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All Inclusive Resorts: Why They Are A Rip Off

A beautiful beach and boat waiting for you.

It might seem like a great idea but it will cost you!

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There is something about all inclusive holidays that makes most people giddy with excitement. The thought that you can arrive at a beautiful beach resort and eat and drink as much as you want for “free” sounds too good to be true. However, is it a good deal? Are you getting value for your money? In this blog, I am going to explore why all inclusive resorts seem like a great choice for a holiday. However, more importantly, I am going to outline how all inclusive vacations are expensive and may be a waste of money.

all inclusive resorts
Beautiful beaches await you in Mexico.

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What Are All Inclusive Resorts? 

There isn’t one kind of all inclusive holiday. Every single resort or travel operator can offer its own deal with a list of what is and is not included. However, for the purposes of this article, I am going to talk about what would generally be included at an all inclusive beach holiday in Mexico. Out of all the countries in the world that I have visited (and that is currently around 65), Mexico is the king of all inclusive holidays. In fact, in certain locations in Mexico, it is sometimes hard to find a resort that isn’t all inclusive!

 

What Do You Get At An All Inclusive Beach Resort?

What are all inclusive holidays? In particular, what can you expect at an all inclusive beach resort in Mexico?

First of all, before you arrive, you would be required to pay the full price of your vacation. Normally, this would also include all gratuities. After that, you would be entitled to have:

  • a hotel room with daily housekeeping;
  • free use of all of the facilities, such as the pool, gym, lounge chairs at the beach or the pool, ping pong, shuffle board, and so on;
  • many complimentary classes and activities, such as yoga, pool games, beach volleyball or soccer, crafts; and
  • lots of entertainment, such as a DJ or live music by the pool, organized games or competitions, nightly singing, dancing or comedy shows.
all inclusive vacations
Throwing water balloons for a beach game at the all inclusive resort.

In addition, you would typically have 24 hour access to “free”:

  • tea, coffee, soda and juice;
  • alcohol; and .
  • food.

 

Limitations To “Free” Food, Alcohol And Activities On All Inclusive Holidays 

This does not mean that there aren’t extra costs or limitations at all inclusive resorts.

Food at all inclusive resorts

Food is mostly served by buffet at all inclusive resorts. You may be able to separately book a la carte dinner service at specialty restaurants on site (like an Italian or French restaurant), but you will either be limited to 2-3 per week or will be obligated to pay extra. During high season, you may need to make dinner reservations days or sometimes weeks in advance of your arrival depending on the number and popularity of the restaurants included.

 

all inclusive resorts
A chef at one of the specialty restaurants at Iberostar Quetzal.

Alcohol on all inclusive holidays

Top shelf” alcohol and a wide selection of wines are not normally included at all inclusive resorts. Each resort will have a list of labels or wines that are available, and others that can be separately purchased. For example, I like to drink gin and tonic. Hendrick’s Gin would be considered “top shelf” whereas Tanqueray’s Gin (or something similar) would not. Accordingly, at an all inclusive resort, I would likely be offered a gin and tonic with Tanqueray’s Gin, but would have to pay extra for one with Hendrick’s Gin.

 

Some activities on all inclusive vacations

There are usually some activities that you would need to pay extra on all inclusive holidays. For example, an all inclusive resort that offers tennis may offer free group lessons, but you would have to pay extra for a private lesson. In addition, spa treatments would not normally be included and would be an additional cost.

As I said earlier, every resort has different facilities and offers different all inclusive deals. You should read carefully what is and is not included before booking any vacation.

 

Why All Inclusive Resorts Are Great

Over the years, I have been to around eight all inclusive resorts. Here is why they can be amazing.

1. Minimal effort is needed for all inclusive holidays.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand why all inclusive holidays are great. With very little effort, you arrive at a resort and all of your needs are immediately met. You have access to all the food and beverages that you could possibly want. You have pools and a beach, sports and entertainment facilities, a full schedule of day and evening entertainment, and lots of employees walking around ready to bring you whatever you want. If you prefer, you never have to leave the resort for any reason.

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The beach in front of the Iberostar Quetzal.

