In a slow economy, you can avoid a single supplement—and still get your own double room.
Ivy Peltz is like many people who go on tours or cruises alone: She doesn't like to room with strangers, but she also hates paying a single supplement—the fee many travel companies levy on singles who want their own two-person room. "It's like a double punishment," says the 51-year-old New York dentist. "You're going alone, and you have to pay more for the pleasure. If you are feeling sorry for yourself, the single supplement is a real slap in the face."
Because of high fuel prices and the struggling economy, however, some industry experts say that tour operators and cruise lines may have trouble filling their slots in the coming year—meaning single travelers could have luck getting around the dreaded supplement. "But you need to know how to find the deals," says Lea Lane, author of Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips and editor of sololady.com, a site for single travelers. "Single supplements are like rack rates—you can usually do better." Here are tips on how to find a sweeter deal:
Be the first one in line...
Tour companies sometimes scrap the single supplement for the first few people who book trips the operators believe may not sell out. For example, Singles Travel International will waive the supplement for the first six people who sign up for a Solo Super Savers trip to Europe in early 2009 (singlestravelintl.com). To find this kind of early-bird special, ask a travel agent or check sites like sololady.com or Connecting: Solo Travel Network (cstn.org). CSTN lists its deals in a bimonthly newsletter that it e-mails to members—the one-time fee to join is $50. Your best bet is to start looking at least six months before a trip's departure date, as most tours begin to fill up after that.
...Or wait till the last minute
Operators also occasionally reduce the single supplement as the deadline to book a tour approaches and they get desperate to sell any remaining spots. "If you can wait until the last week [before the sign-up deadline], chances are you'll get a deal," says Lane. "But it's a risk-reward kind of thing. You could miss out on the trip altogether." Some companies, such as Backroads (backroads.com) and Mayflower Tours (mayflowertours.com), also offer what's known as a "guaranteed share": If they can't find a roommate for you before a certain date, you'll get your own double room at no extra cost. This works only if there's an odd number of men or women on a tour, so check in with the operator regularly before the deadline to see how many people have registered.
Last-minute deals are possible on cruises, too. Some companies try to off-load unbooked cabins in the weeks before a departure by offering "happy hour" specials in which they reduce the supplement. The sales are typically held the same day they're announced on the companies' websites, says Amber Blecker, a travel agent who founded a website listing discounts on supplements for solo cruisers: singlescruiseresource.com. Most travel agents receive advance warning of the sales.
Negotiate with the operator
You can always turn on the charm and try to persuade the tour company to drop the supplement. If you've got a good reason why you think you shouldn't have to pay, sell the operator on it. "I've mentioned a recent divorce and a first trip after being widowed—both true stories," Lane says. "Usually, I ask the company to waive the single supplement and then hope for an upgrade." Sometimes, you don't even need to give the company a reason—just be friendly and make your preference for a private room clear. "The person who makes the best impression will definitely stand out in the operator's mind and could receive a single room if it becomes available," says Beth Whitman, author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo.
Small-scale tour operators, such as Country Walkers (countrywalkers.com) and Mayflower Tours, generally have more flexibility than larger companies when it comes to giving single travelers a break on fees. "If the owner answers the phone, he can strike a deal right on the spot," says John Stachnik, president and co-owner of Mayflower Tours. "With a large company, the reservationist can't really diverge from official policy." He says to sweet-talk the booking agent by saying you will recommend the trip to friends and by stressing your discretion: "Assure the operator that you will not share information about your discount with other travelers on the tour."
Travel when others don't
Discounts for singles abound in the less busy off-season—summer in Mexico and the Caribbean, winter in Alaska—when tours and resorts have difficulty filling all their spaces. Globus, for example, has no supplement on 11 of its tours in Europe this winter, saving people as much as $550 per trip (globusjourneys.com). At the Club Med Turkoise resort in the Turks and Caicos, there was no supplement for solo travelers who booked a double room this past June (clubmed.us).
The off-season is also a good time to save on the supplement on cruise ships, although the companies often do not advertise the deals. For example, Blecker says that some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, charge less for the supplement on what they call "repositioning cruises," when companies move their ships from their summer cruising waters to their winter waters (from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean in the fall), or vice versa. "These kinds of specials are out there with the mainstream brands, but they're not so easy to find," she notes. "You should have a travel agent look on your behalf."
Try a European operator
Tour companies based in Europe are also less likely to charge a supplement, mainly because the fee is not an accepted part of the culture there. "Europeans are not as couple-oriented when it comes to travel," says Lane. "Plus, they're more cost-conscious and simply would not agree to pay the supplement, so tour operators have less choice. The market drives the cost." In addition, European companies often offer accommodations in family-run pensions and older hotels, which have rooms of varying sizes—including single rooms. For instance, Solo's Holidays, a British operator that specializes in organizing trips for singles, provides most of its customers with their own room at no additional charge (solosholidays.co.uk).
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