Why Cruise Ship Gratuities Are “More Expensive” For Budget Cruisers

Imagine you take your spouse to a fancy restaurant. You sit down, have a nice meal, a couple of drinks, and then get the bill. For two people it costs $100 and you also put down a generous $20 tip. Your total cost is $120 and you tipped 20%.

Now imagine a few days later you head out to a restaurant right around the corner for a burger and fries. The bill comes out to $20, and you put down a $20 tip again.

Wait a minute… the same tip on a much smaller bill? If you’re like most people, you don’t normally do this. However, on a cruise ship, a similar principle is coming into play and it hurts budget cruisers.

The Math Behind Cruise Gratuities

Before we get too far, we want to make one thing clear — when it comes to gratuities on a cruise ship, we think the staff deserves every penny. They work extremely hard to make your vacation a pleasurable experience and much of their work can go unnoticed. We don’t suggest altering your gratuity amounts unless there is something wrong with the service you receive.

Still, that doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with how cruise guests are charged. In fact, we think there is something unfair in the way things are currently done and they could be improved.

Here’s the deal — cruise line gratuities are flat fees charged to passengers. So a cruise line might charge $14 per person per day for a typical cabin. If you book an interior room or a balcony, you’ll still pay the same $14 each day. The cruise lines usually charges more for a suite — around $17 per person, per day — whether that’s a junior suite or the biggest cabin on the ship.

Let’s do a little math. Say you booked the cheapest interior cabin you could find for a week-long cruise. In this case, you’ll pay $14 per person for two people ($28 per day) for a week. That comes out to $196 in gratuities.

(Want to know how much you’ll pay in gratuities? See our gratuity calculator here.)

But the big issue is that everyone not in a suite will pay that same price — whether you have the cheapest interior cabin or the most expensive balcony room. It’s the same with suites; small entry-level suites will pay as much as the largest, grandest rooms.

The result is similar to paying a $20 tip at a five-star restaurant and paying the same amount at a local burger joint.

Real-World Examples

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate the point better. For this, we’ll look at a couple of trips from Carnival and Royal Caribbean, the two biggest cruise lines in the North American market.

Example #1
Carnival recently bumped up their daily gratuity amounts, raising them from $12.95 to $13.99 per person, per day for interior, oceanview, and balcony rooms.

That means a couple traveling on a 7-day cruise will pay $195.86 in gratuity on their trip. But what varies is the price of the cruise, and therefore how much of a hit those tips make on your budget.

For instance, we found a deal on an interior cabin for 7-day cruise departing Miami in January (one of the cheaper months to sail). The total cost for the room was $1,039.04 for two people after all taxes and fees. For a week-long trip, that’s great price.

In this case, however, the gratuities of $196 make up nearly 19% of the entire price of the cruise.

Compare that to another Carnival cruise leaving in Miami. In this case we found a 7-day holiday cruise around Christmas. Obviously this is a much more expensive time to sail. The cost for a premium balcony room for two people came out to $3,181.04 after taxes and fees. Yet, the gratuities on this trip are the exact same as those on our cheaper cruise above.

In this example, the traveler would be paying gratuities totaling just about 6% of their cruise fare!

Here’s a summary:

Summary of gratuity charges for Carnival

Example #2
We aren’t trying to make an example of any particular cruise line as the same issue impacts them all. For example, let’s look at a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Royal Caribbean charges a flat $14.50 per person, per day for all rooms that are junior suites and below. Grand suites and above pay $17.50 per person, per day.

Say you wanted a quick getaway. The cruise line offers a four-night trip to the Bahamas, sailing regularly from Port Canaveral. We found prices as low as $644.44 all-in for this trip if you depart in November and sail in an interior room. In this case, you’d pay $116 in total gratuities. That’s about 18% of the entire cost of the cruise.

But you can take the exact same trip around Christmas in an oceanview room $1,646.44. That’s about two-and-a-half times the cost of the other trip, but you’ll be charged the exact same amount in gratuities! In this case the $116 in tips is just 7% of the total cruise fare.

Here is a summary to help you better visualize:

Summary of gratuity charges on Royal Caribbean

What Could Make Tipping More Fair

As you can see, if you are a bargain-hunter then you might end up paying a much larger percentage of your vacation budget as gratuities. Yes, it’s the same overall amount paid, but as a percentage of your fare, it’s much larger.

So how could cruise lines make this more fair for budget passengers?

The could implement gratuity amounts that are a flat percentage of the cruise fare, say 10% or 12% of the total bill. So if you book an inexpensive interior cabin you’ll be charged less overall (but the same percentage of your fare) as someone who spends a whole lot more to book a nice balcony room. Still, everyone would contribute a significant portion to the crew’s gratuities. Meanwhile, those more expensive trips during Spring Break, Christmas, and the summer would earn the staff more money thanks to the higher cruise fares.

What do you think? Should cruise lines change how they charge gratuities or keep them things same? Let us know in the comments below…

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  1. I find the stewards take care of us equally well when we are sailing an inside, an ocean view, a balcony, or a suite. We make the same amount of work for them independent of where the room is located or what kind of a view is included with our room. Definitely they deserve the same gratuity for the same excellent work. Another point to consider is sometimes one couple will pay more for an inside than another couple on the same cruise paid for their balcony. A lot depends on when booked, discounts offered, sales, specials (and most important to me – casino comps).


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