 

2. All inclusive resorts are a good fit for families.

For families, all inclusive resorts offer something for every age or interest. Many all inclusive resorts have child care or kids’ clubs that will either look after kids or entertain them for hours. If your child is old enough, all inclusive resorts allow kids independence and the ability to meet and play with other children from around the world. Within a safe environment, they can go from activity to activity, and even eat on their own in certain places.

all inclusive vacations
Little kids love sand and water anywhere in the world!

 

3. It is easy to book all inclusive holidays

For many of us overwhelmed with family or work demands, all inclusive holidays are a wonderful treat. There is hardly anything for you to do. Once you figure out where you want to go and how to get there, the only thing left to do is to find the all inclusive resort that is right for you. I normally focus on three factors when booking all inclusive vacations:

  1. Whether the resort has the right facilities for me and my family? For example, we like to play tennis and would prefer an all inclusive resort with tennis courts.
  2. What level of comfort/luxury do we want and what is available?
  3. How much do we want to pay and what can we get for our budget.

 

4. All Inclusive vacations feel “free”

By the time you get to your all inclusive resort, you have normally fully paid for your holiday. That means that after you check-in, you never have to pay for anything again (unless you choose to eat, drink or do things excluded from your all inclusive deal). Accordingly, there is a feeling when you are there that everything is free. Of course, it isn’t. You have already paid for it. However, inexplicably, it feels like people are just giving things away and that is just fun.

 

5. All inclusive resorts allow you to stay on budget

It is easy to stay on budget when you book all inclusive vacations. You identify the resort that you like, the amenities they offer, and the cost that you are prepared to spend. Then, you book and you are done. There isn’t a large unexpected bill to pay at the end of your holiday as long as you eat, drink and do what is included at your resort.

all inclusive resorts
A view of the ocean from a dock.

 

What Is Wrong With All Inclusive Vacations?

So at this point, I’m guessing that you totally understand why all inclusive holidays can be great. In fact, you are probably looking at your calendar right now trying to figure out when you can book your next all inclusive vacation. I agree. On its face, all inclusive resorts are wonderful and offer many benefits to travellers.

However, the problem is they are expensive relative to what you are receiving. In addition, you are likely over paying for your holiday. Finally, sometimes (not always), you are receiving worst quality food, drinks and facilities than what you would get elsewhere if it had to compete on a daily basis for your business.

 

1. Paying for things that you don’t want on all inclusive holidays.

Think about it. When you pay your lump sum payment for the cost of your all inclusive vacation, you are paying for everything that you want to eat, drink and do, AND FOR EVERYTHING THAT YOU DON’T! If the all inclusive has a kids club or includes “free” babysitting, then a part of the cost of your holiday will include paying for the kids club or the babysitters, even if you don’t have children. If your all inclusive resort has tennis courts and offers free lessons, then a part of the cost of your vacation will include paying for the upkeep of the tennis courts and for the cost of the tennis pro, even if you don’t play. This is relevant for everything that is offered on an all inclusive holiday in which you have no interest.

all inclusive vacations
Little foot prints from children enjoying the beach.

 

2. Paying for waste at all inclusive resorts

All inclusive holidays encourage waste, overeating, and overindulging. Guess what?? You pay for that too.

If all inclusive resorts offer buffets all day long (as most of them do), then you are paying for the privilege of eating all day long, regardless of whether you want to or not. You may even feel like you should be eating more because you have paid for it, rather than because you are hungry.

Related to this is waste. People waste so much food when it is a buffet and there is a sense that it is “free”. Why not take a huge pasta serving or a large slice of beef? Who cares if you don’t like it or can’t eat all of it, right? You have already paid for it. So, in other words, you are paying for more food than what you would normally eat or want, and you are paying for yours and everyone else’s excesses.

 

3. Quality of food, drink and entertainment can be questionable at all inclusive vacations.

All inclusive resorts have a captive audience. Before you arrive, you have already paid in full for all of your meals, beverages and entertainment. Accordingly, there is little that you can do if you don’t like the food or find the entertainment awful, except put up with it or leave the resort and pay for it again elsewhere.

