If you thought tipping was out of control in the United States, try heading out to sea.
That’s where Jane Greene discovered the tipping economy isn’t just alive and well, it apparently sustains the crew of major cruise ships. That’s a particularly interesting revelation in light of the U.S. government’s plans to regulate the cruise industry.
“Prior to our most recent cruise, we always tipped generously — above and beyond what was recommended for individuals who showed extra initiative,” says Greene, an author from Pensacola, Fla.
But on her latest cruise on Oceania, she found a surprise charge on her final bill: it included a hefty, and automatic, tip for the crew.
Oceania’s tipping policy is spelled out in its frequently-asked questions section: For guests occupying staterooms, gratuities of $14.50 per guest, per day, will be added to the final bill. Plus, an 18 percent service gratuity is automatically added to all beverage purchases, spa services and dinner at its signature restaurant, La Reserve, it says.
That didn’t bother Greene as much as the behavior of the crew did.
“Virtually all of these people came with hands out, expecting more,” she says. “I was told by two different staff persons that what we had been charged on our final bill was for gratuity, not for tip. Like other passengers, we felt obligated to ante up once again — but it seemed wrong, and left us with a bad taste.”
She’s not alone. I’ve been a tipping critic for years (here’s my latest rant against this fundamentally unfair way of compensating employees). Seems I have at least one reader who agrees with me. But land-based tipping is really nothing compared to the automatic tips you encounter at sea.
By the way, a gratuity and a tip are more or less the same thing. Greene says she had to pay even more than regular passengers, because she had booked a suite. Customers in one of Oceania’s Penthouse, Oceania, Vista or Owner’s Suites where butler service is provided pay a mandatory gratuity of $20.50 per guest, per day.
Not a new policy?
Greene contacted Oceania, asking for an explanation of these fees. She received what appeared to be a personal response from a vice president, explaining the cruise line’s tipping policy.
“The entire hotel operations staff on board our ship share in the gratuities paid by our guests,” he wrote. “This ensures that each and every member of our staff embraces our service commitment to the guests. As a convenience to our guests and in order to avoid the feeling of having to constantly tip staff members, Oceania Cruises has had in place since its inception the policy of adding the suggested gratuities to guests’ shipboard account.”
That’s even more damning. Greene certainly didn’t feel as if the tips were discretionary, so if this policy has been in place since the beginning, doesn’t it make you wonder how many other cruise passengers have been broadsided by it?