Traveling alone? Some tips to avoid soaring prices
For solo travelers, dining alone can feel awkward. But at least they pay the same price for their salads and steaks as the twosome seated...
The Los Angeles Times
Northwest travel guides
For solo travelers, dining alone can feel awkward. But at least they pay the same price for their salads and steaks as the twosome seated at the next table.
Imagine being charged twice as much.
That's what can happen when trip operators impose extra fees known as single supplements. These fees, typically required of those who don't share accommodations, can add 50 or 100 percent to the double-occupancy price of a tour or cruise.
Companies say they need to charge singles more to make up for lost revenue from the room itself and for the absence of food, drink, spa services and other purchases.
But there are ways to dodge this financial bullet. You can sign up with singles-only tour groups; find specials and last-minute deals that waive or reduce the supplement; or, if all else fails, share a room with a stranger.
I wish I could say it's getting easier to travel alone. But there's little evidence of that. The forces that drive the single supplement are stubborn.
"There's a built-in discrimination against the single traveler," said Diane Redfern, a former journalist and travel agent living near Vancouver, B.C. For 14 years, she has operated "Connecting ... Solo Travel Network," an information source for singles, at www.cstn.org.
Cabins and hotel rooms are usually sized for two or more, which is how most people take vacations. "Until people build single-sized rooms with single-sized prices that are not next to the kitchen, the problem won't be solved," Redfern said.
Single cabins, once common on trans-Atlantic cruise ships, are disappearing, partly because modern, modular construction favors uniformity. Cunard's venerable Queen Elizabeth 2, for instance, still offers single cabins; the line's new Queen Mary 2 does not.
The recent surge in travel doesn't help singles either. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many trip operators, desperate to fill spaces, eliminated or reduced single supplements. Now the travel industry, Redfern said, "is settling right back into its old ways." Her roster of singles-only trips, she said, was half the size it was last year.
Such trips may still be a single traveler's best option. Because they book hotel rooms and cruise cabins in bulk, these groups, organized by travel agents or tour operators, can often negotiate lower rates with innkeepers and cruise lines.
An added bonus: You're less apt to feel like a third wheel when surrounded by other singles.
How to find bargains
Don't equate "solo traveler" with "swinging single" or "dating service." Widowed seniors, spouses stuck with different vacation times, those who like to travel alone — people of any age and interest may be going solo. At O Solo Mio, most clients are between ages 35 and 65.
Not the group type? Look for specials and deals.
Although cruise lines usually don't waive single supplements, you may find reductions on repositioning cruises (which occur when lines move their ships into other regions) and other hard-to-sell itineraries, said Cheryl Carter, who teaches cruise-line management at Florida International University in Miami.
In early September, when hurricanes were raging through the region, Crystal Cruises, a luxury-cruise line, cut single supplements to 5 percent for five Caribbean sailings departing Oct. 24 to Dec. 15.
Pat Hagan, singles editor for www.cruisemates.com, suggested checking several weeks before departure, when unsold cabins might be released to singles.
Tour companies may also waive single supplements on some trips or regularly offer modest ones. At Backroads, an active-travel purveyor at www.backroads.com, the supplement is often 25 percent or less.
Another option for singles is guaranteed sharing. Under these programs, tour and cruise operators offer to find a roommate for you. They guarantee you'll pay the cheaper double-occupancy rate even if they can't find a roommate.
Usually they will match you based on gender, smoking habits and maybe sleeping habits.
"I've heard of more good experiences sharing with a stranger than bad," Hagan of Cruisemates said. But it's a gamble.
Citing a "minuscule percentage of bookings," Carnival dropped its share program four years ago. Its single supplements are generally 150 to 200 percent of double-occupancy fares.
But many cruise and tour companies, including Backroads, still offer guaranteed sharing — worth a try if you've exhausted other options.