Ten Tips for All-Inclusive Vacations

Love them or loathe them, all-inclusive resorts dominate the landscapes of many popular destinations, and there’s no denying they can offer an unrivaled combination of convenience and affordability. But how do you decide whether the all-inclusive option makes the most sense for you? Here are ten tips for going all-inclusive, including when and where to find the best deals and how to get the most from all-inclusive packages.
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Cancun Palace Resort, Mexico, all inclusive
The sprawling all-inclusive acres of Cancun Palace Resort, Mexico  (Palace Resorts)
Check out Away.com's Top All-Inclusive Resorts for resort reviews and prices.
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1.When to Go All-Inclusive
Determining when to choose all-inclusive comes down to the destination you intend to visit and the activities you plan to do there. "Some destinations are geared toward the all-inclusive experience," says Johnny DiScala, who runs the travel website JohnnyJet.com. All-inclusive hot-spots like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic have limited tourism infrastructures outside the resorts, he explains, which can make it frustrating to get around or organize activities independently.

So do some research, and figure out whether you're comfortable with eating, drinking, and hanging out almost entirely at the resort, because all-inclusive means you pay up front for meals, drinks, and certain resort activities whether you use them or not. "If you don't intend to eat or drink a lot at the resort, an all-inclusive probably isn't the best choice for you," DiScala says. If it's a destination that begs to be explored, one where you prefer to hit the streets, experience the culture, and try a variety of restaurants, an all-inclusive won't be a good deal for you, no matter what it costs.

2. Book Ahead
Ideally, the all-inclusive-vacation planning process should start a few months, even a year, in advance, depending on the season in which you plan to travel. "While all-inclusive resorts typically have some decent last-minute sales during less popular travel seasons, the airfare is often so expensive that it cancels out the benefits," says Carey Driscoll, a travel agent for Beach Bum Vacation. "You're more likely to find a resort that offers a good price if you book far in advance, and reputable resorts will offer discounts for booking early."

3. Remember the Seasons
If you're looking for a bargain on an all-inclusive vacation in the Caribbean or Mexico, travel during the summer low season, or the spring and fall shoulder seasons, when many resorts slash their rates. This includes hurricane season (June to November), which can bring discounted rates up to 60 percent off their high-season counterparts. "Hurricane season is typically the most affordable time to travel to all-inclusive resorts," Driscoll says. "Just be flexible, buy insurance, and understand the potential consequences."

There are also times to avoid at all costs (unless you're looking for a certain kind of environment), mainly spring break (mid-March to mid-April), Christmas, and New Year's. "These are the most popular times to travel to the Caribbean and Mexico," Driscoll says. "Most resorts don't have sales at this time; almost all have minimum stays; and the best all-inclusive resorts will sell out a year in advance."

4. Get Honest Reviews
All-inclusive resorts aren't just places to crash after a long day of exploring. They are self-sustaining worlds where you'll eat, sleep, and play for most—if not all—of your trip. This fact makes it even more important to ensure pre-departure that the resort fits your needs and delivers on its own hype.

"Every all-inclusive resort looks amazing based on the marketing photos, brochures, and websites," Driscoll explains. "Sometimes the beach looks pretty in a photo, but it may actually be rocky or have an undertow so you can't swim. Other times you might see photos of a recently renovated, high-end suite, but when you show up you get a standard room that hasn't been updated."

Do thorough research by looking collectively at the traveler reviews on websites like Orbitz or CheapTickets, or try to find a travel agent who has personal experience with the properties he/she represents.

5. Pay Once
Unless you're a flight attendant or have airline miles to burn, you'll get the best overall price for an all-inclusive vacation—e.g., resort, flights, ground transfers—if you book everything together. Online booking sites offer special discounts to people who purchase some combination of flights, hotels, and car rentals together. However, Driscoll maintains that specialized travel agents can provide a better overall experience. "If there are problems, travel agents can cut through the mess and fix the situation. They can also make sure [all costs] are included up front—for example, transportation to/from the airport, flight and hotel taxes, and arrival/departure fees that are charged by some countries for international travel."

Published: 25 Jul 2011 | Last Updated: 26 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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