but didn't
observe anyone else leaving a tip at all! This could be because this is
only the fourth trip of a dining car being on this train. Maybe it isn't
custormary to tip for tray service when there is no dining car on the train.
In any case, a proper tip would not need to be very much. This train is
serving a menu that doesn't seem much different than what it offered when
it only had tray service. For example, lunch as wither a cheeseburger or
an individual pizza, each selling for $4 or $5. At each dinner, I was
served wine without charge. I don't know if that is suppose to be the
official policy, or if they just haven't figured out they are suppose
to charge $3 per serving like the other Amtrak Dining Cars. In any case,
I felt that I got excellent service and the server deserved a $2 tip from
each person at dinner even if the meals aren't yet as expensive and
extensive as in other Amtrak Dining Cars. Continuing my journey, tipping
got a bit better in the Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief where some
people tipped $1 at some meals sometimes. However, I still didn't see
anyone tip more than $1 at any meal and saw many people not tip at all.
Someone sent me e-mail stating that Amtrak payroll tax withholdings for
Dining Car service staff is calculated with the assumption that such staff
receives an average of 8% of the price of the meals as tips, just as the
IRS requires for restaurant serving staff. If that is true, that is a
great overestimation of what the dining car service staff receives from
my observations and someone should demand an investigation and new method
of estimating thier income from tips for the IRS. This might be a fair
estimate of their tip income if only tips from non-complimentary meals
is included. People that come to the Dining Car from the Coach Car are
likely to be more conscious of leaving a tip since they actually have
to pay for their meal. That puts the whole Dining Car experience more into
the real of something familiar: eating and paying in a restaurant. I think
Sleeping Car passengers sometimes either don't know they are suppose to
tip or just forget to tip or don't know how much to tip because they do
not receive a bill for the meal.
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