The Daily Telegraph - Travel

The expert view


Ireceived an email recently from a particular­ly irate reader, asking if I could “kick the proverbial backside” of hotels and tour operators (and also, no doubt, cruise companies) that impose “horrendous” surcharges on single travellers.

It’s a common grievance, and it’s easy to understand: supplement­s can increase the cost of a holiday on your own by hundreds of pounds over what couples have to pay for each person. It feels like discrimina­tion, or profiteeri­ng.

As it happens, last Tuesday I was meeting a tour operator, Steppes, that has a lot of single customers on its escorted tours which are mostly to long-haul destinatio­ns, so I decided to raise the issue.

I should say that, although I sympathise with the frustratio­n of so many readers, I can see both sides of the argument. It’s important to understand the root of the problem. One of my correspond­ent’s objections to being charged a supplement for her hotel stay was that “the bedding would have to be changed after my departure irrespecti­ve of whether a single person or a couple has slept there… so why are singletons charged extra for utilising a double room?”

The point is that hotels generally charge per room, whereas holidays are priced per person. So two sharing pay only half price each. It’s not that different from other areas of life: we don’t expect a taxi driver to charge half fare if only one person is in the cab, or an opera house to give us a box for the price of a seat.

The suspicion remains, however, that tour operators tend to pass on more cost than is justified. Steppes absolutely denied this, pointing out that if a supplement came to more than the additional cost of the room, there could be other good reasons for it.

For example, an operator with only a limited allocation of rooms in a hotel still has to spread the fixed costs of the tour over all participan­ts. If the rooms aren’t used to capacity, those costs are spread over fewer people.

Steppes also stressed that it was acutely aware of the problem for solo travellers, did its best to minimise supplement­s, offered to try to arrange room shares where appropriat­e and was also about to launch new supplement-free incentives for early bookers.

Overall, Steppes is probably among the good guys here. I personally think that hotels are the root of the problem. They could do much more to incentivis­e solo travellers, especially in “shoulder season” when they are half empty. After all, singletons represent good business. They tend not to travel during school holidays, and so will often be staying at quieter times, occupying a room that would otherwise be empty and not producing any revenue at all.

Hotels have sophistica­ted booking systems and can easily predict the periods when they will have spare capacity. They could make much more of an effort to attract singles to fill them.

where I was examined by a doctor. He said the only way he could guarantee I was fit to fly was for me to have a CAT scan.

While I was being examined, the hospital tried to telephone my insurance company, Allianz Global Assistance, but was unable to get through. After the doctor had looked at the CAT scan images, he gave me a letter stating I was fit to fly, plus a printed copy of the scan results. I was presented with a bill for US$1,388 (£990), which I paid on my debit card. Fortunatel­y, I managed to catch my flight home.

On my return, I filled in a claim form and submitted copies of the hospital paperwork to Allianz Global Assistance. A claims manager telephoned to say that I needed more detailed paperwork from the hospital to support my claim. After trying to telephone the hospital (I kept getting its automated answerphon­e), I sent a recorded delivery letter on December 9 asking for a more detailed invoice.

In March, I got in touch with Allianz again to say that I had been unsuccessf­ul in obtaining further paperwork. The agent said that without the proper documentat­ion my claim would be refused. What should I do next? MARGARET ROACH

AAllianz’s claims team told Mrs Roach that most US hospitals use a particular kind of itemised invoice which states what the patient’s medical problem was, what treatment was given and the cost of each item.

However, emergency department­s do not always give detailed paperwork and once you have paid the final bill, it can be hard to get administra­tion staff to revisit the case.

I contacted Allianz to say that surely there must be some leeway in a case such as this. Mrs Roach had a radiology report of her head scan signed by a doctor and the “Exitcare Patient Informatio­n” – on the hospital’s headed notepaper – had a handwritte­n note from the attending doctor saying: “Patient seen and evaluated in emergency department today. Patient is medically stable to fly. She spent a large portion of today in emergency. Please make every accommodat­ion for her return flight.”

Allianz said that it had never declined Mrs Roach’s claim, but that it had wanted more evidence, namely the medical reports showing a diagnosis, an itemised invoice, the holiday booking invoice and a copy of Mrs Roach’s bank statement to confirm the sterling equivalent of the amount paid to the hospital. It said the hospital had contacted the insurer’s travel claims team instead of the 24-hour medical assistance hotline, which was why there was no response out of hours.

The company has now accepted there is sufficient proof of her visit to the emergency department and has agreed to settle in full.

Questions should be sent by email to asktheexpe­rts@ Please provide your name and nearest town and, if your query is about a dispute with a travel company, your full address, daytime telephone number and any booking reference. We regret that we cannot answer postal or telephone queries.

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