Away alone! Don't pay double just because you're single
Nick Trend on those dreaded single supplements
What can be done about single supplements? For all those who prefer to travel alone, or have little choice but to do so, they seem like an unfair imposition, sharply increasing the cost of holidays and rooms.
The argument goes like this. Holidays are usually priced per person based on two people sharing a twin or double room. When a single person books, tour operators levy an extra charge, because, they say, they are simply passing on the extra cost charged by hotels for single occupancy of a double room, or because a single room is more than half the price of a double.
For this report, I double-checked that operators were not profiteering from single supplements by comparing the extra charges they imposed with the cost added on when a single person booked the hotel without using a tour operator. I found no evidence of profiteering.
In the end, the key issue comes down to the attitude of hoteliers (and cruise liners).
They argue that they have to charge extra because singles are a less attractive commercial proposition for them. The fixed costs of running a room -- cleaning and servicing, linen, heating and so on -- are the same no matter how many people occupy it.
And single travellers spend less money in the restaurant and bar than couples.
I have two issues with this. The first concerns the pricing of single rooms, which are often inferior to doubles and may be tucked away in less attractive parts of the hotel. Despite these disadvantages, the rates are usually more than half the price of a double.
Second, if a hotel or ship isn't full, the claims that revenue is lost when a room is sold to a single person seem much less convincing.
In this situation, single travellers could argue that they are occupying a room which would otherwise be empty and not producing any revenue.
And since single travellers are much less likely to be tied to travelling in school holidays, they will often be staying at quieter times when some rooms are likely to be empty.
Just as airlines can now predict seat sales, hoteliers are very good at predicting the periods when they will have spare capacity. Knowing this, they could make more of an effort to attract singles.
To be fair, some do make an effort and work with operators to reduce extra charges or offer supplement-free holidays.
I've listed some examples from a range of operators on the right.
But first, here are six ways to avoid or reduce supplements in a more strategic way:
Holidaymakers have the upper hand over tour operators and hotels at the moment. If you are booking at a time when the hotel is unlikely to be sold out or is offering special deals, phone and ask the tour operator whether it will waive the supplement.
Cut out the middle man
If you are prepared to book independently, try contacting the hotel by phone or email to negotiate the best possible rate for a single room or single occupancy.
Travel in the shoulder season
In the Mediterranean that means May, June, September and October. Many hotels are quieter at these times and are more willing to offer better rates for single occupancy. Some tour operators and cruise companies highlight dates in these months when they are offering tours and hotel stays which are reserved for single travellers or which don't attract supplements.
Book with an operator that specialises in singles' holidays
Mostly, they do not charge supplements, but offer a single or double room for sole occupancy -- though that does not mean they are necessarily cheaper than an operator which prices in a different way, so compare prices before booking. The Travel Department (thetraveldepartment.ie) and The Patt (People Alone Travelling Together) Club (thepattclub.ie) are two Irish-based operators who have a range of holidays for singles. Great Rail Journeys (greatrail.com) has two escorted holidays by rail specifically for solo travellers, with no single supplements. Jungfrau Express & Golden Pass, an eight-day tour to Switzerland, costs from €2,000; and the Beautiful Black Forest, a six-day tour to Germany, from €1,100.
Many tour operators will offer to try to arrange a shared room with another single traveller of the same sex. Alternatively, you could try to find a travelling companion through a specialist singles' website such as travbuddy.com.
Consider adventure travel
Trips where most nights are spent camping or in refuges, youth hostels or simple lodges, and food is paid per person out of a kitty, are far less likely to charge significantly more for single bookings.