Mandatory Cruise Line Gratuities – Can You Get Them Back or Avoid Them? It Depends!

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When you are looking to book a cruise the cost per day may seem very enticing. You may see splashed across the web “deals” for under $30 per person per day and that even includes free adult beverages for that low price – amazing right?! Well, that is before you add up the total price per day which often includes steep gratuities not stated in the teaser price. I mean, look at what my favorite cruise line NCL states on their site in regard to these add-on fees:

  • What is the onboard service charge? Why is there a service charge?

The reason there’s a fixed service charge is an important one: Our Crew (as are the crew from other lines) is encouraged to work together as a team. Staff members including complimentary restaurant staff, stateroom stewards and behind-the-scenes support staff are compensated by a combination of salary and incentive programs that your service charge supports.

  • How much are the service charges?

For bookings made on or after January 1, 2023:
$25.00 USD per person per day for The Haven and Suites;
$20.00 USD per person per day for Club Balcony Suite and below

OUCH! If you are talking even the cheapest cabin on a 7 day cruise you can add on $140 PER PERSON for this sailing. Do keep in mind that this is up almost 33% from 2020 gratuities rates.

But what if you don’t want to pay this very steep daily fee? Is there a way to get the prepaid gratuities back if you want? On the same NCL page that shows the fee it also states the following:

  • If there is a service issue can the service charges be adjusted on board?

Guest satisfaction is the highest priority at Norwegian Cruise Line. We have structured a guest satisfaction program designed to handle any concerns about service or onboard product quickly and efficiently. However, in the event a service issue should arise during your cruise please let our onboard guest services desk staff know right away, so that we can address these in a timely manner. It is our goal to reach a satisfactory solution to any issue when it happens and make sure our guests can focus on enjoying their cruise. Should your concerns not be met with satisfaction you can adjust the charges. – BOLD MINE

In other words, you can get your money back if you are not happy with something or even if you simply don’t want to pay it.

But should you?

The US has, for as long as I can remember, had a tipping culture. Part of this is because, unlike so many other parts of the world, low-end jobs do not provide a “living wage” and thus tips help to make ends meet.

a wallet full of money

Currently in the US tipping has become outrageous. I mean tipping for picking up a pizza? Really? All you did was make what I ordered and let me pay for it – why should I tip?

With this backlash on tipping, it may carry over to the cruise line you are on and you may feel that there is no need to tip because they are already paid a wage and after all stay for free and don’t have to pay for much of anything while on the ship working.

But that kind of feeling, in my option, is flawed. While cruise ship workers are paid much more than they likely could earn at home (and why they are working onboard in the first place) they still depend on tips to make the very long contract worth the effort.

Some may reason that I want my prepaid tips back so I can tip those who really give me world class service – not just those who do a minimum and expected service. The problem with this is there are a great many folks who work REALLY hard behind the scenes that you never ever see and they are part of the gratuities package and they will get nothing if you do this kind of tipping.

a screenshot of a website

Another point concerns even the chance of getting the prepaid gratuities back. I have only ever once asked for my tips back and then chose who I wanted to give them to (not thinking about the above) and my request was granted but customer service desk onboard was none too happy about doing it for me. The only reason I could do this was because I had prepaid them. I have been told if you wait to have them billed the last day of the cruise you can NOT ask for them back. I am not sure how other lines are but do keep this point in mind.

For me personally, I think the prices are getting a bit out of hand. Sadly, at least with NCL, you can only ask for all of them back not only part of them as a way to show you have hit your limit on what can be asked for each day.

What do you think about onboard gratuities? Are you OK with them considering them a good value for the service provided or are they just too high at this point? – René


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Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert
René de Lambert
René de Lambert has been a travel blogger for over 10 years covering the travel industry - including cruising.


  1. Only once have I witnessed a cruise guest requesting a refund of gratuities. It may happen more that I think, as it is rare that I am at the guest services desk. Guest looked like someone who was just trying to get out of paying. Holland America guest desk reluctantly revered the charge.

  2. You didn’t explain the process of asking them back, and instead spent most of the time moralizing about why it’s bad to ask for them back.

