This column is all about ways to save money when taking a vacation, and many regular readers have written in to ask why I haven’t discussed all-inclusive vacation packages and whether they are as good of deals as they seem. Well, here we go then, as I’ve done a lot of research in this area and can hopefully help you figure this out for your own trip.
All-inclusive hotels – What do you get?
So let’s start by first defining what we mean by all-inclusive hotels. Some people conjure up images of Club Med and Sandals, where you pay one (high) price and you literally don’t have to worry about cash until you leave. Those are still around and still popular, but there is another more common variety of all-inclusive hotel.
These others are almost all in sunny and tropical locations like the Caribbean and Mexico, and they generally only include buffet meals, soft drinks, and non-motorized water activities. You’ll usually get table tennis and board games and so forth, but they’ll never include scuba diving or paragliding or other expensive sports because if they did include them in the price they’ve have to charge each guest a small fortune, whether they’d use them or not.
Most of the cheap all-inclusive resorts you’ll find will offer extra activities at additional prices, and while some people might not be happy about that, it will actually save most people a lot of money. In fact, when you’ve got free use of a swimming pool, a beach, snorkeling equipment, and a sea kayak, you’ll probably be happy to skip the $100 4-hour diving trip.
So are they good value?
When you include airfare, as many of the better deals do, you’ll often get astonishing-sounding deals on week-long stays. For example, I’m looking at one now that promises 7 nights in Jamaica for $599 per person, including round-trip airfare. The flight is probably from New York or maybe only from Miami, and other destinations are more expensive, but still this is quite a deal.
When you price out the flight alone you are looking at about $350 round-trip, so this is like $250 per person for 7 nights in a Jamaican resort, including all meals and most activities. That’s around $80 for a couple for the room and food, so unless you are on some kind of hunger strike it’ll be hard not to get good value out of this.
Word of warning about packages
The deals like the one above do seem too good to be true, and in almost all cases they’ll mention in tiny print that the price does not include taxes and fees. In most cases the taxes might add $100 per person or so to the price, which isn’t bad for a weeklong holiday. But if you get to the checkout screen and the price jumps by $200 or more, just click away and look elsewhere. They weren’t being honest about the costs and there’s a good chance that’s not all they’re not being honest about.