On the flip side, if you are in a “normal” hotel and you don’t like its food or entertainment, you go elsewhere. The hotel knows that and will likely work harder to make sure that what it is offering is good and at competitive prices.

all inclusive holidays
A beautiful sunset over the beach.

We had the unfortunate experience of having terrible food and beverages on one of our all inclusive holidays many years ago. We couldn’t find a buffet or a specialty restaurant in our enormous resort that offered decent food. It was so bad that after a couple of days, we left the all inclusive resort every night and went to town for dinner. Of course, we were on the hook for the cost of that meal in addition to the upfront cost of our all inclusive holiday.

In some respects, this was my fault. Prior to booking, I had read the reviews on Tripadvisor about the questionable food and beverages but I simply didn’t believe it. I thought that it would be impossible that every buffet, restaurant and bar at a five star resort could be awful. Well, lesson learnt…

 

All Inclusive Resorts Versus “Normal” Hotels

Now, let me show you a real life example of how you overpay for all inclusive resorts.

Two years ago, we stayed at Iberostar Quetzal, a five star all inclusive beach resort in Playa Del Carmen. Essentially, it offered exactly what I described above. For one flat price, we had as much as we wanted to eat and drink, with plenty to do. We were entitled to eat at 3 speciality restaurants over the course of the week. There were free group tennis lessons, although we separately paid for private lessons. There were lot of games, sports and entertainment included all day and night.

all inclusive resorts
Flamingos at the Iberostar Quetzal.

Just a few weeks ago, we stayed at the Izla Hotel on Isla Mujeres, an island 20 minutes by ferry from Cancun. This was not an all inclusive beach resort. Instead, it was a “normal”  five star luxury hotel on the beach that included breakfast each morning, use of the fitness facilities, lounge chairs and the pools. That was it.

all inclusive holidays
My parents enjoying a swim in the pool at the Hotel Izla.

Which did I prefer? The Izla Hotel hands done! Why? Not only was it better value but I liked the ability to pick and choose where I wanted to eat, how much I wanted to spend, and what activities I wanted to do and pay for. The hotel was full but there was plenty of room around the pool and on the beach. It was calm and relaxing.

 

 

Crunching The Numbers

How do the numbers crunch?

It would not be an accurate comparison to compare what I paid two years ago against what I paid two weeks ago. Instead, I will pick a future date – March 7 – March 14 – to figure out the current relative costs of both of these experiences. These dates are not during peak demand like Christmas but during regular high season.

A the Izla Hotel, I would pay $152.91 USD per night or $1070.37 USD for these 7 nights for a deluxe ocean view hotel room with breakfast for two people.

all inclusive resorts
Our view from our ocean front suite at the Izla Hotel.

At the Iberostar Quetzal, I would pay $421.85 USD per night or $2953 USD for these 7 nights for an all inclusive junior suite ocean front (a comparable room to the Izla Hotel) for two people.

So the difference in cost would be $2953.00 -$1070.37 = $1882.63 USD. In other words, if I book one week at the Izla Hotel as opposed to the Iberostar Quetzal, I would pay a total of $1882.63 USD or $268.95 per day LESS!

Now to be fair, for the week, I would still have to purchase lunches and dinners for two people, plus all the non alcoholic and alcoholic beverages that we may want. If we wanted to do any activities, we would also have to pay separately for them. Would we be able to eat, drink and be entertained in Mexico for less than $268.95 USD per day?

WITHOUT QUESTION!!!!

all inclusive holidays
The beach in front of the Izla Hotel.

 

Izla Hotel

Food and beverages

Lunch by the pool or at the restaurant at the Izla Hotel was between $8.00 – $12.00 USD. Everything was delicious!

As for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at the Izla Hotel, we ordered highballs, mixed and blended drinks (margaritas and daiquiris etc.) for $6.00 USD each; Mexican beers for $3.00 USD each; and soft drinks for $2.00 USD each.

all inclusive vacations
A nice cold beer on a very hot day.