    If legally we aren’t required to pay the tips there’s no need to spend the extra $300 or so per couple. So let’s stick to legal obligations and cover the actual useful content of what exactly is the process to get them refunded (or not paid in the first place at all). Can this all be done online, or does it always require talking to someone onboard, or can it be done via phone call etc. Is it enough to day “I don’t want to pay this extra charge because it’s not a legal obligation” or do you need an actual service problem to get a refund

  3. Anyone who would ask for “tip money” back is a real low life. The vast majority of people working for gratuities as part of their pay on a ship are low income workers from 3rd world countries. They send every cent back home to support their families and often extended families. They spend years, and often their entire working lives away from their families and friends in order to do this. A very tough and difficult lifestyle. I gladly pay the mandatory tips and then I reach in my pocket and tip above and beyond for those persons who go above and beyond for me. And, happy to do it.

    • Actually, “anyone who would ask for ‘tip money’ back” is merely someone who thinks differently than you, and there may be many reasons that someone would do that. Obviously it’s a personal decision, and if that right to do so is exercised, it doesn’t automatically brand that person a “low life.” For me, I’ve never asked for a refund of gratuities, but I am not a fan of being held hostage by cruise lines to make up for the lack of wages paid to their employees. It’s the same in many restaurants. American tippers are being taken for a ride by business owners who love the idea of customers having to pay their employee’s salaries because of their failure to pay them a living wage.. Cruise lines do the same thing. So, how far are we willing to go as cruisers as gratuities seem to be increase almost annually these days. Is there a “tipping” point when we say, “enough is enough?” Only time will tell.

      • Will C your logic is flawed. You see if you don’t pay gratuities you only hurt the workers. The way to fix the tipping culture is to mandate higher wages so tipping is not required. I don’t know how you do that for cruise lines which hire people from third world countries. I know you said you never withheld gratuities, but if you don’t like the system then work to get it changed

  4. Several years back, I was on a cruise and I saw in my onboard account they they failed to post a “shipboard credit” that was included on my cruise purchase. The desk explained that they had no record of it and thus i was out of luck despite the fact that I printed my confirmation from the Travel Agency showing the shipboard credit. The desk explained I would need to make a ship to shore call to the travel agency to resolve. The call would likely cost more than the credit. I explained that the Agent was actually an agent of the cruise line and they would need to resolve directly with THEIR agent. They flat out refused so I simply deducted the amount of the e shipboard credit from the gratuities and explained if they resolved the credit issue, I would reinstate the gratuity. They thought I should take the hit for someone else’s error. No.

  5. I think the gratuity system is a bit of a bait and switch, not unlike resort fees at hotels. I’d much prefer a fare quoted with the “mandatory gratuities” included. Having said that, we know ahead of time what these “tips” are and it might be a benefit to not have to pay a percentage of these when making the booking deposit or paying the balance of them when final payment is due. Interestingly, NCL has a different policy concerning “tips” on drinks packages between their NCL and Oceania brands. On Oceania, if you have a drinks package, they don’t THEN make you tip on top of this amount based on the per day charge. Of course if you’re on Regent the tips and drinks are included in the base fare, so no need to go through the unpleasantness of thinking about money once you’ve paid the eye-watering fare that also includes excursions and flights.

  6. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT renege on your tips on a cruise line! Unless your entire service was terrible, in which case, you should have visited customer service multiple times, you MUST TIP. Working a cruise line is not like working a restaurant in the U.S. Staff works very long hours, many days in a row, and doesn’t receive much port time. But the single most important reason is that the staff does not work under U.S. labor laws. They don’t minimum wages or other protections afforded U.S. workers. Ever wonder why you see/hear cruise ship disclaimers such as “Ship’s registry The Bahamas” (air wherever)? It’s how cruise ships avoid having to comply with U.S. labor laws. So, when you book your cruise, consider the gratuity like taxes or other mandatory parts of your bill.

  7. We not only pay the compulsory gratuity fees on our Princess cruises but we always tip our cabin steward on arrival ($150) and our main restaurant stewards ($200) after the first few days.
    I’ve yet to have anything other than the very best of service on our cruises!


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