P&O is the latest cruise line to add automatic daily gratuities to passengers’ onboard accounts. My tip for P&O? If you want to avoid angry customers, make sure they know all the facts.
Last December, we asked for your opinions on cruise tipping after Fred Olsen decided to change its policy and start charging a set daily amount. Most of you were against it, like John:
‘On balance I think the whole thing is an embarrassment and an anachronism that has no place in modern cruising. The wages should be decent and the fare should be set accordingly.’
And Barbara praised P&O’s tipping:
‘I prefer the method on P&O who let you tip each waiter and cabin person individually according to the service given.’
Oh dear. Barbara is unlikely to be happy with P&O’s recent change of course. On most of its ships, passengers currently pay any gratuities directly to the cabin stewards and waiter (if they so wish). But from next spring, the cruise operator will add £3.10 per person, per day onto bills that will be paid for at the end of the trip. This is to cover service charges for various ship staff.
Just the tip of the iceberg
It may not sound much, but a couple on a 99 day world cruise will end up paying an extra £608 in service charges. P&O says it has introduced this system because it ‘creates clarity for everyone by removing any awkwardness and confusion’ over how much they should tip.
Ever more ships (particularly US-owned ones) now automatically add service charges like this to people’s accounts, and often much more – at around £7 per passenger, per day.
And when you factor in an extra obligatory service charge, often 15%, which is added to all chargeable drinks and spa entry – not to mention a dotted line on the drinks receipt inviting you to add a further tip – it’s no wonder we Brits get frustrated.
Only premium cruise lines such as Regent, and a few more mainstream companies like Saga and Thomson, include service charges in their overall price. They then allow passengers to tip individual staff for exceptional service. Isn’t this a better way to encourage future good service?
Cruise companies need to be transparent
It’s true that the daily service charge is virtually always discretionary – you can get the amount adjusted or opt out of it completely by asking at the ship reception, although staff may dissuade you from doing this.
But how well-informed will P&O customers be about this new system? Will it be made clear to you at the time of booking (whether online, by P&O sales staff or by travel agents) that there will be this extra charge to pay at the end of the trip?
If not, that will be a nasty surprise for passengers, especially those loyal customers who cherish the more traditional tipping ways.
And I wonder if all customers will be told that they have the option to opt out of paying the charge? Several Which? members have told us that on other cruise lines, they only found this out by chance when talking to other people onboard their ship.
So, what do you think is the best system for tipping on cruise ships?
- Pay a lower price for your cruise, and pay a daily amount to be shared amongst crew.
- Pay a higher price for your cruise, and have no tips to pay once onboard.
- Pay a lower price for your cruise, and pay tips to staff individually at your discretion.