The topic of tipping, particularly on a cruise where gratuities are included, continues to be a point of contention with some travelers. In order to investigate whether you should tip if the voyage is labeled as ‘gratuities included,’ let’s begin with what the phrase actually means.

Auto-gratuity

This is a description of the fee that your cruise line will add-on at the end of your voyage. The average rates that consumer lines will charge range from $11 – $15 per person/per night. (Add another $1 – $7 per person/per night if you’re staying in a suite.) So let’s say an extra $100 per person for a seven-night cruise.

For those who order alcohol and/or have a spa treatment, another 15% – 18% auto-gratuity will appear on your charges at disembarkation.

These funds are pooled and divided amongst the crew at journey’s end. While it’s always been a common practice to tip at the end of your cruise (recall the cash-in-the-envelope days), this standardizes the practice and ensures that all crew members receive a portion. For example, you may not interact with certain people who work hard to make your vacation pleasant – table bussers, cooks, housekeeping, entertainers, etc. So this practice is more equitable than the envelopes.

Should you tip on a gratuities-included cruise?
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For customer-forward positions, the gratuities can represent as much as 95% of salaries (depending on the countries and labor laws). This usually includes crew members working in food, beverage, and housekeeping. For US citizens and those in other developed areas, this can be a question between a ‘living wage’ and substandard compensation. Rather than entertain this part of auto-gratuities, suffice it to say that these are very real considerations for the very real people who work on your cruise.

Beyond the auto-gratuity

So should you tip now that you know the inside scoop on auto-gratuities? The answer is: It depends. The word itself (for all my fellow word nerds!) means ‘graciousness’ or ‘freely given.’ So the basis is that you ‘voluntarily give beyond obligation’ – in this case, a sum of money to a service personnel member.

If this fee is automatically calculated, collected, and distributed, then you may well consider your obligation met. However, if during your cruise you are fortunate to have a crew member who is exceptionally good at his or her job; goes above and beyond to meet and exceed your expectations; or simply improves your vacation experience, then more ‘gracious, freely given’ cash is in order! It is still an accepted custom to collect an envelope of cash, and hand it directly to the person you wish to show your appreciation for on disembarkation day.

In the alternative (or in addition to the envelope) consider writing an email/letter to the company. Mention the crew member by name; describe how they were exceptional; express your appreciation; and recommend that they receive additional recognition for their work. Be sure to include the dates and locations of your cruise along with the ship’s name. This will help the employee’s record, and could lead to promotions in their future.

For more insider guides on this topic, read our article about when NOT to tip on a cruise.