Solo Travelers, Don't Get Slammed With a "Single Supplement"/ October 10th, 2011
Say you want to tour famous Japanese-style gardens of Canada—or best microbreweries of the Midwest—and your significant other doesn't. Or you're single, and no friends or family members are available to take a cruise with you. Traveling alone can be fun, even liberating. You can come and go as you please, consulting no one else's schedule. Indulge your quirky dining habits. Set your own budget—indulge or scrimp, as you wish. Spend all day at a cheesy tourist venue...or not. But when you make reservations for a tour, resort, or cruise—surprise! You're often charged as much, or nearly as much, as two people would be. It's called the "single supplement," and you can see why travel organizations impose it. If two people were sharing your space, the organizations would garner twice the fee for accommodations, plus additional spending on food, drinks, and whatever else they sell. Still, why is that your problem? It doesn't have to be. There are ways to avoid the single supplement. Day trips, like a bus excursion around a city, or a ferry boat ride, don't charge single supplements. "There's no additional economic cost to the travel organization for having only one person book," says Janice Waugh, publisher of SoloTravelerBlog.com, Toronto.
Waived supplementsWhile most U.S. travel companies charge single supplements for any trip requiring overnight accommodations, some are recognizing that solo travelers are out there and that they're now a significant part of the market, Waugh notes. "A number of companies have turned their attention to it and are waiving single supplements on certain occasions," she says.
Traveling alone can be fun, even liberating.One such occasion is when you book early. "Sometimes an organization wants to kick off sales and will waive the supplement for the first people that book," Waugh says. "And when the economy is poor, solo travelers win," she adds. "Supplements tend to get waived because companies are looking to get any sales they can. In 2009, a lot of companies waived them." She advises creating a Google Alert for the words "single supplement waived." When Google encounters those words, you'll receive an e-mail alert. You may find last-minute deals, too. "If a trip isn't selling as fast as they want, a company may waive the supplement," says Sarah Schlichter, editor of IndependentTraveler.com, Pennington, N.J. "It's about supply and demand." Sites such as LastMinute and 11thHourVacations feature last-minute deals. And travel companies often offer singles discounts during off-seasons. If you have flexibility, try the Caribbean or Hawaii in summer, for instance.
Day trips don't charge single supplements.Many travel websites list discounts of all types. Both Waugh's and Schlichter's have a "deals" page.
Roommate matching"A lot of smaller, adventure-type companies have roommate-matching programs instead of single supplements, including Gap Adventures and Intrepid Travel," Schlichter notes. "They assign you a roommate. Road Scholar, formerly Elder Hostel, does roommate matching and also offers single rooms." Some companies, such as Backroads Tours and Mayflower Tours, offer a "guaranteed share." If they can't find you a roommate before a certain date, you get your own double room at no extra cost. If you're hesitant about rooming with a stranger, some websites, such as Travbuddy or Connecting: Solo Travel Network, can help you find your own travel companion. "Then at least you have some basis for feeling like you'll connect," says Schlichter.
Organizations that want to kick off sales will waive the supplement for the first people who book.Or just post a message on Facebook, Twitter, or another social networking channel. But take the time to ensure your travel buddy is a good fit, or it could seem like a long, long trip.
Single roomsA few newer cruise ships have solo cabins. "Norwegian Cruise Line's Epic has 128 studio cabins that are more affordable than traditional rooms, and P&O Cruises' Azura has cabins for singles," Schlichter says. Consider one of the European-based travel companies. They rarely charge single supplements because the fees aren't an accepted part of the culture. And European trips often offer lodging in family-run bed and breakfast-type accommodations and older hotels, which usually have some single rooms.
NegotiateFor trips that do charge single supplements, "The thing is to ask," says Waugh. "If they won't waive the supplement, you may be able to negotiate a room upgrade at the same price, especially on a cruise ship.
A lot of smaller, adventure-type companies have roommate-matching programs instead of single supplements."It's about your negotiation skills and not being too shy to ask for things," she continues. "If you're firm about what you want, be prepared to walk away if an organization won't negotiate." Travel agents may have more leverage with companies. "Go to a travel agent and present three trips you'd be willing to go on and let the agent negotiate on your behalf," Waugh suggests. One sure way to avoid a supplement is to plan your own trip. "You'll avoid the supplement on everything except hotels, because they charge by the room. You'll pay the same at a hotel as two people would," says Schlichter. "But you can stay in hostels—people of all ages do—and they charge by the bed, not the room," she says. "You can look for ones with smaller dorm rooms, maybe three people. It doesn't have to have 16 people packed into a room." You also can stay in a private home very economically. Sites like Airbnb connect people having available space with those looking for accommodations. "If you're willing to consider nonhotel lodging, you have options," Schlichter says. However, take safety precautions when staying in a private home. Choose hosts recommended by peers. Women especially should consider selecting only female or family hosts. When you travel solo, the main thing is that you're in control, Waugh says. "It's about building confidence and developing strength, whether it's a package trip or you plan the whole thing."