To Tip or Not to Tip

Traveler Editor at Large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: I’m going on a cruise. How much should I figure for tipping?

My Answer: You might not have to figure anything.

Many major cruise lines now add a gratuity of around $12 per passenger, per day. The latest to take the auto-tipping route, Royal Caribbean, quietly made the switch last spring.

Today, the problem isn’t really how much to tip; it’s more a question of what to do if you don’t want to tip. After all, for some of us old-timers, a tip is earned.

“Passengers can go along with the cruise line’s suggested tipping guidelines,” says Stewart Chiron, an industry-watcher. “Depending on the level of service, passengers can adjust up or down.”

You can visit the guest services desk and request that the tip be lowered or eliminated if you think the service was awful. But requiring passengers to opt out of tips is as absurd as it sounds, and fortunately, the auto-tipping practice may be taking on water.

Proposed U.S. legislation would put cruise line practices under tighter government control, and it might require cruise lines to remove the “optional” gratuity from your bill.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the April 2014 issue). Follow his story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

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  1. Jose' Lai
    Hong Kong SAR, China
    May 9, 2014, 3:13 am

    Although I think tipping is a good system encourage good service from people working in the service industry, mandatory tipping system is totally inappropriate and should be banned. People working in any place should be paid by their employers but not directly by the customer. Whatever bill the restaurant, hotel, cruise or whatever institution charged the customer should include the salary for the people who serve the customer. People should be charged clearly and paid according to the “menu”. This way both the customer and worker are in a secure position, customer knows exactly how much they SHOULD pay and workers are protected for the service they surrendered. Meanwhile, customer actually shown their appreciate of extraordinary good work with tip which worker should work hard to earn it. I have numerous experience of being forced to tip eventhough the service is lousy and I am sure a lot of workers suffers a low tip not because of the service they surrendered, but the low quality of food or whatever their employer supplied. This is totally not a “fair” system at all.

  2. Sue Bennett
    United States
    April 12, 2014, 7:44 pm

    I think those cruise worker work really hard and it used to be the luck of the draw if they got generous tippers (usually USA) but more often they work for high maintenance guests but receive no tips. They work for about $50 a month and they pay their way to the ship…I think mandatory tipping by all is really the kindest and fairest way to help those cruise workers.