Updated 16 August 2017 — If you’re a tour or cruise lover, the phrase “no single supplements” might be music to your ears.
Those of us who travel solo often find the whole issue of paying extra for a solo rip eminently distasteful, unfair and borderline insulting.
Why should we pay more because we are traveling on our own?
I don't think we should.
But companies exist to make money and if you have an unused bed in your room, it’s a bed they’re not selling that could be sold to someone else. Since hotels base their prices on double occupancy - two people sharing a double room - your unoccupied bed will have to be paid for by someone. They will argue they have fixed costs such as cleaning, heating, electricity and lower spending by singles.
Perhaps. But why not build in solo travelers from the start - smaller rooms with lower overheads, more rooms for solo travelers, special deals... it's at least as much a frame of mind issue as a financial issue because let's face it, some rooms will stay empty. Why not preempt that by planning properly for those of us who travel alone?
Let’s say you want to take a tour that costs $3000. When you read the fine print, you see something like this: Single supplement $2000. So if you’re traveling with someone, you’ll each pay $3000 and share a room. If you’re traveling on your own, you’ll pay $5000. Nice, right? In fact, the single supplement is so well-established it has its own Wikipedia entry. Go ahead and read it. It’ll make you growl.
1. Argue like hell and beg if you need to: in other words, negotiate
Use your diplomatic skills. Just because an operator doesn’t offer to waive a single supplement doesn’t mean you can’t ask. After all, you have nothing to lose.
Make a list of suitable companies and pick up the phone, send an email, tweet them: “Would you waive the single supplement on your March tour to Bali?”
You might get a Yes.
2. Go for the discount: find the cheapest supplement
If you've received a negative answer to your waiver request, move on to the next question: "How about a discount, then?" Do you really care if someone waives the single supplement or gives you a discount? (You may care for political and ethical reasons but right now, we’re talking about your wallet). Whether you save $1000 because the single supplement was waived or you get a $1000 discount on your tour, you’re still $1000 ahead.
This second question might just do it because not all tours are full and an operator might think it’s better to have one person in a room – albeit at a cheaper rate - than no person at all.
If you still get a No, it’s probably time to go to the next company on your list. It’s a bit like the art of haggling: do your best but be willing to let go and move on. That willingness will give you strength.
3. Avoid the flocks: travel in the off or shoulder season
If you’re negotiating during the low or shoulder season – when tours aren’t full and operators might be more flexible and willing to listen – point this out. Once the crowds have gone home, businesses might be more amenable to filling their empty spaces. In 2015 I got two weeks for the price of one at a Sri Lankan resort because of the monsoon season – and it barely rained. (Mind you, the monsoon season in 2017 was deadly so there is a risk.)
In most places, traveling in the OFF season can also be a lot more fun than braving the crowds.
4. Leapfrog to the top: call the company direct
Go over their heads. Sometimes a representative won’t feel competent or willing to waive a single supplement and would rather simply say No. If you call the company directly, you might get a different answer. Again – you have nothing to lose. Sometimes going around the middleman might be the little nudge that makes the haystack keel over. Or some similar metaphor.
5. Talk to smart experts: see a travel agent
This is the flip side of the previous point. Travel agents know what’s going on in the world of travel. If there’s a special promotion or discount, they can tell you about it. It might not mean the single supplement will disappear, but a big discount can have the same effect: a cheaper trip. It’s a travel agent’s business to keep track of these things. Use that expertise.
6. Be a scout: keep tabs on specials
Even if you don’t have a travel agent or would rather not use one, you can still keep an eye out for specials. Company websites are a great place to begin and often plaster their deals right on their home page. Many have email alerts for which you can sign up, and failing all of the above, you can set up a Google alert for relevant terms: “single supplement Europe” or “no single supplement Caribbean cruise”, and you’ll get an email from Google as soon as there’s a match. Be among the first to know.
7. Make like a college student: share a room
If your heart is sinking, skip the next two tips. I don’t share – I’m not great at being thrown into a room with a person I don’t know. But for many of my friends, pairing up is a godsend that can halve their travel costs. Many companies will pair you with another woman and some even introduce you before the trip via email or Facebook. This is a good thing because if she tells you she snores loudly you’ll remember to bring along earplugs… While companies can’t guarantee they’ll match you (a few do), they do say they’ll do their best.
