Cruise secrets: Could paying tips before you sail ensure a better experience?

Cruise regulars are probably well accustomed to the automatic tipping which comes as part of the cruise experience, meanwhile, first-time cruisers may be left scratching their head when the final bill comes in. However, regardless of how often you cruise, you may not realise you can pay these gratuity fees upfront, rather than waiting until the end of your trip.


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“Most non-luxury lines automatically add tips of anywhere from £5 to as much as £20 per person, per day, to passengers’ shipboard accounts, usually depending on the type of cabin in which passengers are booked,” UK managing editor for Cruise Critic Adam Coulter told

These tips are typically dispersed across the entire service staff, both front of house and those behind the scenes, and help to subsidize wages across the board.

Increasingly, many cruise lines are now offering travellers to pay these gratuities upfront, which might have some questioning whether that would mean better service off the bat as a thank you to guests.

“Like other hospitality industries, many crew members depend on the generosity of traveller gratuities to help supplement their income,” Adam continues

“Cruise ships have an extensive team of crew members onboard who touch your holiday and work to ensure an exceptional experience from start to finish.”

Though cruise staff are trained to offer the best quality service to all of their guests, regardless of how much they have paid for their trip, Coulter says paying upfront could have some perks.

“Pre-tipping can often be a beneficial strategic manoeuvre that enhances the personal service you receive whilst onboard, especially with regards to your cabin steward, maitre d’ or favourite bar manager,” he explains.

“If you have special requests or require extra service – such as a bucket of ice every night in your cabin – then a well-placed tip at the beginning of your cruise will ultimately ensure you will never be disappointed.”

While manual tipping may be more customary for British travellers, auto-gratuities serve a vital purpose in ensuring all staff get a fair share.

“The sheer amount of crew members makes it quite difficult to ensure everyone is covered by manual tipping, so auto gratuities can help travellers feel confident that their gratuities are making their way to even those who they might not see on a regular basis,” says Adam.

Furthermore, paying these fees upfront can help travellers stick to a budget.

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“Beyond the added confidence in knowing that the wide range of crew members have been compensated, it’s also quite useful when it comes to budgeting for your own holiday,” Adam explains.

“Because gratuities are added on a per person, per day basis, you could end up paying hundreds of pounds in gratuities – so being able to budget that in advance is helpful, and it’s convenient to not have to worry about handing out cash to everyone on your last day on board.”

However, if travellers do prefer, there are some alternatives to the automatic tipping protocol.

“If you feel strongly that you’d rather recognise your room steward or waiter individually for stellar service, feel free to do it the old-school way – by presenting him or her with an envelope of money,” suggests Adam.


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“With auto-gratuities, tips are pooled, and a portion goes to each person who helps to make your sailing special – even those unsung heroes you never get to meet in person, but who nonetheless play an important part in helping to deliver the seamless service you experience, and who also rely on tips to top up their wages.

“Ultimately, however, it’s up to you how you want to compensate the crew for good service.”

For the most part, gratuities won’t break the bank if you have already saved up for a luxury cruising experience.

“Gratuities vary by line – some are as low as £5 per person, per day, while others can be upwards of £12 per person, per day.

“Generally, UK lines tend to have a lower fee for auto-gratuities.”

Increasingly, some UK lines are even removing auto-gratuities all together.

“Luxury cruise lines such as Azamara, Celestyal, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Virgin Voyages and Silversea include gratuities in the cruise fare and actively discourage tipping whilst on board,” Adam points out.

“Cruise lines that are based in Europe, where tipping is not a custom, such as MSC Cruises, are also more likely to include gratuities in the fare.

“UK travellers are particularly hesitant about onboard gratuities, so many UK lines such as P&O Cruises, Marella and Saga tend to promote the idea that they offer truly ‘all-inclusive’ cruise offerings with everything, including, tips, included, so service crew will be compensated fairly to reflect this.”

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