Paying Gratuities on a Cruise. Analyzing both Sides and Picking One.

Your experience on a cruise ship is largely determined by the service that you receive. Every crew member works hard to ensure you get the best level of service possible, and, often, to complement their service, you give gratuities.

What Is A Gratuity?

Gratuities are the monetary tips that you give to crew members for a job well done.

Most cruise lines automatically create an onboard gratuity account for you. This is called a prepaid gratuity, and the ticket fee includes this charge.

On average, a cruise line charges gratuities of $12-$15 per day, per customer. So, if you plan to be on the cruise ship for 10 days, it’s a $120 charge for a single person for the gratuity alone. The standard fee varies by cruise line.

The alternate to this is a post-paid gratuity. At the end of your cruise, the gratuity is added to the bill, keeping in mind all of the services you have used onboard.

How Gratuities Work

The gratuity is split between all service-oriented crewmembers, and is given to them as a supplement to their wages. Now the question arises, “If they’re being paid already, why am I paying gratuities? Especially if I’ve received subpar service.”

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Typical Cruise Ship Wages

Though a cruise line is charging you handsomely for a weeklong cruise, it doesn’t imply that the crew members are being compensated proportionally.

There are a lot of variables, like cruise line, ship size, and employment position to consider. A luxury cruise line has a greater median wage than a mid-level one. A bigger ship means employees get paid more, but they will also have greater responsibilities.

Despite the variables, on average, a crew member makes $2,000 USD per month working for a cruise line. In 2018, three cruise lines reported these median annual earnings of their employees:

  • Carnival: $16,622
  • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: $20,101
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises: $19,396

These are the median annual wages in some countries:

  • USA: $35,600
  • UK: $23,717
  • Spain: $21,788

Now, you may argue that these are unfair comparisons. On a cruise ship, crew living quarters, meals, and even clothes are taken care of. But, they do have a much more demanding schedule than service workers in a land-based job. This is why gratuities are expected.

At the end of the day, keeping or withholding gratuities is up to the customer. Here are some alternating views on the topic.

Why You Should Keep Your Gratuities Account

• You’ve Received Good Service

This is a very straightforward reason as to why you may keep your gratuity account. Crew members are trained diligently to provide an exemplary level of hospitality. In most cases, you do receive a high standard of service. The best way to reward them is by tipping.

• Convenient Way to Tip Your Servers

Keeping your gratuities account is the easiest way to ensure that your servers get tipped. Since the cruise line themselves split the amount between the crew, there’s no work for you to do. If you’re going to tip individually, you will have to carry cash with you on board. You’ll also have to spend time at the guest services desk to remove the gratuity credit if that’s what you choose.

• You’re Afraid You May Receive Bad Service

Though cruise lines don’t broadcast those who have removed the prepaid gratuities, there is still a fear that the staff may find out. The odds are rare, but following this, you may notice a decrease in the level of service you receive. To prevent this scenario for yourself, you should opt to keep your gratuities account.

• Supplement Low-Wage Earners

As discussed above, cruise lines pay most of their onboard crew a very low wage. The gratuity is a good way to supplement their pay. It should be the cruise line’s responsibility that they are compensated fairly, but since that isn’t happening, you can keep the gratuities for just the humane aspect of fair pay for everyone.

Why You Wouldn’t Want Your Gratuities Account

• You Want To Tip Individually

Some people prefer to recognize individuals who have served them well, rather than the crew at large. In the case of paying gratuity, if you’ve received flawless service from one person and poor service from another, they both receive the same amount. To some, that may seem unfair.

• You’ve Received Below-Average Service

Though the chances are extremely rare, you might have had a bad service experience with the crew. If that is the case, first, inform the customer service desk. This way, any remedy measures can be taken immediately.  If you really feel the crew is not deserving of a tip, then you can proceed to either fully or partially withdraw the amount.

• You’re Not Accustomed to Tipping 

In some countries, like the U.S., tipping is a very normal practice. The standard tipping amount at any sit-down restaurant is between 15-20%. However, in some European countries, this is not the case. They are more accustomed to lower tips, or not tipping at all. For people originating from those countries, a gratuity of $15/day may seem excessive, especially when you’re already paying a substantial fare for the ticket.

• Cruise Lines Are the End Benefactor

A customer pays hundreds of dollars to a cruise line for them to expect you to pay further to support their employees. This ends up with the customers feeling like the villain if they don’t tip, and employees having poor income if they don’t get the tip. If the cruise line paid their employees fairly in the first place, the need for gratuities wouldn’t exist.

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How to Remove Credit from Your Gratuities Account

Every cruise line’s policy is different. In most, the gratuities are pre-paid. In these cruise lines, you can approach the front desk to have the gratuities account modified. Tipping is completely your call to make, and if you feel you don’t want to tip at all or want to tip personally, you can do so.

Now that you’ve got an idea of what gratuities are, how they help, and the pros and cons, you can make an informed decision about them.

Tips to Enjoy Your Next Cruise

  • Book during the offseason to enjoy lower fares, and a less-crowded ship.
  • Select a room in the middle of ship, and pack appropriate medication if you’re prone to seasickness.
  • To enjoy more of the ship’s amenities, choose to stay onboard while in ports you aren’t interested in visiting.
  • Purchase travel medical insurance or travel insurance for your cruise to protect your finances.

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