7 tips for picking an all-inclusive resort
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Resorts bundle lodging and all the amenities
All-inclusive resorts offer a worry-free vacation. Once you arrive at the property, you can ditch your wallet and focus on relaxation, dining and activities. It’s a lot like a cruise ship, but on land.
All-inclusive resorts typically bundle everything into one price: lodging, meals, snacks, on-site activities such as tennis and water sports, and extras such as beach chairs or beach towels that add up at a la carte hotels.
“There’s wide range of brands,” says Scott Jones, owner of travel website EZTravelPad.com. “And some are going to include much more than others.”
For example, he says, some all-inclusive resorts roll out an expansive buffet, some resorts offer five or six upscale-to-casual restaurant choices with a variety of cuisines, and others may have just two restaurants serving mediocre food.
Finding a deal at a great all-inclusive resort can be a little complicated, unless you’re dedicated. Here’s a guide to finding the best all-inclusive vacation deals for an upcoming trip.
Pick the right time
You’ll find better deals when the kids are in school. Prices are lower with less competition. However, expect top prices during peak seasons. When winter lowers a blanket over the northern U.S. and Canada, the populations flock to resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.
“Our favorite time for the Caribbean resorts is that gap between Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas,” says Pablo Solomon, an artist and frequent all-inclusive resort vacationer who lives north of Austin, Texas. “A good time to go to resorts in Europe is the week following our Labor Day. You can often get savings of over 60 percent if everything stacks up.”
Great tip: Some of the lowest prices are during the short window between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Jones says. “People (go) shopping, and parties are on their minds. It’s a really good time to be away.”
Where are the best bargains?
For right-priced, all-inclusive resort deals, look into three hot countries: Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, says Becky Veith, a travel agent at Becky Veith Travel in Erie, Pa. Competition keeps prices low in these three countries with many resorts from which to choose.
Further afield, look for bargains in Roatan, an island off Honduras, and resorts in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, says Tim Leffel, editor of the Perceptive Travel website.
Great tip: Veith suggests researching all-inclusive resort deals in Mexico’s Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Both benefit from frequent U.S. and charter flights. Charter airlines take vacationers directly from their city to popular destinations’ airports.
Book your trip early
Book your all-inclusive resort trip as early as possible, unless you’re seeking a last-minute deal. Jones of EZTravelPad.com says pick your getaway 11 months in advance, then closely follow rates at the property or destination, ready to pounce on a sale as soon as it’s announced. Impromptu trips can offer affordable all-inclusive options, but much like at a department store, “You might get things that didn’t sell to begin with,” Jones says.
Great tip: You can pick up great steals if you don’t care where you’re going or where you stay. Some resorts offer unsold room inventory to flexible travelers, Jones says.
Bring your own savings
Read the fine print on gratuities, liquor, transfers and extras (phone, Internet) at your intended all-inclusive resort before going, Jones says. Some resorts don’t allow employees to accept gratuities but aren’t strict about it. You’ll be expected to slip $5 to the bartender on the sly.
At other resorts, it’s taken so seriously that staff may be fired for accepting tips.
In addition, all alcohol is included as part of the day rate at some resorts, but you may only find local, inexpensive wine and beer available, while better liquor is more expensive. At other resorts, alcohol isn’t included.
Great tip: Choose a resort based on good service and quality rather than trying to save a few bucks on the front end, Jones says. You may be surprised by Internet fees, high transportation costs to and from the airport, tips, and alcohol expenditures.
Just right for a family gathering?
The all-inclusive resort market is a no-brainer for larger family get-togethers, with activities for all ages and child care for younger children.
“Kids can eat all they want and hit the ice cream bar 50 times, and your obnoxious son-in-law can drink as much as he wants,” Veith says. But compare resort options. One resort’s idea of “child care” may be plunking children in front of the television, while others teach kids how to kayak.
Great tip: Look for an all-inclusive resort where child care is included or one that offers cool extras. For example, Club Med offers trapeze lessons to children, and Beaches Resorts rolls out “Sesame Street” characters, much to the delight of traveling toddlers. However, watch for occupancy rules. Some hotels say that no more than four vacationers can stay in a room, which can be challenging for three-kid families.
Learn what activities are on site
Active vacationers get the best deal out of resorts if they plan carefully. Many resorts include on-site classes and activities — salsa dancing and water aerobics, for example — but charge extra for off-site excursions such as snorkeling.
Compare brands and destinations to make sure you’re getting the deal that’s right for you, Veith says. “If you choose not to participate, it’s not a good value,” she says. In particular, honeymooners love all-inclusives, she says.
Great tip: All-inclusive resorts are value-friendly options for travelers who enjoy three meals a day, like being active and enjoy having many options from which to choose. Picky foodies, light eaters, wine connoisseurs and those who want to just lay around on vacation may want to purchase a la carte vacation options — hotel, meals and activities — separately.
Check for package deals
Some sites bundle airfare, transfers and the all-inclusive resort stay into a package deal.
“Make sure the flights, layovers and connections aren’t too much of a hassle, especially if traveling with kids,” says Hilary Stockton, CEO and founder of TravelSort.com, a luxury and boutique hotel website. “You may be better off booking more convenient flights yourself and using miles for award tickets.”
Great tip: Put on your smart-consumer hat when browsing online for all-inclusive resort deals. Large travel sites can offer discounted packages, but watch for surprise inconveniences, fees or expenses when it’s time to give your credit card number when booking reservations. A travel agent can sometimes save time and money.