The Single Supplement
As a first time solo traveler, you may not have heard about the single supplement. It’s not something that comes up a lot in conversation and can be surprising to new solo travelers.
When I booked my first solo trip, it was a small company and they didn’t implement a supplement, however it was mentioned on the trip by another passenger.
This was how I was introduced to the concept.
My first thought was “Dang”.
What is the Single Supplement?
A little note: There are always exceptions and, as I’ll point out multiple times, you should verify the ins and outs of any trip before booking. I’m going with “usual” here otherwise, we’ll be heading down rabbit holes with no hope of ever seeing daylight.
Here’s the lowdown. The single supplement usually applies on a group tour or trip where overnight accommodations are part of the package.
I’ve seen it on cruises, guided backpacking trips, and tours that stop in different towns or countries.
It’s tricky logic, but most companies invoice per person while still assuming two individuals will occupy one room (tent, yurt, dome, et cetera).
Let’s say a trip is $4000 per person. If a couple books one room, they are paying per person but booking one room. The company sponsoring the tour receives $4000 for each individual, which is $8000 for the room.
If you’re a solo traveler, you are only paying for one person. The company is only getting $4000 for the room so that’s a net loss of -$4000.
To manage these losses, most companies charge solo travelers a single supplement on top of the trip fee.
It’s usually 20% the cost of the trip, but I’ve seen 50% and heard of some companies that actually charge a full 100% (so you’re paying for 2 people).
Avoiding the Single Supplement
Before you panic, almost every tour company will waive the single supplement if a solo traveler is willing to share a room with another traveler of the same gender.
This is what many solo travelers do and it not only reduces cost, but you may find a great person to share your trip.
It’s always possible you don’t like your roommate or they snore, or so many other things, but you’ll rarely be in the room.
Check out our info on the FAQs for a little more information on roommate fear.
What Happens If There is No One to Share a Room?
It’s important to read the fine print before booking any trip.
If you offer to share a room and the tour company does not have someone to pair you with, they usually still waive the fee.
That being said, always ask for clarification on the policy for this scenario before you book.
While rare, some companies book solo travelers tentatively and do not consider you fully booked unless they have someone that will share the room.
You could wind up paying the single supplement, or they could decide to refuse to finalize your booking, meaning you no longer have accommodations.
Booking as a Solo Traveler
Not all Tour Companies Will Accommodate a Solo Traveler
Whether or not a tour company will even consider booking a solo traveler depends on the trip, the destination, and the company.
It’s a gamble because they want to fill the room, but they don’t necessarily want an empty room so they use historical data and judgment.
As an example, Antarctica tours usually book well in advance and the companies know there are many last-minute solo travelers vying for spots at the port.
These tours are usually willing to book a solo traveler without confirming they have someone to share the room at the time.
On the other hand, The Galapagos tours are small yachts with no more than 12 passengers.
They’re running tight and would often prefer to wait for a couple to book rather than have a solo passenger taking up a valuable room.
When I booked my trip to the Galapagos, I studied all the ships and chose my top five. It turns out that was a lot of unnecessary work.
After calling the travel agent he said he’d have to reach out and see which ships would be willing to take a solo passenger.
That was the first time I learned my choices could be limited as a solo traveler.
Luckily three ships would take me and one of them was my top pick.
Can Using a Travel Agency Help Solo Travelers?
Sometimes using a travel agency can help a solo traveler who is having issues booking.
For additional information on when to use a travel agent versus booking on your own, check out our article here.
In my Galapagos scenarios above, I could have called all five ships and maybe I would have reached two people and then tried to explain what I was doing.
Instead, I had someone with inside contacts who was able to figure it all out in 24 hours.
The other advantage of using a travel agency is that multiple solo travelers are contacting them so the agency may have two solo female travelers wanting the same trip and willing to share a room.
They can book you on the trip together thus making everyone happy.
Do Tours Ever Waive the Single Supplement?
I have seen this happen with cruise ships and river cruises.
If the tour is having difficulty booking and filling rooms, they often prefer to have a few rooms with 50% occupancy rather than 0%.
At the end of the day, it really depends on the tour company, the margins they’re using to run their business, and the cost of allowing a solo traveler on the trip versus holding the room.
How do I know if the Single Supplement Applies to My Trip?
Read the fine print for any group tour. If you have questions, be sure to ask for clarification.
It also doesn’t hurt to try to negotiate any rates or policies. With some countries, this is a normal practice. At worst, they may say no. At best, you get a bit of a discount.
What do I Need to Ask?
Whether working with a tour company directly or through a travel agency, be sure to ask about the single supplement and make sure you get any policies in writing.
- Does the tour accommodate solo travelers?
- Is there a single supplement?
- How much is the single supplement?
- Is the supplement waived if you’re willing to share a room with someone of the same gender?
- What happens if there is not another solo traveler to share the room?
- Are you fully booked or can the tour cancel your booking if another solo traveler to share the room is not booked? If so, by what date will they notify you?
- Will you be charged extra if they are unable to pair you with a roommate?
- Negotiate any fees if applicable.
The Single Supplement – It’s not too complicated
Just being aware of the single supplement is important and will help you plan your trips.
Once you understand what it is and why companies implement them, you’ll become a pro at knowing what to ask and negotiating as necessary.
Enjoy your journey!