It's that time of year when our minds turn to the summer holidays. After all, we all deserve a break, right? Unless, it seems, you're a single parent.
Let me explain. I've been a single parent for two years and finances, or lack thereof, have meant that my nine-year-old son and I last went on holiday together seven years ago. I appreciate a holiday is a luxury, he and I both know that, but we've missed having that break together. Thankfully, this year I'm in a position to change that.
When I started researching, I didn't really give any thought as to whether I would be penalised as a single parent when it came to booking a holiday, perhaps that's just my naïvety, but the first travel agent I visited soon gave me the 'good news'.'
I shopped around of course. I went to other travel agents to see what their 'policy' was about single parent holidays. I was now on a mission because it seemed to me to be all rather discriminatory. If I had a partner, I wouldn't have to pay for my son at all or, at the very least, it would be at a discounted rate.
I was more aware of the status quo when I visited the second, very well known, travel agent and this time it was the first question I asked:
"Do you penalise parents who book holidays with you because they're single?"
I think I took the unsuspecting agent a little by surprise but the immediate answer, of course, was a resolute no. She was also quick to inform me that they do, in fact, offer special 'single parent holidays' wherein a special rate is given because they recognise children shouldn't have to pay adult rates. What they didn't point out, until I did, was that I would then be charged a single person supplement. So that's how they recoup their 'lost' money.
We discussed how these 'special' holidays work and, according to the agent, it is up to the hotel whether they offer a discount to single parents or not, as opposed to the travel company offering a blanket single parent policy. Of course, not every hotel wants to be on board although I was advised to find out what hotels offer these special rates as soon as the brochure is published because the few places that are available go quickly.
The same issue applies to a high profile cruise company I contacted - children are always charged child prices if accompanying two adults and sharing the stateroom. Where you have a single parent, then the child pays the adult price as prices are based on double occupancy. Very rarely do they offer single rates or supplements.
I could look at the whole situation as pure economics rather than feeling that I'm being punished for being a single parent. After all, some may argue that my son takes up the same amount of space on a plane as an adult and he has a very good appetite and could (if allowed!) eat as much as an adult. However, the point is that were I travelling with a partner, none of that is taken into account - he'd be seen as the child he is. The bottom line is that I AM being penalised for being single and the fact that some travel agents are recognising that there is an issue suggests that all travel agents could and should make provisions for lone parents.
There are, of course, specialist holiday companies that cater for single parents – Single With Kids and Mango, for example, and booking your holiday direct with the hotel and airline may secure you a cheaper holiday. Gingerbread also give advice on holidaying as a single parent.
But don't hold your breath. I tried to book the holiday I wanted direct but it didn't prove fruitful and, in the end, I paid the adult price for my son and booked via a travel agent because, on this occasion, it was the same price.
As one friend said, punishing parents for being single is old-fashioned, inflexible and unfair and the sooner the travel industry recognises that, the better. Another travel agent advised a single parent friend of mine that their agency didn't provide single parent discounted holidays to long haul destinations at all because, "Single parents can't afford long haul holidays."
So you see, lone parents have a long way to go in tackling this issue with the travel industry because attitudes need to change before the prices will.
What's your experience of this?