Travel tip #4: Travel Tips or Be Robin Leach

I tip everyone.  I tip excessively.  Here’s why.

In our work, servers, bellmen, valets, sky caps — even the workers at the hotel’s free breakfast — all make our jobs easier.  Much easier.  And, when I travel, I travel with equipment — in some cases more than 400 lbs of equipment — and lugging it from the east coast to west coast and back again is probably the hardest part of my job.  That, and the time changes.
I’d just completed my stay at the World’s Suckiest Five Star Hotel, the posh Ritz Carlton LA Live.  Both cameras had just been stolen right out of my camera bag, while the bag was resting on the floor of the Ritz’s posh ballroom.
Let’s review:
Me to Ritz Hotel Security Thug:  “Two cameras were just stolen from my camera bag in your ballroom.”
Ritz Hotel Security Thug:  Shrug.
Me to Ritz hotel Security Thug:  “Why are you standing there?  Why aren’t you reviewing the security tapes?  Why aren’t you doing anything?”
Ritz Hotel Security Thug:  Shrug.
After going ape-shit (to no avail) I then ran to catch my plane.  Running, without my cameras or lenses, just a light, nearly empty camera bag.  Into the taxi:  “LAX, please, Southwest.”
We pulled up to the Southwest terminal, and I climbed out of the taxi.  The cabbie unloaded my bags from the trunk, I looked around for a sky cap.
“How’s your mom?  Your partner?” Asked my favorite LAX skycap, magically appearing. “Everything well?”
Now think about that.  I don’t travel through LAX very often — maybe six times a year.  Maybe.  Yet this skycap knew exactly who I was.  He remembered me, he remembered my mom, and he remembered my partner, Matthew.  Do you know how many people he sees every day?  How is it I stood out?
Two things.  One, as my mom says, “we are friendly dogs”.  We talk to the skycaps, bellman, whoever is around us, telling them more than they ever wanted to know about what we do and how we do it.  Second, we tip.  We tip well.  For a big cart of luggage from cab to curb, either a $10 or a $20.  If it’s normal — suitcases, carry ons — the $10.  If it’s printer cases, heavy equipment — $20. 
Skycaps are wonderful people to have on your side.  For that $20, they whisk you to the front of the line, past even the ellite fliers, to their private check-in terminal, punch some keys, and send you on your way…OH, and if your bag is 54lbs vs the 50 lb cutoff?  
“It’s alright.  I think our scales are a bit off.”  Bang.  No bag charge — which, by the way, on Southwest, is $75.  (I have another, top secret way of weasling out of this charge — but it is my best travel trick and I am holding it close to heart.)
“Mike, you really are having a bad day,” said my LAX skycap, after helping me from the cab and my world’s suckiest 5 star hotel, “and it’s not getting any better.  Your reservation? It’s for tomorrow.”
I groaned inside.  Christ, who hates me?  “Just get me home,” I said between clenched teeth, “please.”
He clicked the keys.  “I can get you on a flight to Houston and then to BWI, you’ll land about 11.”
“Perfect.  Do it.”
Click. Click.  Click.  Click.  
“All done.”
“And how much is my little mistake going to cost me?”
“Nothing, Mike.  We took care of it.  Thanks for being such a good customer.”  Now:  did he mean of Southwest, or the $20 tip I ALWAYS gave him?  Either way, who really cares?
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like kicking a puppy any more.  Suddenly, my world started to fix itself.  All because a skycap recognized me, clicked his magic keys, and rerouted my mood from sour to sunny in just a few strokes.
I arrived home an hour ahead of schedule.  The next day, by the way, I bought two new cameras and lenses.  I had them fedexed right to me, and immediately put them into the two lonely holes in my camera bag.  All was right with the world.
“May I help you with your bags, sir?” asked the BWI skycap.
He was new.  I didn’t know him, though I fly into and out of BWI twice a week.
“Absolutely.  And thank you.  My name’s Mike, did you just start here…?”
Mike’s tip chart to live by.  This really does result in setting you apart and getting you great service:
Servers in restaurant:  20% plus extra rounded up.  So, bill is $86.  Tip the $20.
Bellman:  $5 / bag or $20
Skycaps: $10 – $20 depending on how much crap I’m carryying
Front Desk Agent:  (if I’m checking into a property I don’t have elite standing with/ resort property) $20 with “I’m exhausted, travel day from hell, just need extra TLC” speech .  Works for room upgrade.
Hotel Housekeeping:  $5 / day — I consider it payment for extra coffee/ shampoo / pillows
Taxi:  short runs (3 blocks with equipment)  Speech:  “I know I only need to go 3 blocks, but I can’t haul this equipment. So, if I give you a $20 will that cover it?”  You betcha.
Taxi:  airport run.  Increments of $5, not less than $10 (example:  $45 run from chicago Midway to downtown hotel, I’d tip $10 or $55 total, $60 total if I had tons of equipment).
Hair salon:  tip stylist $20, and shampoo person $5  (I don’t go to hair cuttery, always tip shampoo girl extra and specify or the stylist grabs it all up).
Valet:  Rental:  $5, my car $10, say “this is my car, please, I love this car.  If you are teaching your assistant to drive a clutch, can you please use that BMW over there?”
Doorman, $5 (when getting me a taxi)
Executive Lounge Breakfast Girl:  $5 / day
Is this the cheapest way to travel?  No.  Do I travel cheaply?  No.  Do I have any desire to travel cheaply?  No.  My goal when travelling is to travel well.  To arrive relaxed.  To totally enjoy myself.  And, with the help of all that support staff, it’s easy to do.  You want them happy when they see you.  If they are happy when they see you, your life will be better.  When your life is better, you do a great job.   When you do a great job, clients hire you again.  See?  It’s really very economical.
And, when I go to the salon, everyone wonders why the shampoo girl puts cucumbers under my eyes.
“I don’t get it,” said the blue haired lady next to me, “I’ve come here for 20 years.  I’m lucky to get a towel. YOU get CUCUMBERS.  And a little facial mist of relaxing spray.  I want that.  WHY DON’T I GET THAT?”
“I don’t know, ” I said, “maybe they just like me.”
She just glared.  And, might I say, her eyes looked just a bit puffy.