Smart Living: Here’s How Much to Tip for a Massage

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Angel Rodriguez didn't get her first massage until she was 40 years old—because she says she had no idea what to expect, including how much to tip for a massage.

"My husband gave me a gift card for my birthday, and it took me six months to work up the nerve to use it. I was that freaked out," says 42-year-old Rodriguez, who lives in Staten Island, New York. "When I first walked in, the massage therapist told me to 'undress to your comfort level,' and I was like, 'Ma'am, nothing about this is comfortable!'"

Rodriguez says her massage therapist looked her straight in the eye and told her to take a deep breath and relax or "I might as well light my gift card on fire, and if my husband wanted to gift me a bonfire, he would have." The comment made her laugh, and that's when she knew she'd found the right massage therapist for her. Since then, she's been going back once a month—and she always makes it a point to leave a great tip.

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But what, exactly, is the tipping etiquette when it comes to massage therapy? Does it differ from how much to tip a hairdresser or how much to tip at a nail salon? And do you always have to tip, or is tipping etiquette different around the world? Rodriguez is certainly not alone in her confusion and discomfort when it comes to how to tip for a massage, but that's no reason to miss out on what she calls "one of the biggest little pleasures of life." So we asked experts to share everything you need to know about how much to tip for a massage.

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  Here’s How Much to Tip for a Massage © RD.com, Getty Images

Is it customary to tip for a massage?

In the United States, massage therapists may work privately, at a spa or as part of a medical office. They can be paid per session or hourly, and they're usually not getting all of the money you're paying for a treatment. Let's say your deep-tissue massage costs $80. A tip isn't included in that bill, and much of the fee goes to the spa or medical facility, with your massage therapist getting only a percentage. Tips can make a huge difference to how much they bring home each night.

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"You should always tip something after a massage—it's rude not to," says Beth Rose, a licensed massage therapist and business owner in Kennewick, Washington. "We are providing a service. Plus, massage is hard physical work! A good tip gives us an incentive to serve you better the next time."

And speaking of tipping requirements, don't forget that you need to tip for pizza delivery too!

How much should you tip for a massage?

Basic etiquette rules say to tip 20% of the bill, according to Valerie Sokolosky, an etiquette expert and the author of Do It Right, a comprehensive etiquette guide. "Trust that the massage therapist or their boss will adjust charges based on the services rendered and the time, so you don't need to calculate anything extra beyond the flat percentage," she explains.

For instance, a regular massage may be $50 for 60 minutes, in which case you would tip $10, making your total cost $60. The same spa may offer a 90-minute deep-tissue massage for $200, making your tip $40 and your final cost $240.

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If you feel like the massage therapist went above and beyond in providing excellent service, feel free to tip more, up to 25% or 30%, Sokolosky adds.

How should you tip for a massage?

"Most massage therapists prefer to be tipped in cash," says Rose, adding that you can give the cash directly to the therapist at the end of your appointment. "Cash is immediate, so you don't have to wait for your paycheck, and they don't take taxes out."

That said, it's perfectly fine to add a tip on your credit card bill if that is your preference, she adds.

Should you tip if you're using a coupon or gift certificate?

Yes, you should tip at least 20% based on the regular cost of the service, even if you're using a coupon or gift certificate, says Sokolosky. So if a massage normally costs $100, tip $20 even if you have a coupon that discounts the massage to $90 or a gift card that covers the full cost. Skipping or reducing a tip when using a coupon is one of the most common etiquette mistakes, so be sure you don't fall into that trap!

The one exception? Some gift-givers choose to include the tip in the amount they put on a gift card. They might give you a $60 gift certificate to use on a $50 Swedish massage, noting in the card that the gift is good for "one massage and $10 tip." In that case, you don't need to tip even more.

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How much should you tip for a massage during the holidays?

It isn't standard to tip more for a massage during the holidays, but if you have a regular relationship with a particular therapist, a holiday bonus is a nice gesture. The question, of course, is how much to tip for a massage in this case. Sokolosky suggests giving an amount equal to the cost of one appointment. Put cash in an envelope with a nice thank-you note.

You may also want to consider tipping a little more for other special occasions and services, like a honeymoon couples' massage or an in-home visit. "It's not expected, but it is a nice surprise," says Rose.

Do you have to tip if the massage therapist is the spa owner?

This is a bit of a gray area, says Rose, who owns her own spa. "I don't expect people to really tip when they come to me," she says. "I set the prices at what I think is fair, and I have little overhead, so the whole price of the massage goes straight to me. But everyone tips anyway, which I really appreciate."

Do you have to tip for a massage at an all-inclusive resort?

"All-inclusive" means that tipping isn't required. That said, most people will still tip service workers, including massage therapists, a small amount, perhaps $5 to $10.

Rather than tipping after every massage, it's customary to tip once at the end of your resort stay, says Rose, adding that it's best to hand cash directly to your massage therapist. The same is true for other service workers, such as hotel housekeeping.

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Do you need to tip if your massage wasn't great?

  Here’s How Much to Tip for a Massage © ljubaphoto/Getty Images

Your massage therapist went to town with the face massage tools, and you weren't into it at all. We've all been there, wondering how much to tip for a less-than-stellar massage—and whether we could skip out without leaving a tip at all. Know this: You should still tip your massage therapist even if you weren't 100% satisfied, says Sokolosky.

Rose agrees. "You should always tip something," she says. "They usually do at least one or two things right even if the whole thing isn't perfect."

And the next time you get a massage, save yourself a bad experience by speaking up. According to Rose, a good massage therapist will check in with you regularly during the massage to make sure it's a good experience. "I ask questions throughout the session to make sure they're happy and adjust if needed," she says. "If you are unhappy with something, you should speak up right then so we can fix it."

When should you skip a tip?

Massage therapists who work in medical settings—think chiropractic offices, physical therapy practices and hospitals—usually don't get tips, says Sokolosky. The massage is considered a medical treatment, and the bill goes through insurance, so you don't pay anything at the time of service.

Massage therapists in medical settings are often paid a salary or an hourly rate, regardless of whether or not they have clients, so all payment is taken care of by the employer, says Rose.

If all this talk of tipping has you opting for a DIY massage instead, give one of these ahh-mazing scalp massagers a try.

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Sources:

  • Angel Rodriguez, regular spa customer
  • Beth Rose, licensed massage therapist and business owner in Kennewick, Washington
  • Valerie Sokolosky, etiquette expert and author of Do It Right

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