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Solo travel: Getting better

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

I once called true solo travel the Rodney Dangerfield of travel: It “got no respect” from the industry. Solo travelers were told to follow the “Noah’s Ark” formula: If you don’t want to pay an outrageous single supplement, pair up with someone. And if you can’t find anybody to share with you, we’ll find someone. True solo travelers often had to pay as much as couples.

But that’s changing. Even the most hidebound travel execs are starting to realize that, due to demographic and social changes, increasing numbers of travelers want to travel by themselves — as many as a third of the total travel market, by some estimates. The solo gouge remains, but it’s easing a bit, depending on how you travel.

Cruises. Nowhere is the sudden awareness of solo travelers more apparent than in the cruise industry. Norwegian’s newer ships have between 59 and 128 “studio” cabins targeting solo travelers, and four Fred Olsen ships have 40 to 64 single cabins. Other lines are a bit slower to catch the trend, but two newer Royal Caribbean ships have 28 solo units, several P&O ships have 18 to 27, half of Costa’s fleet have 17, and Cunard’s Queens have nine. Typically, solo cabins are pretty small, starting at around 100 square feet. All Norwegian studios are inside but include access to a dedicated singles lounge; other lines offer few outside solo cabins. Prices tend to be more than the lowest per person double occupancy (PPDO) rates, but are less than single occupancy of a double cabin. Unfortunately, other lines continue to gouge solo travelers with “single supplements,” ranging from 25 percent to 100 percent that vary with demand. And, so far, the river cruise folks haven’t yet caught up with the solo cabin trend.

When I asked Cruise Critic editor Carolyn Spencer Brown about the best way to find solo cruise pricing, she said to contact a travel agent, either by calling an online cruise specialist or by visiting a local retail agency location. Cruise Critic also posts several solo cruising guides and forums.

Hotels. Solo hotel rates are a mixed bag. Rooms in most modern hotels and motels are designed for double to quadruple occupancy, with one queen, one king, twins and often double-queens. Rates are generally the same for single or double occupancy: in effect, a 100 percent single supplement. The main exception is in Europe, where many small and midsize hotels, with rates that typically include breakfast, often offer single rates less than double rates. Also, B&Bs and other nontraditional accommodations often offer single accommodations and single pricing.

The big online travel agencies and metasearch engines are pretty good about finding whatever solo rates may be available at hotels. But unless you’re prepared to pay the regular double price, you can forget the opaque hotel booking agencies, such as Hotwire and Priceline, which automatically default to double occupancy. You can also forget about vacation rentals. And flash sale OTAs and promotional coupon deals always price double occupancy and give you no single option.

Tours. Although most conventional tour packages are priced PPDO, a few agencies such as Singles Travel International list a small number of solo-accommodations tours, and many others tout low single supplements. But most tour operators still pitch “we’ll find you a roommate” rather than true solo tours.

Airlines and railroads. Common carriers are generally good to solo travelers. They price almost all ordinary tickets on an individual basis. Even so, you find a few concessions to couples. Some European rail passes sell “saver” versions at reduced per-person prices to couples who travel together on all trips. And airlines occasionally offer “free companion” fare promotions, although the fine print may require you to buy the first ticket at a higher price than the cheapest available ticket.

Rental Cars. By their nature rental cars entail stiff single supplements. That’s not going to change: Solo travelers who rent cars pay as much as a family of four.

A quick Google search returns many tour companies catering to solo travelers and solo travel blogs. If you prefer to travel solo, you have more options than ever.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)

Tribune Content Agency — June 14, 2016

(c) 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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