An insider’s guide to all-inclusive resorts

Booking an entire trip, from accommodations to meals to all the extras, with one swipe of a credit card sounds like an ideal and convenient scenario. Not having to calculate how much everything will cost or worry about paying out of pocket while you’re in a vacation state of mind? Does it get any better than that? Enter the all-inclusive resort. You could make out with loads of savings or that unbelievable deal could be too good to be true. Only by doing your research can you be sure.

All-inclusive resorts are all-in-one packages that relieve the stress of vacation budgeting and itinerary planning. Much like a cruise, an all-inclusive deal can benefit all types of travelers, from the careful planners to the more spontaneous. But buyer beware. Not all all-inclusive resorts are equal. Do your research to make sure you are getting what you pay for. Our guide can help you weigh your options and get the best deal. Then start planning your next trip on, where you can search flights and check out the latest vacation packages and special offers.

Is an all-inclusive the right trip for you?

Before you book an all-inclusive trip, make sure it is the right trip for you. Consider the following:

  • Do you have a huge appetite?
  • Do you like to keep busy during your trip?
  • Do you like to drink?
  • Do you like to stay active on vacation?
  • Is there a lack of tourist activities to do in your destination?
  • Is it hard to independently coordinate excursions at your destination?
  • Are you okay with spending the majority of your trip eating, drinking and playing at the resort?

If you answered yes to the majority of these questions, then an all-inclusive may be the right option for you.

  • Do you crave independence?
  • Are there many worthy attractions to explore at your destination?
  • Do you plan to spend the majority of your time outside the resort?
  • Are you or your travel companions foodies or wine connoisseurs?
  • Are you a picky or light eater?

If you answered yes to the majority of these questions, then an all-inclusive may not be the right option for you.

What type of all-inclusive resort is best for you?

There are as many options as there are all-inclusive resorts. To help narrow down the choices, consider the following:

  • Guest-type and ambiance: Options like adult only, kid friendly, gay friendly, couples and singles are among the many choices. Which one best describes you?
  • Size matters: Do you want a boutique resort with a few dozen rooms or a mega resort with hundreds or even thousands of rooms with endless activities and entertainment?
  • Activities: What do you like to do – sit on the beach, play golf or learn new skills like how to dive or cook?
  • Stay in or go out: Do you plan to stay mostly at the resort or do you want to tour the area? Location is key.
  • Level of service: Do you prefer to stay at a three-star hotel with basic, clean accommodations or would you prefer top-of-the-line accommodations, from the finest bed linens to only the best food and drink.

What’s included in the “all-inclusive” price?


Cheers to your all-inclusive stay (Image: Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar)

In general, all-inclusive trips include accommodations and food and a litany of other “extras,” but some places are more generous than others. Be sure to read the fine print. Then, read it again. You can’t put a price tag on quality and service. All the free food and drink in the world doesn’t compare to a slimmer all-inclusive package if the quality is poor.

  • Do your homework. It might be tempting to just click book, but you should read all the details about the resort, check online reviews and don’t be shy – pick up the phone and call the resort to double and triple check what is included.
  • All-inclusive doesn’t always mean all is included. Here is a handy list of amenities you should run through with the resort to see if they are covered BEFORE you book:
    • Accommodation: ask what type and confirm the number of occupants allowed in each room.
    • Food: Are all meals included or just some each day? Are each of the resort’s restaurants included? Some resorts may have restaurants on-site that are not included, while others may include local restaurants in their all-inclusive package. Ask how many all-you-can-eat buffets and à la carte meals and snacks are included each day and check the quality by reading resort reviews. For à la carte restaurants, reservations are typically required so be sure to plan ahead.
    • Drinks: Are non-alcoholic, alcoholic or both included? Are the all-inclusive drinks available all day or just a portion of the day?
    • Alcoholic beverages: When alcoholic beverages are included, do you only get local beer, wine and perhaps some inexpensive spirits or are top shelf liquor and fancy frozen drinks included too?
    • Phone: Are local, long distance and international calls included?
    • Internet: is it DSL or Wi-Fi? Is Internet available in your room, all over the resort or both?
    • Transfers: Is to and from the airport transportation included?
    • Activities: What exactly is included? Figure out which activities you’d like to do and see if they are part of the package. Some all-inclusive resorts only include activities like fitness classes, others include water sports and golf and still others include off-site excursions as well.
    • Childcare: If you’re traveling with kids in tow, see if childcare is included and what that consists of. Will your kids learn new skills and have fun in the sun or will they be stuck to an activity center? Confirm how many kids are included in a room’s all-inclusive package and childcare offerings.
    • Spa services: Typically massages and other spa services aren’t included, but your package may include deep discounts.
    • Tours and Excursions: Trips into town are not normally covered; however, shuttle service to and from the resort may be.
    • Extras: Are little things like beach chairs, towels and recreational equipment included?
    • Fees: Hotel taxes and arrival and departure fees can add up.
    • Gratuities: Some resorts have a strict no-gratuity policies while others have expectations regarding tipping.

How far out should you book for the best deals?

  • Schedule wisely: Ideal times to travel are during the school year, particularly just after Labor Day and the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Early or late: Either book very early (nine months or more in advance, especially if you want to stay during peak seasons like Christmas and New Year’s) or take a chance on last-minute deals.
  • Buyer Beware: Beware of deals too good to be true, particularly last minute sales. Sometimes these rock bottom deals can signal a resort that isn’t that great.
  • No destination, no problem! Looking for a last-minute steal but don’t have your heart set on a particular destination? Perfect. Being flexible with your destination (and dates!) means you have more options and a higher chance of finding a fantastic deal.
  • Bundle up: Travelers who book airfare and accommodations together often get a better deal than booking separately, but timing is everything. If you are traveling during a peak season, the hotel might be inexpensive but the airfare may be exorbitantly high, canceling out any savings.

What are the best destinations for all-inclusive resorts?

Punta Cana, DR

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic has 10 beautiful beaches. (Image: Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism)

  • Competition is a good thing: Destinations that have many all-inclusive resorts are likely to have the best deals as they vie for travelers’ bookings. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Riviera Maya, Mexico have some of the most populous all-inclusive resorts.
  • Go to seldom seen places: Rather than picking the obvious Caribbean destinations, pick places that make many people pull out a map and ask “where is that?” Roatan, anyone?
  • Caribbean: It’s best to book between Thanksgiving and Christmas, summer (including hurricane season that runs June 1-Nov. 30). Avoid: Christmas, New Year’s and spring break.
  • Mexico: It’s best to book between Thanksgiving and Christmas, summer and shoulder season in January and February. Avoid: Christmas, New Year’s and spring break.
  • Europe: It’s best to book after Labor Day when the weather is still as great as the deals.

Surprising amenities included at all-inclusive resorts

Hedonism II

Hedonism II is a memorable experience you won’t soon forget. (Image: Hedonism II)

In addition to the standard offerings like fitness classes and non-motorized water sports, many all-inclusive resorts have some surprising options that are included too.

Where’s your all-inclusive dream destination? Share with us in the comments and browse travel deals on flights, hotels, cruises and vacation packages (including all-inclusive resorts) on

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Main Image: Rebecca Schear, Dreams Riviera Cancun via Flickr CC BY 2.0

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