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When do you tip--and how much--when you're a paying guest on a cruise? It depends. (Photograph by Glaescher, Redux)

To Tip or Not to Tip

Traveler Editor at Large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: I’m going on a cruise. How much should I figure for tipping?

My Answer: You might not have to figure anything.

Many major cruise lines now add a gratuity of around $12 per passenger, per day. The latest to take the auto-tipping route, Royal Caribbean, quietly made the switch last spring.

Today, the problem isn’t really how much to tip; it’s more a question of what to do if you don’t want to tip. After all, for some of us old-timers, a tip is earned.

“Passengers can go along with the cruise line’s suggested tipping guidelines,” says Stewart Chiron, an industry-watcher. “Depending on the level of service, passengers can adjust up or down.”

You can visit the guest services desk and request that the tip be lowered or eliminated if you think the service was awful. But requiring passengers to opt out of tips is as absurd as it sounds, and fortunately, the auto-tipping practice may be taking on water.

Proposed U.S. legislation would put cruise line practices under tighter government control, and it might require cruise lines to remove the “optional” gratuity from your bill.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the April 2014 issue). Follow his story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

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