You would think that in 21st century America, where about 22 million kids or about a quarter of all families live in single-parent households, the travel industry would have woken up and capitalized on this huge market. And yet what do single parents stumble upon when they try to book a vacation with their kids? Promotions in which kids eat and stay for free only with two adults paying full price. A "single supplement" surcharge for most rooms, cruises and tours can eat up to 40% of the actual cost of the vacation, according to travel expert (and mother of two) Pauline Frommer, who says the surcharges are "impossible to argue your way out of."
"A handful of major players like Club Med, Adventures by Disney tours and Marriott hotels in Hawaii do not charge a single-supplement fee if a single adult is sharing a room with one or more kids, but these are more the exception than the rule," says Eileen Ogintz, a syndicated travel columnist (and mother of three) who oversees the website Taking the Kids.
But as the travel industry continues to feel the squeeze of the global economic slowdown, a few more resorts are finally paying attention to the unique trials and tribulations of single parents. Palace Resorts, which has a dozen properties in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, is promoting a free stay-and-eat package for up to two kids ages 12 and under even if they're sharing a room with a single adult; the offer is good through Aug. 31. Occidental Hotels & Resorts has a similar deal through Dec. 17 at its 14 all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean and Costa Rica.
The best deal of all, however, may be from Competitor Beaches Resorts. Not only do single parents get their single-supplement fee waived (up to $190 a night) until Oct. 31, but the company's four all-inclusive, family-focused properties in the Caribbean are also organizing single-parent receptions and cocktail hours.
"Traditional double-parent vacations are structured to get rid of the kids so the parents can have couple time," says Brenda Elwell, author of The Single Parent Travel Handbook and a mother of two. "The single parent always winds up as the odd man out."
That's why, in 2000, Elwell opened Single Parent Travel, the first and perhaps only travel agency in the U.S. catering to this demographic. The Maryland-based company organizes about 10 trips a year so that single parents with kids can meet similarly situated families on cruises to Bermuda, dude ranches in the western U.S., tours of Harry Potter sites in England, etc. Groups range from six to 75 families depending on the trip, and the agency helps travelers connect with one another before and after each trip a vital link to this often isolated subgroup of travelers.
And who knows? Maybe at these gatherings, travelers will find that special someone to help avoid a future single-supplement surcharge. Stranger things have happened to families on vacation.