Single Supplement Basics
A single supplement is a charge paid by a solo traveler to compensate a hotel or cruise line for losses incurred because only one person is staying in a room or cruise ship cabin. Most hotel rooms and ship cabins are built under the assumption that at least two people will occupy them. In fact, nearly all hotel and cruise pricing is based on double occupancy. Many tour operators base their prices on double occupancy, too.
Single supplements range from 10 to 100 percent of the double occupancy rate. Hotel and cruise ship operators claim that charging a single supplement helps them recover the fixed costs of maintaining the room or cabin, such as utilities and cleaning, which stay the same regardless of how many people use the room. Single supplements also help hotels and cruise lines recoup losses incurred because the second occupant is not there to spend money at the hotel or on the ship.
How Many People Travel Solo?
How many solo travelers are out there?
According to Cruise Lines International Association, approximately 16 percent of North American cruise passengers are single, divorced, widowed or separated. While not all of these cruisers travel alone, cruise lines are becoming increasingly responsive to their solo passengers, building ships with more single staterooms and solo passenger lounges.
In October 2018, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) reported that 15% of travelers took a solo vacation in the last 12 months, primarily so they did not have to compromise on travel plans.
Researchers for the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study 2015 found that approximately 24 percent of overseas leisure travelers vacationed alone, up from 15 percent in 2013.
The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) reports that 53 percent of its member tour operators saw increases in bookings by solo travelers.
According to the Daily Mail newspaper, tour operators report that 35 percent of British travelers who book group tours are traveling alone. Of those solo travelers, 58 percent are women.
Who Must Pay a Single Supplement?
Solo travelers usually pay single supplements on group tours, on cruises and at hotels. Tour operators and cruise lines disclose single supplement rates in their brochures and on their websites. The single supplement at a hotel is generally not disclosed; rather, a solo traveler will pay the same rate for a room as two travelers sharing that room, effectively paying a 100 percent supplement. When asked, hotel owners explain this policy by stating that they charge by the room, not by the number of people using the room.
How to Avoid Paying a Single Supplement
Avoiding the single supplement is not easy. Some cruise lines and tour operators offer a roommate finding service. This service allows you to avoid paying a single supplement if you sign up to share a room with another solo traveler.
A few tour companies cater exclusively to single travelers and offer supplement-free pricing, while others offer a limited selection of supplement-free itineraries. A good travel agent will be able to help you to quickly identify supplement-free tours and cruises. You can also do this research on your own, as outlined below.
In some countries, hotels offer single rooms. While these rooms tend to be tiny, they are less expensive than a traditional double room. Be sure to reserve your single room early, especially if you plan to travel during peak season.
Other options for avoiding the single supplement include joining a singles travel network that can help you find travel partners or finding a roommate on your own.
Tips for Finding Supplement-Free Tours and Cruises
While some tour operators and cruise lines offer supplement-free trips on a regular basis, others do so less frequently. This means that you will have to do some research, either on your own or with the help of a travel agent, to find the best deals for solo travelers. You are more likely to find a supplement-free tour or cruise at the beginning or end of the travel season, during months when tour operators and cruise lines have to work a bit harder to fill their trips.
One way to find single-friendly vacations is to search by type of trip (tour, cruise or independent vacation) and destination first, and then look for travel providers that offer supplement-free journeys to the places you want to visit. Alternatively, you can look for travel providers that offer supplement-free trips first, and then choose the most appealing and affordable destination and mode of travel from that list of providers.
If you plan to travel solo, planning your trip in advance will probably save you money. You will have time to look for supplement-free trips and cruises, reach out to potential roommates and find the least expensive times to travel.