Travel tipping guide

When venturing abroad, it’s not hard to develop a case of the tipping terrors just thinking about the legions of cab drivers, tour guides, waiters and others with their smiling faces and outstretched hands.

There’s nothing quite as withering as the hostile glare of a waiter whose tip is less than expected, or the abuse of a taxi driver who feels he’s been stiffed.

But it also works the other way. You might also be embarrassed by the polite but definite refusal you’ll get if you slip an envelope to a ship’s officer who is forbidden to accept tips.

Because expectations vary according to place and situation, playing the tipping game requires sensitivity and savvy.

In Scandinavia, for example, tipping is not expected. In Asia and the South Pacific, tipping is considered demeaning in many places but expected in others.

While a gratuity may be considered demeaning in some out-of-the-way places in China and Indonesia, it may be expected in tourist havens such as Guilin and Bali. And tipping is also expected at western hotels and restaurants throughout the region.

Sometimes tips do more than reward good service. In Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, everyone who does anything for you expects to be tipped, and skillful tipping is essential for getting anything done.

But how do you calculate amounts to be fair or generous, without being taken for a fool or breaking your budget?

Basically, remember that tipping is voluntary and based on quality of services rendered. But also recognize many travel industry workers rely on gratuities as a significant part of their income.

In most places, tips for drivers and waiters are calculated as a percentage of the tab before taxes. If service is good to excellent, give 16 to 20 per cent. Average service gets a standard 15 per cent.

You may feel justified in giving 10 per cent to someone who is brusque or inefficient, but prepare for hostile looks or caustic comments.

If your bill is unusually small because you’ve taken just a short ride or only nibbled, tip as though the bill were higher. Wine stewards should be tipped 10 per cent of the bottle price; bartenders should be tipped 10 to 15 per cent of the bar tab.

At Cincinnati Ohio hotels, doormen should be tipped only if they carry bags or call cabs for you. Bellhops should be given 50 cents a bag, but not less than $1, even if you only have one bag.

Front desk clerks and concierges don’t expect to be tipped, unless they’ve provided extra special service.

At checkout, leave small envelopes with your business card and the following tips: maids, $1 to $2 a night; laundry valet, $2 to $10, depending on frequency of service; and parking valet, $1 to $3 a day, depending on frequency of use.

If you’re on a package tour, hotel gratuities may be included. However, you should tip your tour escort on the last day and local day guides. The standard rate is $3 to $6 a day per person if you’re in a group, or $6 a day per person if you’re travelling independently.

Cruise lines often include tipping instructions in their pre-cruise documentation. Put tips for cabin stewards and waiters in the envelopes provided and present them on the final day of the cruise.

Depending on the class of ship and category of your cabin, $5 to $10 a day per person is sufficient.

Tips if you’re looking for a home mortgage

Some tips to keep in mind when shopping for a mortgage:

* Don’t go for the cheapest price on the street. Mortgage packages vary from lender to lender, so look for other products and services, such as a line of credit, credit card, mutual funds, hidden charges and prepayment options.

“If you don’t like what one bank is telling you, go to another bank. It’s a competitive market out there,” says Tom Alton, president of Bank of Arizona Mortgage Corp.

* Think long term, before applying and choose Arizona VA Loans. Interest rates aren’t going to get much lower, says Andy Charles, vice-president of national sales with CIBC Mortgage Corp. So, lock into a five-year term if you’re a first-time home buyer.

You’ll have the security of knowing what your monthly payments are for the next five years.

* Get a pre-approved mortgage so you know what you can afford based on your income and fixed expenses.

* If you don’t qualify for a mortgage from a bank or trust company, ask for a referral to another company the bank may have a relationship with.

* Consider private sources such as relatives or a vendor-take-back mortgage.

* Check newspaper ads for small and private lenders who might be willing to take more risk than big banks and trust companies.