Tour companies and single supplements

This item appears on page 46 of the April 2009 issue.

James Sibley of Houston, Texas, wrote (Dec. ’08, pg. 15), “I would like to see ITN readers regularly write in about which travel companies either 1) waive the single supplement if you are willing to share, whether the travel company is able to match you or not, or 2) discount the single supplement if you are willing to share, whether the company is able to match you or not.”

He offered, “ElderTreks (Toronto, Ont.; 800/741-7956) waives the entire single supplement if they can’t match you. Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/493-6824) and Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 800/322-6677) discount their land trips’ single supplements by 50% if you are willing to share, and they refund the remaining 50% if they succeed in matching you with a share.”

ITN asked you to send your findings to Tour Companies and Single Supplements, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail (including the address at which you receive ITN). (Note: ITN prints no items on destinations in North America or the Caribbean.) Following are responses received.

As an older single lady, I prefer to have my own accommodations on tours and am willing to pay a reasonable single rate. However, after 30 years of traveling, I have become very concerned about the high single rates charged to us by tour companies.

Years ago, single travelers were welcomed. In fact, at one time we were 28% of the travel market. As the travel industry has grown, the single rates have increased so much, it makes it very difficult for any of us wanting our own room.

Tour companies tell me they can do nothing about the high rates, as these are determined by the foreign companies. Cruise lines have built new ships but have not put in single staterooms. They tell me it is not financially feasible for them.

After a full day of traveling in a group of people, I want some quiet time by myself. I travel to meet the people of the country I am visiting, not worry about having a roommate from my home country.

With the world economy in recession, all travel companies will have to review their rates. Perhaps they will look for single travelers.

Janet Fay
Missoula, MT

I am most fortunate to have a wonderful traveling companion, who is single, as am I. We, however, do not share cabins well (probably because we both live alone and are set in our ways). When we do travel, it becomes very costly because of the single supplements, which we do not really understand. Why should you pay more when you travel alone, especially when there are two-for-one fares?

This seems to be discriminatory, to say the least. One person certainly eats and drinks less, takes up less room overall, etc. If a cruise line is offering two-for-one fares, they are not losing money by allowing a single person to pay the two-for-one fare but actually are saving money on food.

We have asked travel companies this question time after time, but no one has ever been able to give us a good answer. Can someone out there help?

Stephanie Carr
Wilmington, NC

As a longtime advertiser in ITN and someone who has been organizing wine tours for over 25 years, I would like to add perspective on the topic of finding travel partners.

Each year and for each tour, I send out a request to hotels, such as, ’We would appreciate a quote of your best rates including breakfast and taxes for doubles and singles (double used as a single).’

Here is a typical response, this one from a hotel we used in Austria this past October: “€130 single room per night; €150 twin room per night.”

I have to charge a single supplement to make up for the difference if there is only one person in the room. I can ask other participants if they would like a roommate, but my experience is that most want a single.

As a small operator, I cannot absorb the cost of paying for a full room if only one person is staying in it. That is the reality from my perspective.

Vin Marottoli
Wine Lovers Tours

(New Haven, CT; 800/256-0141; e-mail

ITN readers should know that some tour operators, including myself, will do their best to match singles with other singles who want to share to avoid the single supplement. Many of my clients, both men and women, have met new travel partners by sharing a room on my trips.

Michele Burgess, In Focus With Michele Burgess (Huntington Beach, CA; 714/536-6104)

At Adventures For Singles, as policy, if we are unable to match anyone with a roommate, the single supplement is waived for the client. The company absorbs the entire cost in order to balance the gender of roommates.

If a particular trip has not sold out and rooms are still available, we often offer the single supplement included in the price in order to fill the tour.

We usually sell our single rooms at net cost. Sometimes circumstance warrants us to offer them at a half-price discount. In our Thailand group in November ’08, a client booked a single throughout at $245, a 50% discount.

Finally, group travelers should be aware that local land suppliers and hotels are now strictly limiting the number of single rooms for groups. This past year, most group contracts stated that the number of single rooms couldn’t exceed 15% of the allotted group space.

Suzy Davis Adventures For Singles (Smyrna, GA; 770/712-8300)

Numerous budget-end small-group tour companies operate on a required-share basis. No single supplement is available (at least, for most tours; Intrepid does have an optional single supplement for “comfort” level tours) and you are required to share if a same-sex solo traveler is available. You need to be willing to travel on the ground, sometimes on public transport, and sometimes rough it a bit.

