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Are All-Inclusive Hotels Actually a Good Deal? Here’s What Travel Experts Say

There’s something very appealing about planning a no-planning vacation either in the United States or abroad.

No need to shop around for the best price on a rental car or check on whether there’s public transportation to get you from the airport to your hotel. No need to figure out where to stay in a city you’ve never been to, a place that’s close to the beach or near the ski slopes or another place you want to spend a week. No need to worry that the cost of kayak rental or lift tickets or activities for the kids or seven breakfasts, seven lunches and seven dinners will bust your budget. When a hotel is all-inclusive, all of that typically is included in the rate you’re quoted.

But is an all-inclusive vacation right for you? Read on to find out.

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What Is An All-Inclusive Hotel?

An all-inclusive hotel is just what the name applies — a place to stay where your lodging, meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, activities and entertainment are included in the price you pay. At some locations, the fee takes care of things such as airfare, round-trip airport transfers and childcare, too.

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Many of the hotels have a resort feel and are set in areas that attract visitors for their natural beauty and amenities — think beaches where you lounge by the water with a fruity cocktail or mountains where you can ski by day and enjoy hot beverages and warm cookies at night. Looking for an all-inclusive dude ranch or spa? You’ll find that, too.

Some all-inclusive properties cater to adults only, but kids will have tons of fun at locations that offer activities for all ages.

Is An All-Inclusive Hotel Right for You?

Whether you’re a good candidate for an all-inclusive hotel depends on the type of experience you’re seeking. Are you content to stay in one spot and not browse nearby towns to soak in the local color? Do you and your traveling partners eat enough at mealtime to take advantage of the price you’ll be charged for the food included in the package? Those are the first questions to ask yourself as you ponder an all-inclusive vacation.

“I only recommend staying at an all-inclusive hotel if you are going to be spending the majority of your time at the resort,” said Phil Dengler, the co-owner of The Vacationer. “Since everything is included, you should be eating, drinking and taking advantage of every amenity possible. That includes activities such as scuba diving, kayaking, snorkeling and other land and water activities. You should also use the airport transfer service if it is offered. Everything is built into the cost, so you are wasting money if you are not taking advantage of everything available.

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“If your plan is to venture away from the resort and eat and drink at off-property restaurants and bars, you should not stay at an all-inclusive hotel. Not only will you be paying for the cost of the food and drinks, but you will also have to tip the servers and bartenders. Most all-inclusive resorts prohibit tipping, so you will be wasting even more money not taking advantage of your hotel’s service.”

Kathryn Anderson, a travel writer and blogger, said she is a fan of all-inclusive resorts — for the right user.

“For someone who doesn’t drink or participate in water activities, staying at a high-end all-inclusive resort with top-tier alcohol and water sports included would be a waste of money,” she said. “Alternatively, for someone who regularly racks up a few hundred dollars in drinks with every meal, a resort that includes alcoholic beverages is going to prove very cost-effective.”

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The Financial Benefits of All-Inclusive Travel

Frequent traveler Lesley Anderson said all-inclusive locations make financial sense for many people.

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“After staying at more than 100 all-inclusive properties, I can safely say that I am a huge supporter of all-inclusive resorts, especially for families,” said Anderson, who runs Bucket List Publications and shares her travels on her Instagram page.

“Let’s look at Hard Rock Cancun as an example. The current price is $3,016 for a family of four for five nights. If you break that down, it’s $603.20 per night,” she said, “and it includes everything from activities, dining and drinks to childcare, parking and room service.

“If you compare that with the costs of staying at a 5-star hotel in Cancun like JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa, all-inclusive starts to make a lot of sense. The average price per night is $450 at JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa. Add one dinner, for a family of four, to that price and you could already be at the nightly cost for an all-inclusive.”

The extras that come with many all-inclusive resorts, such as childcare, are an added benefit for Anderson. And staying at one also cuts down on the planning.

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“Time is money. The time that you save on researching activities, dining options, childcare, parking and all of the other benefits at an all-inclusive are well worth the price tag,” she said. “At all-inclusive properties, everything is at your fingertips. You don’t need to research off-site activities, restaurants or events for your family. It’s simple and stress-free.”

Marcy Fitzpatrick, who runs the family travel website Fitz Travel Bits, said all-inclusives aren’t great for her family’s travel lifestyle; but, for a group of friends, it’s the best option.

“For adult vacations with friends, we have thoroughly enjoyed all-inclusive hotels in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica,” she said, citing the ease of planning and no worries about spitting the check.

“All-inclusive hotels are easier because you have agreed on the cost ahead of time, thus eliminating daily transactions of decisions and dividing expenses,” she said, “especially with varying budgets and levels of food and alcohol consumption.”

Questions To Ask

If you’ve determined that you and your significant other, friends or family are candidates for an all-inclusive vacation, there are questions to ask and fine print to read.

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Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, said all-inclusive packages are popular on his site but it’s crucial to know what you’re paying for.

“Keep in mind many all-inclusive plans don’t always give you access to everything. You’ll still need to make reservations and pay up for specialty gourmet meals and unique experiences,” he said. “What’s not included? Just because it’s all-inclusive does not mean you won’t have other unavoidable expenses, like transportation, specialized sports, unique tours, etc.”

And just as hotels are available in price ranges from standard to luxury, so are all-inclusive resorts. They have different levels of amenities to appeal to travelers with all sorts of budgets. Ask exactly what you’ll be getting at your price point.

“Many hotels with all-inclusive plans will upsell you for premium liquor or higher end food, such as steak, lobster, etc.,” said Alex Miller, the founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com. “While a resort may advertise things as all-inclusive, it may not actually be all-inclusive at the end of the day.”

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