8. It’s not a dating service: it’s a matching service
What if you don’t trust the company to pair you up properly? Find your own roommate by using one of the many existing networks for solo travelers. Find your roommate first and book your trip together.
9. Let your fingers do the walking… post on a forum
If you’re a truly independent soul and want to handle every detail of your travel buddy search yourself, just post on a travel forum. Many boards have a ‘looking for travel buddies’ thread so that’s a good place to start, but I’d also look in the thread for your destination. If you’re headed to Iceland, there’s a good chance a lot of the people hanging out on the Iceland thread are heading there themselves. Given the statistics, a large segment will probably be women, traveling solo… who knows if…
10. Be a slowpoke: wait until the last possible minute
Prices can go down if there is a danger of not filling spaces not being filled. If you’re not locked into a specific period for your travels, sites like Lastminute, Lastminutetravel or Travelzoo. Again, you might have to pay a single supplement but you’ll be traveling at a discount.
Beware, though: some companies get around this by limiting their last-minute deals to those who travel in pairs, so you might not find a solo fare if you wait.
11. Or, be a jackrabbit: book way ahead of time
This is the other option. Companies often provide early-bird rewards for those who book early. By booking before everyone else, your tour or cruise or hotel will still be empty and the company won’t be able to play the scarcity card and claim it’s full.
12. Hotel alternatives, because there are plenty
The single supplement applies mostly to tours and cruises, but what if you’re in a hotel room by yourself? And paying the SAME as the couple next door in an identical room? That’s what usually happens, so if you want to avoid these hefty discrepancies, think of alternatives to hotels like Airbnb or housesitting.
13. Speaking of adventurous
Rather than a standard tour, think adventure, because many adventure tour agencies are geared to solo travelers. While many are for the 18-35 crowd, others are accustomed to welcoming older women. You might be staying in a homestay, a tent or a refuge. It’ll be a bit rougher than a hotel, perhaps, and you may be sharing your space with lots of people you don’t know, but c’mon, where’s your spirit of adventure? I'd somehow rather share with an entire group than with just one other person, for some reason. In any event you’ll be paying the same as everyone else: no supplements. Not much of anything, really.
14. Hook up – but
with a solo travel company
Some companies specialize in solo travel but beware when you research. Some are perfectly legitimate, while others are more aimed at singles who want to hook up with other singles, sort of half-travel half-dating game. So read the fine print. Make sure this is really a tour on which you as a solo female traveler will feel comfortable (as opposed to pressured to date or pair up with someone). If in doubt choose a company for women only. Or call them to chat.
15. Up, up, up
Get an upgrade. If you want to stay in a hotel without paying for the entire room, make sure you join their advantage or loyalty program (before you travel!) If you’re new you can’t expect many privileges BUT you might get better treatment than the average traveler if you’re an ‘insider’. Even a small discount will help you swallow the bill pill.
16. Look across the ocean
You’d be surprised at how other cultures do things differently. If you’re in the USA, look into British-based tours or cruises – and vice-versa. You won’t have to contend with a language barrier and each country puts its emphasis on other things so you might be pleasantly surprised. For example, I live in France but I often travel out of Switzerland next door because it can actually be cheaper.
17. Or… just don’t do it!
Don’t take tours or cruises. Obvious, right? Travel independently. Go solo. Handle your own arrangements. And blissfully acknowledge that doing it yourself is often better.
So this begs the question…
In my opinion companies applying single supplements are being terribly short-sighted. If they choose to alienate us because we travel on our own, they will have only themselves to blame when we take our loyalty elsewhere.
Every statistic bears me out: solo travel is on the rise.
So there. We rock. We are a multitude, and we should be listened to.
Demographics prove it. And thinking otherwise simply demonstrates short-term vision and business sense.
Here are a few additional resources you can use:
Do you have any tips on avoiding single supplements? What do you think about paying extra as a solo traveler? Please share in the comments below!