In the travel business these days, privacy isn't cheap.
While new hotels keep opening and cruise ships keep coming on line, the situation for solo travelers remains the same. And though traveling alone definitely has its benefits, price isn't one of them.
Here's the problem: The price of most hotel rooms and cruise-ship cabins is still based on double occupancy, or two people sharing the same accommodation. Rooms are set up to house two people. The sales philosophy behind this is simple: Two people in a room means more income for management than one person.
As a result, to make up for the possible lost revenue, solo travelers are often forced to pay a hefty premium, called a single supplement, to get a room or cabin by themselves.
On Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises' 10-day sailings from Acapulco through the Panama Canal, the double-occupancy price of an outside cabin is $6,800 ($3,400 per passenger). For a solo traveler occupying the same cabin, the cost is $5,440 or 80% of the double-occupancy fare.
Princess Cruises, also based in Los Angeles, said that its single-supplement policy depends on the cabin category and destination, but usually amounts to about 60% of the double-occupancy rate. For example, an inside cabin on a seven-day round-trip cruise from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera is $2,390 double ($1,195 per passenger). Single-supplement price for the same stateroom is $1,493 or 62%.
Room prices for singles at hotels tend to vary more than on cruise ships. At the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix, Ariz., a standard double room costs $175 per night (technically, $87.50 per person). The single rate is $150, about 85% of the double rate. Hardly a break.
At the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort in Tucson, Ariz., a single room costs $100, just $10 less than the standard double rate of $110.
So single travelers continue to get victimized where it hurts most, the pocketbook. Right? Not so, insist some travel industry officials, who contend that the single rate amounts to a discount for the single traveler, rather than an inflated charge.
"If a hotel expects to get $200 for a room on a double-occupancy basis, and they offer it to one person at $150, that's a discount since the hotel is getting $50 less than what they could get," said Steven Trombetti, a spokesman for the American Hotel & Motel Assn. "The rooms are built and furnished for double occupancy, down to the towels and linen."
According to Trombetti, the single-supplement practice, at least for domestic hotels, is not likely to change in the near future.
"In the United States, new hotels still design rooms for double occupancy," he said. "We're more space-conscious. Americans equate spaciousness with comfort. They don't want tiny rooms."
The same philosophy exists in the cruise industry.
"Most of the new cruise ships still have cabins designed for double occupancy, and single passengers still face a single supplement," said June Seeley of Cruise Pro, a Westlake Village travel agency specializing in cruises.
The good news is that single travelers need not feel totally helpless. Some cruise lines and tour operators do try to assist singles, usually at no extra charge, in finding roommates to avoid the single-supplement charge. Most important considerations in matching up roommates are gender, age and smoker/nonsmoker status. Be careful to distinguish between an operator or agent's guarantee that you won't be assessed any last-minute single-supplement charges if a roommate can't be found, and simply a promise to try .
Read brochures carefully to determine what the single-supplement policy is for any tour package or cruise you may be considering. Find out, for example, at what point you are obligated to pay for a single room if you change your mind before departure and decide to share a room. And if you do plan to share a room or cabin, you should know in advance what happens if your roommate-to-be changes his or her mind prior to departure and the tour operator/cruise line can't find a replacement.
Other questions to consider: What if, after departure, your roommate doesn't continue on the tour/cruise for one reason or another? Are you obligated to pay for a single supplement even though it may not be your fault that you are without a roommate? Will you be shifted to a lesser accommodation?
Some tour operators and consultants specialize in travel for singles.
"We create tours for singles anywhere in the world, working on our own or in association with another tour operator," said John La Point of Travelin' Singles in Bellflower. "Members share rooms and thus avoid paying the single supplement."
For an annual subscription fee of $15, Travelin' Singles offers updated mailings. Subscribers receive a $20 credit toward purchase of their first trip through Travelin' Singles. Among destinations are the Mexican Riviera, Austria/Germany and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. For more information, call (213) 920-9009.