When it comes to cruise fees, prepaid gratuities might be the sneakiest extra charge that can mess with your vacation budget. If you’ve never booked a big-ship cruise before, you might not realize that cruise lines tack on automatic gratuities that can add hundreds of dollars to your final bill. Booking websites don’t always announce those extra fees until you’re asked if you want to prepay them in the final steps of the cruise booking process.
Cruisers do have options, albeit limited ones. You can prepay the gratuities when booking or wait to pay them as part of your onboard bill. You may also be able to remove the automatic gratuities – but is it a good idea?
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Here, we explore cruise prepaid gratuities and whether you should pay them or not.
Cruise lines use the term “prepaid gratuities” in multiple ways, which makes the concept even more confusing to newbies.
Most frequently, prepaid gratuities refer to the option for travelers to pay the automatically added tips when they book the cruise rather than paying them as part of their onboard bill at the end of the sailing.
However, prepaid gratuities can also refer to a promotion in which the cruise line or a travel agent offers to pay your crew tips for you. You get a discount on your final cruise bill because you’re not responsible for the gratuities.
Some luxury or more-inclusive cruise lines always cover gratuities in their fare, so you never have to worry about a sneaky extra fee.
Related: Tipping on a cruise ship: Everything you need to know
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Prepaid gratuities cover tips for housekeeping and dining room staff members – waiters, room stewards, etc. They supplement the base salaries of the hotel services team members, some of whom you’ll interact with on your cruise (like a waiter) and others you won’t (like the crew members who wash your sheets).
The prepaid gratuities do not cover tips for bar service or spa treatments or gratuities for local guides and drivers who lead your excursions in port. While tipping tour guides is left to your discretion, many cruise lines automatically tack a 15% to 20% tip onto bar and spa bills. Some also add automatic gratuities to your check at extra-fee restaurants on board.
Related: What’s included in your cruise fare?
Not every line or every sailing requires prepaid gratuities.
Certain lines, usually higher-end ones, include crew gratuities in their cruise fares. Lines like Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises do not charge extra for staff appreciation. Big-ship line Virgin Voyages also includes crew tips in its base prices.
Some lines give you the option to purchase an extra-inclusions package, which may cover gratuities. Princess Cruises’ Princess Plus and Princess Premier packages, Celebrity Cruises’ All-Included package and Windstar Cruises’ All-Inclusive fares bundle crew gratuities with other complimentary perks (such as drinks packages and Wi-Fi access) at a discounted price, compared to purchasing all the components separately.
Additionally, some travel sellers may occasionally offer to pay your gratuities for you on select cruise lines as part of a promotion.
Related: Best all-inclusive cruise lines
As with any financial decision, there are pros and cons to choosing prepaid gratuities versus adding them to your onboard bill.
The benefit of prepaying gratuities is that you account for the cost in your initial booking, which might help you get a clearer picture of the actual total cost of the trip. You won’t accidentally spend that money before your cruise, leaving you less for fun activities once you’re on vacation.
The downside is you hand over more money to the cruise line early. If you wait to pay until your sailing, those dollars will continue to earn interest for you longer (if you keep your vacation funds in an interest-bearing account). Prepaying gratuities also prevents you from changing the amount once on board if you’re dissatisfied with the service.
Related: 11 extra charges on cruise ships that will drive you nuts — and what you can do about them
If you do not prepay cruise gratuities before sailing, the cruise line will add them to your onboard bill. The cruise line will then charge your credit card for the gratuity amount at the end of the sailing – along with other purchases you made with your cruise card (drinks, souvenirs, spa treatments, tours, etc.).
The answer to this question is complicated, so bear with me.
If you have prepaid gratuities during the cruise booking process, you cannot remove them on board. The cruise line has had your money for months, and it won’t give it back.
If you have not prepaid gratuities and the service charges show up on your onboard bill, you can go to guest services before the sailing ends and request to have the amounts altered or removed. You’ll be asked to explain why you’re unhappy with the service you received.
However, even if your room steward was sloppy and your waiter was rude (extremely rare occurrences), or if you come from a non-tipping culture, please reconsider removing the automatic gratuity charges. The tips are not merely goodwill gestures; they’re a critical portion of crew members’ pay.
Refuse to pay, and these hardworking cruise employees have less to send home to their families. You don’t have to like the system, but given that it’s the one the cruise companies have chosen, I encourage you not to penalize the crew for it.
If you’re cruising on a big-ship line, understand that crew gratuities are an integral part of the cruise cost. You can prepay gratuities when you book or pay them as part of your onboard bill at the end of your sailing. You can look for a package that offers a discount on prepaid gratuities or a promotion offering free prepaid gratuities.
Whether prepaid gratuities are worth it is up to you and how you budget for travel. While you can find ways to avoid giving tips to the crew, you really shouldn’t. The crew members work hard to make your vacation amazing, in ways you see and in ways you don’t, and they deserve that financial thank-you for their service.
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