Things to consider before booking an all-inclusive vacation

By BootsnAll | February 23rd, 2009

CancunresortThe trend toward vacation resorts calling themselves “all-inclusive” has been huge in the past few years. This demonstrates the popularity of this style of trip, but it’s also opened the door for some unscrupulous hotels and travel companies to abuse the term. Simply put, all all-inclusive resorts are not the same, and the differences between one and the one next door might be enormous. It really pays to check the offerings carefully, and read the fine print before you book. Here are some things to watch out for:

All-inclusive has many meanings

A few decades ago the major all-inclusive chains like Club Med, Sandals, and SuperClubs began drawing in travelers with a simple concept: Pay one fee up front, and then you can more or less leave your wallet at home. In most cases this fee didn’t include alcoholic beverages, but that was understandable not to charge non-drinkers extra in order to pay for the drinks for those who really drank a lot. Most of these places continue to operate this way, but at many of them they also offer “premium” activities like scuba diving or para-sailing, where an extra fee is charged.

More recently many hotels in resort areas have jumped on board using the all-inclusive name, and they might only include two meals per day at their restaurant with the room, and everything else costs extra. Generally places don’t try too hard to deceive potential guests in this way, but it is up to you to check out what exactly is offered before you book. There are many places that have service somewhere in between, so they include meals and basic activities, but they still will charge you for Jet-ski rental or sailing or anything else that is more than just a deck chair, a towel, and an evening limbo game.

Service at some all-inclusive resorts isn’t particularly attentive

Unless you are paying a premium price for a posh resort, you might actually be getting relatively poor service while you are there. Think about two resorts next to one another on the same beach, and one charges $200 per night just for the room, while the other charges $300 per night including everything. Which is more likely to provide great service in order to keep you buying things at their restaurants, bars, and activity centers? The sad truth is that once you are there and they have your money, there is little incentive for these resorts to hire scores of super-efficient employees making sure the lines are short and the people are happy. The ones that want repeat business (and that’s many of them) will go out of their way, but some of the cheaper resorts will do as little as they can to meet their obligation to guests. It’s a great idea to ask for referrals from friends and also read reviews of previous guests.

They aren’t necessarily cheaper

Sure, the idea of paying one price for everything has a lot of appeal, but in reality it’s definitely possible to book things a la carte spending even less money. If you get a low season deal you might be saving quite a bit of money, but it’s still a good idea to check prices at one or more normal resort hotels in the area, because they’ll often have specials of their own.

Your activity options are locked in

This is actually a huge benefit for many people, because the thought of studying a travel guide or scanning endless websites to find out what you’ll do once you get there is not fun for some. But still it’s something to consider that once you are locked in at an all-inclusive resort you’ll have little time or chance for spontaneity. You are paying for their pools, beach chairs, sailing lessons, and all-night parties, so if you decide to explore the area outside the compound then you’ll be paying twice, in a way.

Many resorts badger guests with timeshare presentations

Even some of the nicer and more famous all-inclusive resorts have fallen into this trap. They typically won’t involve guests directly, but they do receive a hefty commission if any of their guests actually sign up for one of these notoriously terrible ideas. We’ve heard people complain about this in many different areas and from many different companies, so just be forewarned that you might be pushed into a vacation home presentation, and often these salespeople and their helpers are relentless.

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