These companies include Intrepid Travel (in Australia, with office in Boulder, CO; 800/970-7299); Imaginative Traveller (Suffolk, England; — in the US, call Adventure Center at 800/487-1600); (Melbourne, Australia; in the US, call 800/387-7902), on whose trips a supplement may be required in Africa or on ships; Gecko’s (Melbourne, Australia; in the US, call 800/387-7902), and Explore! (Farnborough, Hampshire, England; — in the US, call Adventure Center).

I’ve traveled five times with Intrepid since 2001 (most recently to Morocco in November ’08), although not with any of the others.

For a higher price, there’s Rick Steves (Edmonds, WA; 425/771-8303), going to Europe only and with bigger groups, and Adventures Abroad (Richmond, BC, Canada, with an office in Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998), which goes worldwide and with which some tours may require a supplement.

Kathy Wilhelm
Cary, NC

Adventures Abroad is an excellent tour company that waives single supplements if you’re willing to take a roommate and they don’t find one for you.

I’ve been on about seven of their tours over the years. The last was a 20-day Japan-by-rail trip in October ’08.

Merna Strassner
Oakland, CA

Just say NO to companies that charge single supplements. In summer 2008 I went on three tours, starting in early June and ending on July 17, with Intrepid Travel.

The company’s “Sarawak Headhunters Trail” tour in Borneo cost $1,070. Also in Borneo, the “Land Beneath the Wind” tour cost $1,260. I also took the “Circle Malaysia” tour, which cost $1,145.

Intrepid does not charge a single supplement and matches you with another share. Most of their tours have 12 or fewer, and if you are the odd man out you get a single room. They have hundreds of tours with guaranteed departures.

Explore!, Imaginative Traveller and G.A.P. Adventures (New York, NY; 888/800-4100) also have similar policies and I have gone with each one.

Sharing has its advantages, as you always have someone to see the sites with or not and maybe ask about something you missed.

Peter Lague
Summerland Key, FL

The company G.A.P. Adventures has no single supplement. I’ve taken three trips with them (I’m 62) and enjoyed every one. The last one was to the Galápagos and Peru in September ’07.

Diane Robbins
Penfield, NY

Adventure Center (Emeryville, CA; 800/487-1600) represents a number of tour companies. I have been traveling with them since 1996 and never have had to pay extra for something that is not my fault: being single!

Most of my trips through them are with Explore!, based in the UK.

Samantha Sartain
Colorado Springs, CO

Regarding Mr. Sibley’s concern with single supplements (Dec. ’08, pg. 15), my experience is the other way around. I have never dealt with a tour company that would not assist a single traveler to find a roommate and avoid the single supplement. (Forget cruises; they operate in a different manner. Occasionally a single supplement will be waived, but that would not be a policy.)

I have traveled with the following British companies, ALL of which “guarantee” a roommate; if they cannot match you up, you get a single room at no extra cost: Imaginative Traveller; Trafalagar (London based, with its main US office in Anaheim, CA; 866/544-4434), and Saga Holidays (Kent, England).

Of Canadian companies I have gone with, Adventures Abroad “guarantees” a roommate; in fact, this is a big selling point for them. Bestway Tours & Safaris (Burnaby, BC, Canada; 800/663-0844) will match you up if they can, but if not you pay the single supplement.

Cosmos (of the Globus family of brands, based in Switzerland but with an office in Littleton, CO; 800/276-1241) does offer the “guaranteed share” program, but Globus does not.

Among American companies, Betchart Expeditions (Cupertino, CA; 800/252-4910) will match you if they can, but if they cannot you pay the supplement. Brendan Worldwide Vacations (Chatsworth, CA; 800/421-8446) does offer “guaranteed share”; if they cannot match you up, you get a single room at no extra cost.

Having companies match you up with a roommate can at times lead to some confusion. Tour companies will not match opposite sexes even if the travelers are willing.

On a Saga tour of Holland and Belgium in 2000, my present wife and I had not married, as she needed to keep her previous name for professional reasons. Upon arrival at the hotel in Amsterdam, we were told they had split us up; she was to room with a single lady and I was to room with a single man. We would have none of that, and they had to give the odd ones out each single rooms at no extra cost.

In a whole different industry, scuba divers travel on chartered, live-aboard dive boats on which mixed singles sometimes are roomed together. That’s all well and good, since on some boats you are, rather, all bunking in together, but on one occasion (out of about 100 dive trips), in the Bahamas in 1997, my roommate ended up, by the luck of the draw, being a lady who resembled Marilyn Monroe somewhat.

We both said the same thing: “This is okay. All I came here for is to dive.”

My trusting wife and I had a good laugh about that when I returned home!

Harry Pearson
Cape Canaveral, FL