What’s the Deal With the Single Supplement?

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Thelma & Louise
Thelma & Louise is the online community and travel resource for women who want to travel. Join us to share travel experiences, be inspired and connect with friends and travel buddies both online and in the real world.

If there’s anything that raises the hackles of the good women in the Thelma & Louise community it’s unfairness. So when we had a chat about the single supplement, there was a fair amount of rage! Fortunately, we’re a helpful lot so there were also some tips on how to avoid it…

Image by kanchanaburi on flickr

Unfair”, you yelled. “Rip-off!” “Disgusting.” “Single supplements have bugged me all my travel life!

Few travellers would disagree, so why do so many hotels, tour operators and cruise ships still insist on applying extra charges for the so-called privilege of solo travel?

Holidays are usually priced per person based on two people sharing a twin or double room. But it doesn’t follow that a single room is half the price of a double, and single supplements can be anything from 10% to 100% on top of the standard rate. Tour operators levy the extra charge (the single supplement) to cover the extra costs charged by hotels.

“It can feel like you’re being penalised for travelling alone.”

It’s not just about floor space. When a double or twin room is booked by a solo traveller, not only does it still cost the same to heat, clean and power the room, there’s the added loss of revenue from the hotel restaurant and bar. For cruise operators, there’s an additional loss of earnings from the onshore excursions and on-board casinos and shops.

The simple fact is that solo travellers are a less attractive business opportunity, and that’s endlessly frustrating for those of us who travel solo. It can feel like you’re being penalised for travelling alone. And while many of us enjoy solo travel, for others there’s no option and it’s certainly not a privilege worth paying for. In fact, it’s the budgetary equivalent of a punch in the face.

How solo travellers should be treated

Image: How solo travellers should be treated! By Eva Rinaldi on flickr

But, the times they are a-changing. Equinediva hit the nail on the head in her comment in the forum:

“I think that it is about time that the travel/tour/cruise developers put their heads together and get creative. They are missing the boat on lots of travellers who simply refuse to travel that way because they refuse to pay the single supplement. The fact is, the number of single people is enormous and growing steadily. If they began to accommodate single travellers, there would be many more people choosing those forms of travel.”

According to research by 101 Holiday, as summarised in the Daily Mail, more than a third of Brits now travel alone, with women more confident to do so than men (let’s hear it for the ladies!), and the average age of solo travellers is 54.

Meanwhile, stats from Cruise Lines International Association, show that about 16% of North American cruise passengers are single, divorced, widowed or separated, although not all of them travel alone.

If this trend continues – and it certainly looks likely to – the future of solo travel looks rosy. Throw in the facts that this growing market of mature solo travellers often has a higher disposable income, is unlikely to be tied to travel during school holidays, and travels more frequently, and it’s clear that travel companies would be mad not to take advantage by waiving the dreaded single supplement.

Rant over.

Here are 8 ways to avoid the single supplement.

Until hoteliers, tour operators and cruise ships wise up and start taking advantage of the growing market of solo travellers, there are a few ways you can avoid or at least reduce the single supplement.

Image by Adopt a negociator on flickr

1. Negotiate

Don’t be afraid to contact the hotel or cruise company direct and negotiate a price that you’re happier with. It may be that the person you’re dealing with doesn’t feel comfortable offering a lower price, but by going over their head you stand a better chance of finding someone who does. And you’ve got a long list of reasons why you deserve a lower price right here in this article. If the answer’s still no, be prepared to walk away, like ‪Møïrå Jønes on Facebook: ‬

“‪It’s like paying for wifi in some hotels. In this day and age, I refuse to do that, so I stay elsewhere (waves to the Hilton hotels). So yes, I do pay more for single usage, sometimes that amount is acceptable and I really want it, other times I walk away from the trip, tour, hotel, etc. I make a mental note not to work with such people again too 😉 Vote with your $, € or CHF.”‬

2. Travel off peak

Your negotiating argument will have more sway if you’re travelling in the shoulder season. Prices are already lower then, but the weather can still be good so you won’t miss out. In fact, the only things you’ll miss are the crowds and sky-high prices. Hotels usually have a very clear idea of when they will be full and when they’ll have rooms to fill and a room with one person in it is still more profitable for them than an empty room.

3. Find a specialist singles travel tour operator

While comments on the Thelma & Louise Club website and Facebook page warn that some solo travel operators aren’t all that much cheaper, it’s unfair to tar them all with the same brush. I’ve not checked these out fully, but a few recommendations for single travel tour operators that boast no single supplement include Friendship Travel and Just You, while Cruise Critic can help point you in the right direction for the best single-friendly cruises.

Turpicalponkling, via the Thelma & Louise Club website, recommends Riviera Travel:

“I have recently learned [Riviera Travel] have just introduced a new “Going Solo” programme especially for solos (not singles). No supplement here and prices don’t seem too bad so I may give it a go. I like their ethos of ‘you can be as sociable or independent as you want to be, it’s totally up to you.’”

4. Watch out for last-minute singles holiday deals

If you still find the costs for solo holidays from specialist singles tour operators too high, and you’re fairly flexible with when you can travel, keep an eye open for last-minute offers. Set up a Google alert for solo travel offers, sign up for newsletters from your favourite singles travel tour operators, and keep searching. Solitair usually has some up for grabs.

5. Find someone to travel with

This is where the Thelma & Louise Club comes in really handy! Some operators and cruise companies offer a room-mate matching service but there’s nothing like choosing your own travel buddy. The Thelma & Louise Club has over 25,000 active members – women travellers like you who are looking for someone to travel with. Cost is a factor, but it’s more about finding someone to share the experience with. Register, find a travel buddy or join one of the other trips currently being planned. It’s a good idea to arrange a meet-up before heading off on a longer trip together too.

6. Branch out from your usual travel habits

Forget hotels. There are plenty of other options if you’re willing to try something different. Couchsurfing, homestays and housesitting are all great ways to find cheap accommodation and meet the locals. Aztek vouches for Airbnb:

“Luckily while travelling this summer I wasn’t faced with solo premiums. I stayed in Airbnb places that charge single fees and more for additional persons.”

One of our members, Joannay, is one of these forward-thinking Airbnb hosts who waive single supplements:

“As a single traveler most of the time, I’ve recently taken a step toward doing for others what I appreciate myself by lowering the cost of my Airbnb listing for single guests in a room that accommodates 2. Interestingly, I’ve begun to get more & longer bookings from single women which means I’m making more travel money by charging singles less! I’m hoping it’ll become a trend and I’ll benefit both at home & on the road.”

7. Try a different type of holiday

Certain types of trip attract solo travellers, so suddenly those travelling alone are the norm – and properly catered for. Safaris, overland and special-interest trips tend to have a higher proportion of solos so start there. Adventure holidays are another route to skipping the single supplement. Many adventure tour agencies are geared towards solo travellers, so start thinking about walking, cycling or sailing holidays, where everyone piles in together, single or not.

8. Look for other discounts

If you can, forget the principle of the matter and focus on the money. While it might be tricky to get a tour operator to drop the single supplement altogether, there may be other things they can offer to take the edge off. For example, last-minute booking discounts, free meals or two weeks for the price of one. It’s not going to get you much kudos on the picket line, but your bank manager might appreciate it!

Join our community of women travellers. Thelma & Louise helps women who want to travel find travel buddies and trip inspiration. Right now, our members are currently planning hundreds of trips and meet ups all around the world.

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Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise is the online community and travel resource for women who want to travel. Join us to share travel experiences, be inspired and connect with friends and travel buddies both online and in the real world.

What’s the Deal Wit…

by Thelma & Louise time to read: 6 min