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Are all-inclusive resorts the best way to go?

SmarterTravel

They claim to save you time, and most importantly, money, but are all-inclusive resorts really the way to go when planning a vacation?

They come in all shapes and sizes. Some include airfare and hotel. Some include airfare, hotel, transfers, and some meals. Others include all meals and activities, but not airfare. With so many variations, how do you know you’re really getting your money’s worth?

Certain types of travelers benefit from all-inclusive resorts as opposed to other vacation options, particularly those who want to set a budget and stick to it. With all-inclusives, the price you pay up front is usually the complete cost of your vacation. There are no hidden fees and you don’t even have to worry about tipping. Quite literally, you could leave your wallet at home and still live like a king.

And even if penny-pinching isn’t on your agenda, this type of worry-free spending has a certain appeal. After all, you’re on vacation and you shouldn’t have to think about anything stressful, least of all money.

Others who benefit from all-inclusives are people who like to be/stay/get busy. In addition to accommodations and meals, all-inclusive resorts more often than not include a slew of activities. And if you’re not going to take advantage of them, this vacation option might not be worth it.

Read the fine print of your package and find out what’s included. If you’re paying for unlimited scuba diving (an activity quite pricey on its own), take advantage of it—you’re paying for it anyway. The same goes for food and drink. Don’t book an all-inclusive if you’re not planning on eating or drinking your way through the week. If all-you-can-eat buffets and top-shelf liquors are key to a good time, make sure your package includes them. If not, they can increase the price considerably.

Finding the best all-inclusive deals

So where do you look for all-inclusive packages? All-inclusive chains like Sandals, SuperClubs, Couples, and Club Med offer their own packages, but most are land-based (some include the option of air for an extra cost). Online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz offer these same deals, but with air travel incorporated into the price. Booking through one of these online agencies is easy, convenient, and often times not much more expensive than booking the air and hotel elements individually.

Choosing your resort

There seems to be a limitless array of all-inclusive resorts; so while booking may be easy, deciding which is best suited for your needs can be bewildering. All seem to offer quality accommodations, endless activities, and great food. But there are differences.

In general, vacationers looking for quality-time together and romance will want to consider Sandals or Couples. Families will be interested in Beaches or Breezes, while fun-seeking singles can party ’till dawn at Hedonism and certain Club Med properties. Club Med offers the most variety, with resorts that also cater to couples and families.

The biggest question is: Which resort provides the best value and offers what you need? The following chart compares five Caribbean properties, and should give you an idea of the differences in amenities and inclusions. The second chart shows you the cost breakdown.

What’s Included Sandals Montego Bay Hedonism III Breezes Puerto Plata Couples Negril Club Med Turkoise
All meals, snacks, gourmet dining yes yes yes yes yes
Top shelf liquors yes yes yes yes yes
Water and land sports yes yes scuba extra yes scuba extra
Exchange privileges yes no no off-site excursions no
Accommodations yes yes yes yes yes
Airport transfers, taxes, and gratuities yes yes transfers extra yes transfers extra
Hurricane guarantee yes yes yes no no
Air-inclusive option no yes yes no yes
Cost Analysis Sandals Montego Bay Hedonism III Breezes Puerto Plata Couples Negril Club Med Turkoise
Cost per person per night* $156 $140 $91 $170 $180
Cost per night $312 $280 $182 $340 $360
Total cost (land only) $2,184 $1,960 $1,277 $2,380 $2,520 (plus $55 per person Club Med membership)

*The per-person charges are shown to demonstrate relative affordability. Actual prices are based on double occupancy, and single supplement charges often apply to those staying alone.

Looking at these charts, it’s obvious which resort is the least expensive of the bunch (Breezes), and which is the priciest (Club Med). However, consider what you’re getting—or not getting—for your money. Breezes does not include scuba diving or transfers, which, when paid for separately, will bring up the total cost. Then again, if neither of these options interest you, their absence won’t bother you or your wallet.

On the other end of the spectrum is Club Med. Its price tag is highest, yet it still doesn’t include scuba diving or transfers, and you have to pay a $55 per person membership fee. Is it worth it? Maybe. Club Med is well respected and the facilities may be superior to those of other resorts. Plus, it’s important to note that its food/beverage all-inclusive option is brand new, meaning some of the kinks might still need to be ironed out. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see costs drop to maintain a competitive edge in the market.

Another way to look at this information is to compare it to a pay-as-you-go resort of similar quality. Seven nights for two people at the Coyaba Beach Resort Club in Montego Bay costs $1,330, just for accommodations. When you add in meal plans, the costs rise dramatically. Breakfast and dinner will set you back another $1,085 per person, bringing the total to $2,170, already more than most of the aforementioned all-inclusives. Activities will cost you even more.

If you’re looking to save money and have an action-packed holiday, an all-inclusive is the way to go. Á la carte vacationing is generally only economical if you’re very particular about what you spend your money on, or like to explore. Most all-inclusives don’t allow you to experience much outside the confines of the resort.

Here are a few final things to keep in mind before booking your vacation:

  • Price is often relative to quality. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. However, sometimes it’s possible to get an amazing—and legitimate—deal, as long as you’re looking in the right places.

  • Look for deals. For example, both Couples and SuperClubs offer “surprise” packages. In exchange for deep savings, you waive your rights to choosing the resort you’ll be staying at. This is a good way to save if you’re not picky. Check their websites for details.

  • Jump in feet first. In other words, know what you’re getting into. Check to see what’s included in the price, so you don’t incur any additional costs that you’re not prepared to pay for.

  • Don’t go for the filet mignon if you really just want the hot dogs. There’s no point in paying for things you won’t use or do, so take that into consideration when evaluating packages.

  • Always have a way out. Ask about cancellation policies, and look into travel insurance, especially if you are booking through an online agency.

Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. It’s vacation—and you’ve earned it.

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