This blog post comes under the category of ‘user experience’, and has nothing to do with technical communication!
It’s about my experience with the apparent price gouging of the ‘single supplement’, so beloved by travel companies, cruise ships, package tours, and the like.
First, some background. I’m traveling to the US next year for the WritersUA Conference in California. One of my leisure activities is quilting and making things in fabric, and one of the digital magazines I read is one that focuses on quilters, quilting and travel packages associated with quilting — things like quilting tours to France, Bali, Japan, Africa and quilting cruises in the Caribbean etc. One of the 7-day Caribbean cruises took my eye — it locks in well with the time I need to be in the US for the conference, and although it would mean extra flights and costs to get to and from Miami, the deal looked pretty good… until I asked some questions.
The advertised deal was ‘from $898 per person based on double’, which included:
- Accommodations on board the ship
- Port charges & taxes
- Meals & entertainment
- Cocktail Party
- [company] tote bag & gifts
- Quilting Classes (not including kit prices)
- Show & Tell
- Sit n’ Stitch (of the seven days, three are ‘at sea’ days when we sew, and four were in various ports doing the touristy thing)
- Book Signing
Reading closer, the ‘from $898′ price was for an Inside Cabin; the prices were $1048.00 for a Window Cabin and $1248.00 for a Balcony Cabin.
I read the terms and conditions and saw that:
If you are a single traveler who has asked [company] to assist in finding another single person to travel with you, all responsibility for this arrangement will be between you and the person you are making the arrangements with. [Company] assumes no responsibility for this arrangement whatsoever.
Furthermore, should this roommate cancel from the trip, you will be responsible for paying the single occupancy rate of the tour, should final payment date is past. If you cancel off your trip after the final payment date because your roommate cancels off, you will be penalized 100% of the tour/cruise cost.
Hmmm… So they do matching of travelers if you ask, or there’s a single supplement if you don’t want to share. And it’s not clear whether you’d be liable for your costs PLUS your prospective roommate’s costs in the event of cancellation. No matter — I was nowhere near asking those questions yet.
I wanted to know about the single supplement price, so I contacted the company. They replied very promptly with this:
The single supplement rate varies depending on the size cabin you are interested in. The inside cabins are $898 plus the single supp. rate of $1298, Window cabins are $1048 plus single supp. $1548, and the balcony cabins are $1248 plus single supp. $2008.
I asked for clarification — did that mean that an Inside cabin was $1298 OR was it $2196 ($898 + $1298)? Was a Window cabin $1548 OR $2596 ($1048 + $1548)? and was a Balcony cabin $2008 OR $3256 ($1248 + $2008)?
Guess what the answer was… Yep, the prices for a person traveling alone on this trip were:
- Inside Cabin: $2196
- Window Cabin: $2596
- Balcony Cabin: $3256
Talk about making me think twice! What seemed a good deal at around $1000 for 7 days cruising the Caribbean and getting some sewing tuition as well, suddenly didn’t look nearly so attractive at $2200 plus (don’t forget, I’ve got airfares from Australia and from Los Angeles, plus extra accommodation to cover as well).
So, I got to thinking about this single supplement thing a bit more and started to look at where the travel company/cruise line could justify this extra cost. And I didn’t come up with anything! Here are some of my assumptions:
- Laundry costs: One person in a room with two beds will create less laundry than two people sharing that room — less bed linen to launder, less bath linen to launder, therefore less cost to the cruise line.
- Housekeeping: The costs of cleaning a cabin would be the same whether there’s one person in a room or two. Actually, the cost in time may be a tad less because there’s only one bed to make and one set of linen to collect.
- Food and drink: One person will eat less than two people, so food costs for the cruise company are less.
- Use of facilities: One person less means more facilities available for others to use.
- Tuition: The price per person includes the tuition, so whether there’s one person or two, there should be no difference.
There’s nothing I could think of that would justify a price premium of nearly 250% of the per person price of someone who shares a room!
Most hotels charge a ‘per room’ rate, but it seems cruise ships are still charging a per person rate, then whacking on unbelievably hefty penalties for you to travel by yourself — even though the cost of looking after you is less than it is for two people!
Had the single supplement been equivalent to the total of two people sharing a room (i.e. $1796 total for the inside cabin), that still wouldn’t have been fair as the price includes the class fee etc. and only one person would be availing themselves of that. But to add on a further $400 to the price for two people sharing a room, thus taking the single person price to $2196 for an Inside cabin is just WAY too much (and it’s $500 on top of the 2-person price for a Window cabin and $800 on top of the 2-person price for a Balcony!).
And it smacks of price gouging to me.
Instead of the company and the cruise line getting my business, they’ve priced themselves out of the market. I won’t get to experience a Caribbean cruise (I’ve never been to the Caribbean or on a cruise before), the cruise company and the quilting travel company don’t get a customer, and I’m unlikely to travel on ANY cruise ship in the future. They’ve all just lost a potential customer for the next 20 to 30 years. This was to be my first experiment with a cruise, and if it was a good experience, it was one I was willing to repeat many more times in my retirement.
Can anyone offer a valid argument as to why the price for a single traveler has to be so high?
Update December 2010: I saw a quilting travel company advertisement in another magazine, so I figured I’d ask them about their single supplement prices to see if this price gouging is across the cruise industry/travel company industry. Here’s the information I got back:
- Interior cabin: $995 per person twin share (single occupancy: $1490)
- Ocean view: $1095 ($1690))
- Balcony: $1295 ($2090)
So there are companies that don’t charge more than double for a single supplement. These prices looked far more reasonable to me. And if you do take a non-sewing companion, the company refunds them $250 for the cost of the quilting courses. This means you can take your spouse or a friend who just wants to come along for the cruise.
Update August 2012: <sigh> I checked out another quilting travel company’s Caribbean cruise for March 2013. This time the single rate was DOUBLE or close enough to double.