/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Are cruise lines going overboard with service charges?

Mum and daughter on cruise ship

More and more cruise companies are adding daily service charges to passengers’ onboard accounts. Is this a fairer system for the staff or would we get better service if we tip staff individually?

Until this month, passengers on a Fred Olsen cruise would pay any gratuities they chose directly to the cabin stewardess and waiter. Now the policy has changed and £4 per passenger per day is automatically added to onboard accounts.

P&O now also operate a similar system for some guests on some ships, while Royal Caribbean has just raised its daily service charge to around £7 per person for cruises from next July.

The added extras on board cruises

This topic is one that many Which? members have written to us about, and for some, it’s the most irritating part of a cruise trip.

When you factor in an extra obligatory service charge (often 15%) which is added to all chargeable drinks and spa entry, and a dotted line on the drinks receipt inviting you to add a further tip, it’s no wonder we get frustrated.

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the daily service charge is virtually always discretionary and you can get the amount adjusted, or opt out of it completely at reception – but this isn’t always made clear. Some members who chose to do this and tip individual staff tell us that the service suddenly improved afterwards.

What makes a fair tip?

Cruise firms insist that when a passenger gives individual tips to waiters and cabin ‘housekeepers’ the ‘back-room’ staff unfairly miss out on tips, so a blanket per day charge to be spread equally among all crew is a fairer system.

But wouldn’t it be better if the crew was paid a more respectable salary in the first place so they were less reliant on these secondary payments? Many people have told us they’d be happy to pay a slightly higher cruise fare for this to happen, especially if it meant they didn’t then feel obliged to pay tips once on board.

On the other hand, if all tips and service charges are included in your overall cruise holiday price it could be a pain to try and get recompense if the service is below par. What do you think is the best system?

Comments
Member

I HAVE BOOKED A CRUISE LATER THIS YEAR ON P&O OCEANA CAN ANYONE LET ME KNOW THE DAILY GRATUITY IS

Member
Tony Ashby says:
24 January 2017

It has just come to light that many restuarants count “service charge” as revenue. Do cruise lines do the same?

Member

I expect so. It gets paid to the staff as a supplement to their wages which also come out of revenue. Most cruise lines allow passengers to opt out of automatic deductions at a daily rate.