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August 11, 2008



Your creative suggestions are, alas, absurd. The inescapable facts are
(1) that two really can travel more cheaply than one; and (2) that most
customers of packaged travel companies travel in pairs or groups.

A room costs a hotel the same (and must generate the same revenue) whether one
person occupies it or two; so it will necessarily cost you more
(typically twice as much) if you want it to yourself rather than sharing
it. Any packaged travel operator thus has no choice but to charge some
sort of premium for single occupancy. Unless they're specifically
marketing packages for single and solo customers, it would make no
business sense to alienate the majority of their customers with any sort
of tricky reversal of the normal "per person double occupancy" pricing.

If you want to save money traveling alone independently, the only real
way is to choose a less expensive hotel. But with packaged travel, we
can realistically ask for two options.

The first option is to charge a fair and reasonable supplement that
passes on only the extra cost of one person occupying a room and nothing
more, perhaps 25% or 30%. That's different from the practice of some
companies (most notably cruise lines) that charge singles the full price
(or sometimes more) for two people, amounting to a penalty rather than a
supplement. That does more than pass on the added cost of single
occupancy; it gouges singles for all the presumed profit from the
extra-cost items a missing roommate would buy. Since there are travel
companies that do charge a fair and reasonable supplement rather than a
double-priced penalty, we can reasonably assume that the ones that do
charge the penalty really don't want single customers.

That's presumably because they can fill their coaches or ships with couples, families, and groups, so they don't want to bother with singletons. To them I can only
say (as bowdlerized for family viewing), "You can go practice the procreative act upon yourselves!"

The other realistic option is to quote prices up front for both "per
person double occupancy" and "single occupancy." For the reasons I
previously stated, the latter will unavoidably be higher. But as long as
the difference amounts only to their added cost of single occupancy,
without punitive profit or speculative gouging, then it's fair and
reasonable. And even if the "single occupancy" price is the same as the
"double plus supplement," the fact that they welcome singles by not
asking them to do their own arithmetic makes such products a good choice
for singles. A company that markets holidays specifically for singles
(as a few do in Britain) would price their products only as "single
occupancy," which presumably would factor in the added cost of one
person occupying a room that accommodates two.

The common denominator here is that companies would welcome single and
solo customers by being up front and honest, and specifically by not
gouging or deterring them with punitive "supplements." I think that's
all we can ask from tour packagers today. Things may change if hotels
decide to cater to the burgeoning single demographic by building single
rooms that they rent for half the rate of double rooms.

That's always possible, as is a tour packager negotiating in volume for single-occupancy accommodations to reduce that extra cost.

Finally, it's good to read your article, which I missed when it came out
a few months ago. Did you receive any response that indicates any travel
executives who might be able to change things actually read it? I'm also
completely surprised to find out that I moved to San Francisco. But I'm
very disappointed at how much San Francisco resembles Los Angeles.
Ted R. Marcus
Travel and scenic photography, with irreverent commentary


Hi Ted,

Obviously, I don't believe my suggestions are "absurd" or I wouldn't have put them out there. But they are unusual...

And, you say it is an inescapable fact that two people can travel more cheaply than one. I disagree.

If I chose to go on the same organized bike trip a couple did, I'd pay exactly half what they did. Because I would accept a room share with someone else on the trip.

You later qualify your "inescapable" statement by saying that's if you want a room for yourself. Not everyone cares. Many people appreciate a company's offer of a roommate to lower their costs. Of course, many don't. But for those who don't care, one can travel as cheaply as two.

As for the cruise issue, I agree, cruises gouge singletons because the cruise lines need as many people on their boats as possible to pay port taxes and buy goods they hawk on board. And to gamble. That's where their profits come from.

On your point of fair versus punitive single supplements, how do you determine whether companies charge one versus the other? How do you know when to get pissed off?

You could ask the tour company if they've added a profit for themselves to the single supplement. Maybe you'd get a straight answer, maybe you wouldn't.
Then, the only way to find out would be to call each hotel, get their rates and add them up to see if it matches the single supplement you're paying. Not going to happen. So, I repeat, how do you know when to get mad?

As to my suggestion of smoothing out prices for solo travelers... I know it sounds a little, shall we say, unusual. But couples sign up with tour companies because of the services they provide. Experience with routes. All the planning and booking. Perhaps some luggage carrying and transportation between places.

If those couples like the price offered, they'll pay it. If they don't, they won't. If the company does some balancing of hotel rates so it's more equitable all around, I'm not sure it would have that much of an impact.


The fact that you're accepting a room share merely emphasizes the point that two can travel more cheaply than one. You're traveling as half of a double occupancy couple, except you're letting the tour operator provide you with the other half instead of bringing someone you know. It's the travel industry's only available exception to the Immutable Law of Double-Occupancy. If you weren't willing to let the tour operator remedy your violation of the Law, you'd be paying more to travel as one than everyone else pays to travel as two.

If you're able to enjoy a trip that involves sharing accommodations with an unknown total stranger, good for you! It greatly broadens your options, and also affords you the opportunity to meet new friends who might be great future travel companions. Since my experiences with assigned roommates have been uniformly miserable, there's no way I'd be willing to accept the risk of having my vacation ruined or diminished by roommate difficulties. I'll agree 100% with Martha Miller.

As for knowing when to get pissed off about a single "supplement," I listen to my bladder. Over the years it has developed these completely arbitrary criteria for what is fair and what is punitive:

30% or less = A fair and reasonable supplement. Now where do I sign up?
50% = Make a trip to the men's room before deciding if the bottom line is worth the price.
75% or more = Call a urologist! And then throw the brochure in the recycle bin, since the penalty clearly shows they don't want my business!

In practice, this actually varies. If it's a cruise, a 75% penalty is somewhat of a bargain. A 50% supplement is probably a good deal (which likely indicates desperation).

As for the "smoothing out" of prices, it's not just couples who judge a tour operator by the service they provide. But price also matters. I think a company that deviates from the standard "PPDO" pricing will be at a severe competitive disadvantage for the overwhelming majority of its customers who travel in pairs, families, and groups-- unless they're a niche operator that markets specifically to singles. On the other hand, it would be nice to give "normal" customers who travel as couples a taste of what singles routinely have to deal with.


Okay, Ted,

I'm going to agree to disagree on the technicalities of traveling as cheaply. Although it's always fun to keep arguing. Anyone else want to chime in?

And your percentages for determining fair single supplements make sense.

But I will continue to theorize about why smoothing out prices might work. No two companies run the same exact trips or get the same exact deals, I presume. And they don't all charge the same price for similar trips.

So why couldn't a company wheel and deal with hotel owners on price but use whatever discounts it gets to do the smoothing out I'm talking about? Instead of discounting by room, discount by person. So, perhaps, couples would pay what a normal room costs and $100 discount per room over the course of the week, say, goes to solos who otherwise would pay double for lodging?

I don't think it necessarily would make a trip discernibly more expensive than another company's trip to the same area. When I've comparison shopped, I've been willing to pay a few hundred dollars more to go to a particular sight or area that was included on one trip but not another. Or to go with a particular company because I knew it was reliable or because I'd been with them before.

These are random thoughts on the possibilities. I don't know how tour companies do their pricing. But at some point soon, I'm going to call a few and see what their arguments (presumably against) would be.
Stay tuned. But no deadlines, please!

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