Is Front Desk Tipping Ethical?

photo 4When I was in Vegas, I was able to get a sweet upgrade for a hundred dollars.

I was reading through the forums on Wine Spectator and came across a message board where some people think 1. It is unethical of the front desk person to upgrade a tipper and 2. It is unethical to tip in this situation because you are essentially trying to bribe someone.

What do you think?

On one hand, it’s something that goes on a lot in Vegas.  On the other hand, could the person have up-sold me this room for the same cost as my “tip” and found a way to earn the hotel some extra income on unused rooms?

Jacob Tomsky, long-time hospitality employee, told Here & Now Radio to “tip your front desk clerk, because your money will go further.  And, he cautioned, front desk clerks wield a lot of power.”

But of course he would be pro-tipping.  He was on the receiving end.

Hotels have the power to end this.  Someone in the Wine Spectator thread did fire an employee for taking a bribe.  But if hotels really wanted to end this, they could force upgrades to get cleared through someone else.

Is this a practice that hotels in Vegas allow to happen (but don’t encourage?)  Is it unethical?  Is it just smart traveling?  I’m interested in what you think.


About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Oh please. Tipping is tipping, be it housekeeping, the concierge(expected), doormen, or heaven forbid the front desk. It’s a service industry. Money talks.
    For someone to be insulted needs to get over it. No one is twisting anyone’s arm. Now if the hotel management expressly forbids the the front desk with fear of termination, then they can say ‘no’. Otherwise, upgrade me.

  2. It’s not a tip if you offer it during the checkin process. That’s a bribe. If you want to tip leave something on your way out or at best after they have allocated your room.

  3. I worked at a Sheraton for 6 months. To be completely honest, when people tipped me it didn’t make a difference to me. It happened so rarely. I would get someone the best room I could if they were nice to the bellman, and nice to me, that’s it. If they also tipped me, great, but the smile on their face got them their nice room, not the money.

  4. I feel like Las Vegas should have some sort of special set of rules that apply to it compared to other places.
    If ever there is a city that bribery should be allowed – nay, encouraged- shouldn’t it be Sin City?

    I always tip front desk when I’m in Vegas, but I can’t remember the last time I did outside of it.

  5. @Nick: a distinction without a difference. I’d think it would be unethical if either a tip (or a bribe) were required to get the pre-arranged level of accommodation, but hotels in some locations (e.g., Las Vegas) obviously encourage this method of customer service. They undoubtedly find that customer satisfaction is HIGHER if the customer thinks they’ve gotten away with something questionable, and know full well that that same customer wouldn’t dream of ponying up the Benjamin if it were part of the rack rate.

  6. @ Nick
    Unless you were a supervisor or manager at the Sheraton you would probably have to be very careful when upgrading after being tipped/bribed. I could imagine an auditor going through and wondering why people without status were being moved into suites at low rates.

    People are suggesting it is unethical to give a bribe.. but wouldn’t it be the front desk staff being unethical taking the money for an upgrade? Larger suites may take more time to clean, use more energy to run extra lights/tv, use up more amenities (soap/shampoo) when you fit more people into a room, etc… So the front desk agent is making more money but it could potentially be lost revenue for the hotel.

  7. It goes both ways. First of all, trying to rationalize and convince the world and yourself that is just a tip is fooling yourself. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a bribe and both the guest and the employee know it. You’re paying in advance to influence someone to give you preferential treatment.
    THAT BEING SAID, this goes on all the time in Vegas, and it’s a widely accepted and known practice, even to the hotels, so I’m ok with it. Someone could make a case that it’s immoral, but who are the casinos in Vegas to teach hotel guests about morals? They put your in a room with no windows, no clocks and free drinks and try to take your money. And when you win too much of theirs they ask you to leave (just ask Ben Affleck). Ethics? Not on a casino.

  8. It goes into bribe territory when you know what you’re getting for your tip BEFORE you tip. As long as you have no expectations before you tip, it’s fine.

    If the clerk says they will upgrade you for $20, suddenly you’re in bribe territory.

  9. Aren’t all tips really bribes to get better service? Regardless of whether it’s the hotel maid, front desk, or server?

  10. If management and those above it allows the employees to make upgrades based on whim or tips then it’s not a bribe in the normal sense. If you know this going in, no need to feel guilty or unethical. Heard this was acceptable and standard in Vegas even through management. Done it myself, got upgraded. If it was something employees could be terminated over, then you wouldn’t see the hundreds that do it everyday, particularly in Vegas and at the fanciest of hotels. Did it twice at Palazzo. There are sites that show how pervasive it is.

  11. human are so contradictory, ethical or not is not the issue, its when we call it ethical or unethical, with it being the same thing at different setting, ie., hypocritical and bordem bred the question in this post.

  12. alohadavekennedy

    What a revolting development! Front desk staff are not entitled to receive bribes. Only members of Congress and local politicians should be receiving bribes.

  13. Personally I’m ok with giving a tip — but after I got the room upgrade with or without asking. Giving the tip beforehand makes it a bribe, IMHO. It’s like tipping the housekeeper beforehand so he/she would clean your room better and give you an extra set of designer-labeled toiletries.

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