DETROIT -- Here's a tip: Tip your hotel maid.
"Maybe once a month someone will tip, but what can I do? We can't force people to tip," says Sara Hana, a housekeeper at the Victory Inn in Roseville, Mich. "Sometimes, they leave empty bottles."
Of all the workers travelers encounter, hotel maids are most likely to be stiffed at tip time.
Often unseen by guests, they are known only by the crisp pillows they plump or fluffy towels they hang.
"Sometimes they slip under the radar, but they are incredibly deserving," says Dan Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt. "They deserve a tip of $1 to $3 a day."
The nation's 433,000 hotel maids (also called housekeepers) make a median wage of $9.42 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But at modest hotels and motels, they are minimum- wage employees. (In Michigan, that's $7.40 an hour.)
Housekeepers say some guests leave strange tips.
"As far as myself, I do pretty well," says Dorethia Wilson, a housekeeper at the Shorecrest Motor Inn in Detroit.
"Sometimes they leave $5. Sometimes they leave $1. The most I ever got was $30. About 75 percent of people tip."
But guests leave things other than money.
"The strangest thing I ever got was ... a watermelon," she says. "The most valuable thing I received was a Bible. Sometimes people leave candy. Or spare change. Sometimes they leave a case of beer -- but I don't drink.
"And I have what I call my little thank-you box. I keep the notes I get. Sometimes they're written on paper towels. But I appreciate little notes like that, even more than the money."
While guests expect hotel maids to be as discreet as the Secret Service and as honest as Mother Teresa, many travelers don't bother to tip for a housekeeper's excellent service, because they don't know how.
"When they do tip, they often bring it down in an envelope to the front desk at the end of their stay," says Nancy Moore, front desk night auditor at the Best Western Georgian Inn in Roseville, Mich. "Often, it's because the housekeeper has done something extra for them."
That method is fine. But because the maid who cleans your room might be different each day, a better practice is to leave a tip daily, Senning says. …