Should Cruise Lines Rethink Their Tipping Policies?

Should cruise lines rethink their tipping policies? A surprising number of our readers think that the current tipping policies are in need of a drastic re-haul.

Cruise Talk Poll

If you prefer “No Tipping Required” on a cruise, how should cruise lines handle service, wages, and tipping?

* The current tipping policies are fine since they do provide an incentive for good service. However, the policy needs to be such that I can easily adjust or delete them according to service levels. (45.0%, 42 Votes)
* Don’t raise my cruise fare and don’t expect or demand tips, just pay your employees more and demand proper service to Customers. (28.0%, 26 Votes)
* I cruise the luxury lines that already include tipping in the cruise fare. They train and pay thier employees well, and this is reflected in my cruise price and their excellent service. (13.0%, 12 Votes)
* The current price should be $10-15 per person per day to cover tipping. This additional money should then be distributed amongst employees based on customer evaluations. (9.0%, 8 Votes)
* The current price should be raised by $10-15 per day to cover tipping. This additional money should be evenly distributed amongst all employees regardless of their performance. (6.0%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 94

You can see from the above snap shot of our survey as of 7:15 Pacific Daylight Time on April 9th 2009, 56% of our readers would prefer that cruise ships compensate their employees in an alternative process to the current “tipping nearly required” system. Currently most cruise ships and their contract employees utilize a method where passengers make up the majority of the service employee’s pay in their daily tips. The cruise lines use a variety of different methods to encourage tipping from pre-paid, to auto tipping to ship board account, to “opt-in” charges to shipboard account, to envelopes with cash. The industry standard is generally about $9-14 per day per passenger.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of our survey was the number of passengers who don’t want to have tipping figured into the “equation” at all. I have always felt that service was an important part of my entire cruise experience and thus have never felt “put-out” by the suggested tipping. I even like the option to have it charged to my shipboard account so that I don’t have to worry with cash and envelopes. However, I don’t like the recent change in the industry where some cruise lines put the tips on shipboard accounts automatically. If cruisers want to handle tipping another way, delete, or reduce a tip due to poor service then those cruisers must “opt-out” of the auto charges. Some cruisers have reported being given a hard time when they make the request to have the auto tipping removed. Others, have said it was done with a simple request and they were then able to handle the tips with cash and envelopes.

However, a full 28% object to the tipping system as a substantial portion of employee compensation. As a veteran cruiser, I’m just not sure from where that train of thought is coming. What better incentive to employees to provide the best service possible than a tip based system? If the customer is happy with the service they receive then they can tip according to guidelines to recognize the excellent service. If service is lacking then the tip can be reduce or eliminated. I worry that the service at most lines would suffer if the employee’s weren’t motivated by a performance based compensation system.

Perhaps it is the subjectivity of that system to which our readers object? One man’s excellent service is another man’s deficient service. Hard to please customer may not compensate the employee’s fairly when they have truely given service above and beyond their typical duties.

Other readers liked the idea of the cruise lines implementing a performance based incentive program that compensates the employees based on satisfaction surveys utilizing funds from an slightly higher cruise price. This would mean that customers would pay more ($70 to $84 per person) upfront for their cruise, but then would not have the additional tipping expense while on the cruise. For some this might allow them to budget better for their cruise trip. For others the increased in the upfront price might be off putting.

Still, 45% of our readers are happy with the current tipping policies. For years it has been customary for cruisers to leave tips for their service people. It is hard to gauge what percentage of passengers left the proper amounts. The option to charge those tips to one’s on board account only came about in the last 10 to 15 years. Recently the cruise lines may have crossed the line in adding them with out cruisers express permission. The auto-tipping may actually be a an attempt to attract better employees in an ever increasingly competitive environment. Cruise lines with auto tipping may be able to guarantee their employees higher wages as part of their minimum compensation package. However, the idea of a tip has always been that it is voluntary. Taking away that voluntary aspect may diminish its purpose.

We invite our readers to share their thoughts and comments on the tipping policies in the cruise industry and the service levels you expect and have received.