Understanding Service Charges: Types, Benefits, and How They Differ from Tips


Service charges are fees collected to cover various services related to a purchase. Unlike tips, which are discretionary and go directly to the service provider, service charges are typically mandatory and paid to the company. They are prevalent in industries like hospitality, banking, and travel. This article explores the definition of service charges, their types across different sectors, and why they differ from tips.

Understanding service charges

Service charges, also known as service fees, are additional costs associated with a product or service. They are usually collected at the time of the transaction between the consumer and the company. These charges can serve various purposes, such as covering operational expenses or offering added convenience.

Service charges are not to be confused with tips, which are entirely at the discretion of the customer and directly benefit the employee providing the service.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of service charges in different industries.

  • Provide revenue for covering operational costs
  • Ensure consistent service quality
  • Offer convenience to customers
  • May feel mandatory to customers
  • Can be perceived as hidden costs
  • Customers may prefer tipping for control

Types of service charges

Service charges vary depending on the industry. Here are some common types:

Hospitality industry

In the hospitality sector, such as hotels and restaurants, service charges are commonly added to bills. These charges often replace traditional tipping practices. For instance, when ordering room service at a hotel or dining in a large group at a restaurant, a service charge, usually a percentage of the total bill, may be included.

Case study: In a popular resort, a 15% service charge is added to the restaurant bills for groups of six or more diners. This charge covers the cost of additional staffing required to serve large parties efficiently. Customers appreciate the convenience of not having to calculate tips.

Another example is cruise ships, where a daily service charge may be added to cover gratuities for crew members providing various services during the voyage.

Banking industry

Banks apply various service charges, usually at a fixed rate, for different services. These may include monthly maintenance fees for checking or savings accounts, fees for using a competing bank’s ATM, or charges for wire transfers.

Case study: A national bank introduces a $10 monthly maintenance fee for checking accounts. The fee covers online banking services, access to customer support, and fraud protection. Customers can avoid this fee by maintaining a minimum balance or using other services provided by the bank.

In addition to these charges, banks may also impose overdraft fees when an account balance falls below zero, and customers make transactions, or they may charge fees for printed checks or paper statements.

Travel industry

Airlines impose several service charges, including fees for checked or oversized baggage, changes or cancellations, early seat selection, and in-flight services like WiFi, food, and entertainment.

Case study: An airline introduces a service charge for travelers who wish to change their flight dates. This fee helps the airline manage seat availability and reduce the impact of last-minute changes on their flight schedules. Passengers appreciate the flexibility of changing their plans, albeit with an associated cost.

Additionally, airports may levy an airport improvement fee on departing and connecting passengers. This fee contributes to airport enhancements and can be included in the airline ticket cost or paid at embarkation.

Case study: A major international airport implements an embarkation fee to fund the expansion of terminal facilities. The fee is automatically added to the ticket price, simplifying the payment process for travelers. This funding enables the airport to offer better services and accommodate growing passenger numbers.

Residential property

Renters of residential properties may encounter service charges, such as condo fees in addition to their rent. Condo fees typically cover maintenance and cleaning expenses for the building.

Online rental platforms like Airbnb also impose service charges, often calculated as a percentage of the subtotal, to cover payment processing fees for both renters and property owners.

Case study: A property management company charges a monthly service fee to tenants of a condominium complex. This fee covers landscaping, security, and general maintenance of the common areas. Tenants value the well-maintained environment and the convenience of a single monthly payment.

In the real estate industry, property management companies may charge service fees to cover expenses related to maintaining and managing rental properties, such as advertising, background checks on tenants, and routine maintenance.

Service charges versus tips

It’s essential to differentiate between service charges and tips, as they have distinct characteristics:

Service charges:

  • Typically mandatory and added to the bill
  • Go to the company to cover costs or provide convenience
  • Examples include hotel service fees and maintenance fees


  • Discretionary and at the customer’s choice
  • Directly benefit the employee providing the service
  • Given in various forms, including cash or electronic payments

A business cannot compel customers to tip, and customers have the right to determine the amount and recipient of the tip.

Frequently asked questions about service charges

What is a service charge?

A service charge is a fee collected to cover various services related to a purchase. It is typically mandatory and paid to the company providing the product or service.

How do service charges differ from tips?

Service charges are mandatory fees that go to the company, covering costs or providing convenience. Tips, on the other hand, are discretionary and go directly to the employee providing the service.

Why do companies impose service charges?

Companies impose service charges to cover operational costs, maintain service quality, and offer added convenience to customers.

Can customers choose not to pay a service charge?

Service charges are usually mandatory and are included in the bill. However, tipping is at the discretion of the customer, and they can choose not to tip if the service charge is already included.

What are some common examples of service charges in different industries?

Service charges can be found in various industries. For example, in the hospitality industry, they may replace traditional tipping practices, while in the banking industry, they can include monthly maintenance fees. Airlines also impose service charges, such as baggage fees and change fees.

Do service charges vary in amount?

Yes, the amount of a service charge can vary. In some cases, it may be a fixed percentage of the total bill, while in others, it may be a flat fee. The specific amount depends on the company’s policies.

Are service charges regulated by the government?

Service charges are not always regulated by the government, but there may be specific rules and regulations in certain industries or regions regarding how service charges are applied and disclosed to customers.

Do service charges always benefit the customer?

Service charges are intended to cover costs or provide convenience, which can benefit the customer indirectly by ensuring a smooth and efficient service. However, whether they directly benefit the customer can vary depending on the company’s policies and how the service charge is used.

Key takeaways

  • Service charges are fees collected to cover various services related to a purchase and are typically mandatory.
  • They are prevalent in industries such as hospitality, banking, and travel.
  • Service charges differ from tips, which are discretionary and directly benefit the service provider.
  • Examples of service charges include those in the hospitality industry, banking, travel, and residential property rentals.
  • Customers are usually expected to pay service charges as part of their bill, while tipping is entirely optional.
  • Airlines and airports also impose service charges for various services, such as baggage fees and airport improvement charges.
View article sources
  1. Service charges and other expenses – Leasehold property – Gov.uk
  2. Explaination On Service Charge / Government Tax … – Customs.gov.my
  3. Your service charge – Croydon Council