The Gratuities Conundrum | TravelResearchOnline


The Gratuities Conundrum

Susan SchaeferGratuities can be a sore spot with some cruise ship passengers. The reasons vary, but often it’s because some folks are just looking for every way possible to cut corners and spend as little as they can on their cruise. Many travel professionals have countered this, knowing crew members are well deserving of these tips, and automatically include pre-paid gratuities when they initially create a booking. Cruise lines have also stepped up and made it more difficult for passengers to remove gratuities from their stateroom accounts, or to get pre-paid gratuities refunded. In many cases now the cruise lines require that passengers submit their requests in writing after completion of the cruise, outlining their reasons for the request (i.e. unsatisfactory service provided by a specific crew member).

Herein lies the conundrum: There are skeptical passengers that aren’t convinced the crew members are really getting the gratuities being paid. These passengers would prefer putting cash directly in the hands of the crew members that they want to tip. They do not trust the cruise lines to pass on the pre-paid gratuities, or at least not the full amount (some seasoned passengers believe the cruise lines are withholding a portion of the pre-paid amount as an “administrative fee”).

As a travel professional, how do you know if a client is asking to remove pre-paid gratuities because they want to stiff the crew members, or it’s because they prefer paying in cash directly to the crew? In many cases, you simply can’t know for sure. But if a client asks for pre-paid gratuities to be removed, you don’t have a great deal of recourse in the matter. You have to abide by their wishes and remove the gratuities, and then hope they do the right thing while onboard the ship.

Our only other recourse is to make sure we are educating all of our clients about the gratuities, and why crew members are so heavily dependent on them (if you don’t know already, it’s because the cruise lines pay room stewards and dining room staff a very small monthly stipend as well as room and board). However, in the case of the penny pinching passenger, it may fall on deaf ears.

Ultimately it would make all of our lives easier if the cruise lines would simply pay their crew members a better wage, increase cruise fares accordingly, and simply do away with gratuities. We have all-inclusive resorts that work off this model, as well as higher end cruise lines. Why can’t the mass market cruise lines follow suit? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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