Dodging the single supplement
As if soup-for-one dining and seeing couples frolic beside the Seine wasn't enough, solo travellers in New Zealand and on overseas tours are commonly pinged with a surcharge.
"Twin-share" is the most common phrase in travel advertising, right up there with "relaxation", "family fun" and "discover." But what about if you're more of a single, non-share type?
To be fair, tour operators are simply passing on the extra cost of dividing the total accommodation booked by fewer travellers.
Hotels argue rooms still require cleaning, linen, power and water regardless of whether guests are honeymooners or hermits. But some single readers tell me they have had a gutsful of these often hidden extra payments that industry insiders say range between 20-50 per cent of the twin-share per person cost.
Here are my tips to avoid them.
Go in low season
Basic laws of supply and demand mean if you want to join a tour group or cruise and weasel out of the single supplement, travel when there is less demand and tour operators and hotels are desperate to sell deals. During the low season you have more power and asking even just for a reduced single supplement can be worthwhile.
If you don't ask, you don't get. If you don't want to pay a single supplement, make it clear from the start and be open about your destination preferences. No travel agent, tour operator or accommodation provider is going to want you to walk out the door without a sale, so get a couple of quotes and see which one wants you the most. Once half-empty cruises set sail and buses depart, that's it, so operators would rather you joined than not at all.
If you really don't want to part company with a few extra hundred dollars, take a gamble. Some well-known tour operators offer to buddy you up with another solo adventurer, but if they can't find one, you still score a single room at a twin-share rate. However, if this backfires you could spend 21 long days in Europe with a whining, snoring roommate from hell.
The main reason many older travellers resent twin-share discounts but don't want to be matched up with another intrepid independent is a fear of the unknown. Social networks and websites like travelforsolos.co.nz allow like-minded loners to pair-up on a forum listing age, gender, preferred destinations and preferred travel dates. From there you can book together and benefit from the twin-share discounts for twosomes, but remain immune to stranger danger.
Some New Zealand operators are starting to follow the lead of European and American tour companies, who are reacting to an ageing population with more solo travellers who don't like sharing rooms. They are increasingly offering no single supplements on selected rooms and "singles only" tours. This is great news for intrepid, mainly older tourists. However, in many cases the base rate tends to be higher than traditional twin-share equivalents.
If none of the above secure at least a discounted single supplement, consider ditching the package tour middlemen altogether. You will need to wise up on destinations and deals but that's easy enough with an internet connection or a savvy travel agent. Choosing hosted accommodation, homes or apartments on sites such as airbnb.com, or staying in a hostel, can mean you get insider tips and experiences from fellow travellers or locals. Consider day tours as a way to meet people with similar interests without getting stung by extra charges for beds and meals.
- Sunday Star Times