Navigating the Single Supplement

If you’re new to solo traveling, you may not have heard about the single supplement, sometimes called the single person supplement.  It’s not something that comes up a lot in conversation or in posts about fantastic solo trips with pretty photos. But it’s important and needs to be discussed more often.

When I booked my first solo trip, I was told there would be a 20% solo traveler fee added to my booking unless I wanted to share a room.

My first thought was “What? I have to pay more?”

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What is the Single Supplement?

A little note:  There are always exceptions and, as I’ll point out multiple times, you should verify the rules of any tour company before booking. The information below is based on “ the usual” unless noted otherwise. If I try to note every exception we’ll be heading down rabbit holes with no hope of ever seeing daylight.

Single person supplements usually apply 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 or $8000 for the room.

Line of stick figures showing 2 beds and 2 people. Each person has $4000 over their head with a total of $8000.  Below is another line with 2 beds and one stick figure with $4000 over their head and a total of negative $4000.

If you’re a solo traveler, you are only paying for one person. The company is only getting $4000 for the room so they see it as a net loss of -$4000. 

To manage these losses, most companies charge solo travelers a single supplement on top of the trip fee.

Are There Tours With No Single Supplements?

Yes. There are tour companies and cruises that offer trips with no single supplements. You can search online for these companies. Before booking, do your research and make sure they are reputable companies with good reviews.

There are also websites that help

How Much is the Single Supplement?

The cost of a single room supplement varies based on the tour company, type of trip, and when you book.

It’s usually 20% of 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

Sharing a Room

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. It’s one of the easiest ways to still book the trip you want and save money.

Using our example above, if a couple books a room at $4000 each, the tour company gets $8000. If two solo travelers share a room at $4000 each, the tour company still gets $8000 for the room.

Line of stick figures showing 2 beds and 2 people. Each person has $4000 over their head with a total of $8000.  Below is another line with 2 beds and two stick figures with a plus sign between them and $4000 over each head with a total of $8000.

This is what many solo travelers do and it not only reduces cost, but you may find a great person to share your trip with. 

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. 

Finding Someone to Share the Room

Most tour companies will place you in a room with another traveler of the same gender. You don’t need to do anything but book the trip.

If you prefer to choose your own bunkmate, there are Facebook groups and MeetUp groups designed to help pair solo travelers together on trips.

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 because it’s still more money than an empty room. 

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.

Ask if the Supplement can be Waived

It’s always worth picking up the phone to see if the supplement will be waived. Barring that, they may offer a discount. I have friends and family who had success getting the supplement waived on 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.

Use a Travel Agency

Sometimes using a travel agency can help a solo traveler who is having issues booking. 

As an example, when I went to the Galapagos there were 5 boats with tours matching my schedule. I could have called all five companies and maybe reach two people and then try to get one to waive the single room supplement. It would have taken weeks.

Instead, I used a travel agency. They had contacts at each company and were able to figure it out in 24 hours. Only two companies would accommodate solo travelers and I had to be willing to share a room. Luckily the travel agency was working with another solo female traveler with the same schedule and they were able to pair us together and book the room.

Book Your Trip Last Minute

This is risky, but if you have a flexible schedule and aren’t particular about which specific tour you want, you can sometimes get the single supplement waived.

Tour companies want to avoid empty rooms. A single traveler still puts money in their pocket. If it’s getting close to the departure date and they have empty rooms, you have a good chance.

The downside is there may not be any rooms left and you lose out on the trip.

Important Details About the Single Supplement

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. 

Stick figures with 2 beds and one person with $4000 over their head totaling negative $4000. There is a big, red X over the entire scene.

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. Since they run so tight they often prefer to wait for a couple to book rather than have a solo passenger taking up a valuable room. 

How to Determine if a Single Supplement Applies to Your 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.  In some countries, this is a normal practice.  At worst, they may say no.  At best, you get a bit of a discount. 

What Questions Should You Ask?

Whether working with a tour company directly or using a travel agency, be sure to ask about the single supplement and make sure you get any policies in writing.

  1. Does the tour accommodate solo travelers?
  2. Is there a single supplement?
  3. How much is the single supplement?
  4. Is the supplement waived if you’re willing to share a room with someone of the same gender?
  5. What happens if there is not another solo traveler to share the room?
    1. 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?
    2. Will you be charged extra if they are unable to pair you with a roommate?
  6. Negotiate any fees if applicable. 
Pinterest pin with images of stick figures with both lines showing two beds and two people with $4000 over each head for each line totaling $8000. The text says, "The single supplement, everything you need to know."

The Single Supplement – It’s not too complicated

Just being aware that the single supplement exists and could apply to your trip will help make your planning go smoother.

Once you understand what it is and why companies implement them, you’ll become a pro at knowing what to ask and negotiating better rates. 

Enjoy your journey!

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