Princess Cruises is the latest line to increase its daily onboard gratuities. From January 2016 passengers will pay $12.95 per day (up from $11.50) and passengers staying in mini suites or suites will pay $13.95 per day (up from $12).
The good news, for us at least, is that Princess doesn’t charge daily gratuities on its ships based in Australia. But it once again raises the contentious issue of the voluntary nature of daily gratuities – and makes us wonder: how high can they go?
The announcement from Princess came just days after Holland America Line announced a similar price hike. From December 1 HAL passengers can expect to pay $12.50 in staterooms and $13.50 in suites, up from $11.50 and $12 respectively.
Norwegian Cruise Line raised its gratuities twice in 2015, making for a total of $1.50 extra per person per day. Passengers on Royal Caribbean have been paying higher gratuities since July 1 when the prices went up 95c per person per day for standard staterooms and $1.70 per person per day for suites.
It’s also worth noting that these prices are in US dollars, so Australian cruisers at the mercy of an unfavourable exchange rate are paying even more.
The automatic gratuities policies have been around for a number of years, replacing the traditional ‘cash in the envelope’ system that used to see passengers tip their staff directly – and with an amount that they chose themselves.
Many passengers argue that the idea of an automatic gratuity is a dichotomy – surely a tip is based on service and should be decided by the individual, not predetermined before you’ve set foot onboard? It also raises the question of the salaries paid to cruise staff. Lines are frequently accused of offloading their salary bills onto passengers in the form of these gratuities. There’s also no real way to guarantee that the full amount goes to the staff and not to the line itself.
All lines stipulate that passengers can have these automatic gratuities removed from their bill, but many people aren’t aware of the fact or feel embarrassed to request that they be taken off.
We asked our Facebook community what they think about pre-paid gratuities, and opinions were mixed. Suzanne Webster is unimpressed by the price hike. “This makes the cruise rather expensive as a parent – just adding the extra $1.50 per day per person for a 10 day cruise is adding $60 per person.”
Some passengers have the gratuities removed and tip the staff individually. Helen Mather said “I pay directly to the crew members themselves as some of them go out of their way to make you feel special and fabulous. It should be left to passengers to reward crew for outstanding service.”
But others enjoyed the convenience of paying upfront. Jo-Anna Cousineau said “the way I see it, I will just enjoy my cruise and not tip anyone because I’ve already paid. Unless there is someone who goes above and beyond, I’m not forking out.”