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In major fee increase, cruise giant Royal Caribbean to hike gratuity charges by more than 10%

August 24 2022
4 min read
Freedom of the Seas cruise ship docked in CocoCay
In major fee increase, cruise giant Royal Caribbean to hike gratuity charges by more than 10%
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Are you booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise for later this year? Prepare yourself for higher daily fees.

On Sept. 7, the world's largest cruise company plans to hike the automatic gratuity for staff by more than 10% to $16 per person per day for those staying in most cabins. Passengers in suites will pay $18.50 per person per day.

The current gratuity rate at Royal Caribbean is $14.50 for standard cabins and $17.50 for suites.

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With the increase, a family of four in a typical cabin will pay nearly $450 in automatic gratuities on a seven-night cruise — one of the highest levies in the business. Among other major lines, Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises add $14.50 per person per day in service charges to passenger bills.

Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line add $15.50 and $16 per person per day in such gratuities to passenger bills, respectively. Norwegian just raised its gratuity rate to $16 from $15.50 in April.

While steep on a percentage basis, the increase in gratuity charge at Royal Caribbean is the first at the line in more than four years. Royal Caribbean last raised its gratuity fee on Jan. 2, 2018.

Related: TPG's ultimate guide to cruise ship gratuity charges and tipping

Still, Royal Caribbean's gratuity charge is up a significant 33% since early 2015, when it was at just $12. The line hiked rates three times in three years before pausing hikes in 2018.

The 33% increase in Royal Caribbean's gratuity charge since early 2015 is about eight percentage points greater than the rate of inflation in the U.S. over the same period.

Inflation in the U.S. since early 2015 has run at a cumulative rate of about 25%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, as measured by its Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

Most of the biggest cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian automatically add some sort of service or gratuity fee onto passenger bills. Passengers often have the choice to prepay the service fees when booking or have them added to their bill for onboard expenses, paid at the end of each sailing.

That said, the total number of lines with a service fee has been shrinking over the years. Many smaller and higher-end cruise operators have been folding these charges into their base fares. One big line — Celebrity Cruises — recently bundled gratuities into its base fares, too.

Lines that now include gratuities in their fares include Azamara, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises and Virgin Voyages.

For those lines that do have them, service and gratuity charges are touted as a convenient alternative to the practice of cash tipping on ships — something that once was common.

The cruise lines with such charges typically increase their rates every year or two, but some lines paused regular gratuity rate increases after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the industry in early 2020.

Royal Caribbean says customers with existing cruise reservations for later this year and beyond can lock in the current, lower gratuity rates by prepaying gratuities before Sept. 7.

Note that, in some cases, passengers who are unhappy with the service they receive on Royal Caribbean ships can adjust the amount of daily gratuities posted to their accounts while on board by visiting the Guest Services desk, according to the line.

Adjustments only are allowed when gratuities are being charged to onboard accounts during sailings. Passengers who have prepaid gratuities cannot adjust the amount they have paid while on board.

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Featured photo by (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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