Updated: Jan 14
It can be aggravating for solo travellers to see an advertised price for a room or a tour, only to discover upon booking that the price is suddenly higher. This is known as the "solo supplement". It often feels like a sneaky hidden cost. "The room costs more if I'm alone!" is the cry! "Solo travellers are discriminated against!" is written into online reviews. "Use company X to avoid the supplement", they share in social media posts. There are indignant posts all over the interwebs trashing the travel industry for their obvious discrimination against solo travellers. We hate knowing if we did the same trip with another person, we would be charged less per person than we pay as a solo traveller. I know that sinking feeling when I look at a price and notice it's "based upon double occupancy" -- the code for "it costs more if you're solo". I hate to interrupt a good rant with common sense, but what's up with these additional charges and are travel companies discriminating against and discouraging solo travellers?
A single supplement is an additional cost when a room or tour is booked by a single individual. This occurs with companies that market their service based upon double occupancy. This is most common with resorts and cruises but can be found throughout the travel industry. These surcharges can be 50-100% but most are in the range of 10-25%. Often there is no information about the cost of the supplement until going through the booking process -- the only clue being the words "based upon double occupancy" in teeny tiny print on an ad. The industry knows that most people do not travel recreationally alone. The solo travel niche is growing but we solo travellers are not (yet) the majority of travellers. Most solo travellers are travelling on business and their company pays. Business travellers are not tourists, most don't have much opportunity to check out their destinations and spend little on tourist activities. The majority of recreational travellers are families, couples, and groups. Solo travellers tend to spend less money per person than those travelling with others. Solo supplements are simply a marketing strategy. Businesses determine their target demographic and design advertising based upon that target.
For many companies, it makes sense from a marketing stance, to create vacation promotions that appeal to couples, travel buddies, and families. These companies know that more people equals more money spent in restaurants, bars, gift shops, and other amenities offered. Bottom line: solo travellers, statistically, spend less and therefore contribute less to the profits of the company, especially when cruising or staying in resorts. Price points are determined by the total profit expected from having two people in the room. The fixed costs of servicing that room or tour remain basically the same. Companies that choose to market based upon double occupancy aren't that concerned about the solo traveller demographic.
Other companies have made different marketing choices, but are still setting roughly comparable prices. These businesses know that the solo travel demographic is significant and growing. Some advertise the cost of a shared room with a choice to upgrade to a private room at an additional cost. Others advertise the cost of a private room but offer a discount if you are willing to share. (If no one else signs up to share you get a private room without an additional cost). Some hotels, resorts and cruise lines have created single rooms. Whichever marketing strategy chosen, solo travellers will pay more than if we had someone to share the cost of our room. Is this discrimatory? I don't think so. It's a business decision. I choose not to follow any ad with double occupancy pricing. As a marketing strategy, I respond more positively to the upgrade model than I do to a supplement. I'm not a huge fan of resorts and cruises so I have rarely encountered a single supplement. So what strategies can solo travellers use to keep our costs as close to the advertised double-occupancy price as possible?
Find Companies that Market to Solos
There are companies that are specifically marketed towards single travellers. Group tour companies like Intrepid and G Adventures are consistently rated as two of the best for solo travellers. Some cruise lines will offer blocks of rooms for singles-Norwegian has been a leader with cabins priced specifically for singles. Be aware of the difference between solo trips and singles trips. Singles trips are often more about possible hook-ups than the destination. I'm not interested in finding a romantic partner when I travel and will avoid "singles" trips like the plague.
Do Your Research
Company websites are a fabulous resource. They usually have their deals displayed prominently on their home page. Most have an email address where you can sign up for alerts. Alternatively, set up a Google alert for relevant terms: “no single supplement tours in France” or “cruises without single supplement”. Google will send you an email as new information fitting your criteria is published.
Travel Outside of High Season
This may be an issue for those who have careers, like teaching, that require vacations in high season. For those who are more flexible, travelling in shoulder or low season is already less expensive. Competition for the smaller tourist numbers can be intense and many companies will reduce or eliminate their supplements.
Find a Travel Partner
Many of us travel alone for a variety of reasons. Some of us prefer our independence, some of us may not have family or friends willing or able to travel. As mentioned above, there are groups that will partner you up with another traveller to share a room. I have made lasting friendships with tour roommates. There are many websites and Facebook groups dedicated to finding a travel partner for those who don't have a regular travel partner.
Book Early or Last Minute
Some companies are willing to negotiate on the supplement when they've just announced the trip (for a couple of spots) or near the departure time to fill empty spaces. Call the company directly to negotiate.
Look for Alternatives
Instead of booking a group tour, cruise or resort with a supplement, consider other companies or be even more independent. Look at hostels, AirBnBs, apartments, and guesthouses. If you really want to save money, consider a dorm room. I won't do dorm rooms but I can usually find a private room in a hostel for at least 30% less than a 4-star hotel. Organize your own tours. Use public transportation, hire a private guide, join a site-specific tour, or rent the audio-guide where available. I often prefer to do this so I get more of a local experience.
Ask for the Supplement to be Waived
Surprisingly, this works more often than I expect. Contact the company directly and ask. I have been successful more often than not.
Don't Get Hung Up on the Extra Charge
No matter how much research I've done and how much flexibility I have, some supplements may have to be paid for the trip of my dreams. Rather than focus on the surcharge, I am more concerned that the price fits my budget. If it fits, then I try to forget that my personal cost may be higher than the person next to me. If it doesn't fit my budget, then I need to look at a different travel plan. Solo travel is on the rise. Mature women, especially, are driving this market. More than twice as many women travel alone compared to solo male travellers. Travel companies dedicated to solo female travel have increased more than 200% over the past 5 years (including the covid years!). Other companies are watching this trend and are reacting as demand for affordable solo travel options increase. Will solo supplements disappear? I wouldn't expect the companies and destinations that cater mainly to couples or families to change their successful marketing strategy. On the other hand, I do expect to see more and more focus on solo offers, solo rooms, and reduced supplements throughout the industry as the share of the market grows.
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