One night, we ate dinner at one of the two hotel restaurants (which was excellent). The rest of the time, we hopped into a cab for $3.00 USD – $5.00 USD each way, and ate at restaurants all over Isla Mujeres. There were dozens and dozens of excellent restaurants from which to choose. You could easily spend as little as $7.00 USD for a take out taco stand. However, that was not really our thing. Instead, every night, we had sophisticated meals with international menus. We ate exceptionally well for $25 USD per person. In addition, it was really nice that the choice was always ours.

Of course, this doesn’t even take into account the following:

  • You may not even want lunch or dinner; and
  • You could purchase beer and soft drinks from a corner store for half the price. Each hotel room had its own mini-fridge.
all inclusive holidays
A beach restaurant that we found at Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres.

 

Activities

We didn’t miss any of the activities that are normally offered at an all inclusive resort. We were quite happy relaxing, reading and swimming by the pool and at the beach. One day, we did pay for a private half day snorkelling excursion at $50 USD per person. However, that would have been considered an extra at the all inclusive resort and we would have had to pay separately for that anyways.

all inclusive vacations
Lucas enjoying our snorkelling adventure.

All in all, it would have been difficult to spend half of $268.95 USD per day on food or beverages, much less anything close to $268,95 USD per day. However, whatever you do spend, it would be on exactly what you want and for the price that you are prepared to spend.

 

Recommendations

Whenever you are contemplating an all inclusive holiday, I would recommend trying to break down your costs to see whether you are getting value for your money. Is this all inclusive resort the deal that you really think it is? Here is how I would do it.

  • Pick your destination (For example, if you fly into Cancun airport, you could easily go to resorts/hotels in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, and more).
  • Identify a couple of all inclusive resorts and “normal” hotels in which you are interested. This could be for a number of reasons, all of them personal to you, such as level of comfort, the amenities that are offered, or the location.
      • Be careful, this could be an absolutely overwhelming task, especially if you are flying into somewhere like Cancun where there are countless resorts and hotels either there or a short drive/ferry away in Playa Del Carmen or Isla Mujeres. I would use booking.com and its filters to help narrow down your choices.

 



Booking.com

 

  • Check on TripAdvisor to make sure that the all inclusive resorts and “normal” hotels that you like have satisfactory reviews.
  • Find out the total cost of your stay at each of the all inclusive resorts and “normal” hotels for the dates in which you are interested. Figure out the different costs between each of the resorts and hotels.
  • If one is substantially more expensive than another, try to figure out whether what they offer is actually what you want versus the less expensive choices.
  • Finally, once you know the cost differences, you can better decide which resort or hotel works best for you, not only from a financial perspective, but also in terms of what each of them are offering for the price.

For a more thorough step by step guide to how to plan a holiday, please refer to my article Planning A Holiday: A Foolproof Guide To Easy Vacation Planning.

all inclusive resorts
Our pool at the Izla Hotel.

 

Conclusion

All inclusive resorts offer many advantages. With little to no effort and for a lump sum upfront payment, you arrive on your holiday with all of your food, beverages and entertainment ready for you to enjoy. However, it normally comes at a price. Contrary to popular belief, all inclusive holidays are often more expensive than staying at hotels and separately purchasing your food and drinks at restaurants and bars of your own choice. Is it worth it? Maybe….it depends on what is going on in your life and how much extra money you have for a holiday. However, for me, I would much prefer to get as much value for my money as possible. I want to eat, drink and do what I want at a fair price. For that reason, I doubt that I will ever go back to another all inclusive resort again.

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All inclusive resorts sound wonderful. With one lump payment, all your meals, drinks, and activities are paid for. However, are you paying too much? Probably! Here's why. #travel #familytravel #budgettravel | Mexico, all inclusive vacations, all inclusive holidays, all you can eat, travel and money, travel tips, destinations in Mexico, Mexico travel guide, Mexico travel, Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Playa Del Carmen

32 Comments

  • This is fascinating! Thank you for doing the comparison – while it feels free it really isn’t and people need to understand that. Thank you for this as we were considering one but it definitely doesn’t seem worth it!

    • Thank you Pam.I have been to 8 all inclusive resorts myself so I have been lured into believing that they were worth it. But, I couldn’t help but realize that they were not after our last trip when we booked a regular hotel. Funnily enough, it wasn’t money that stopped me but bad food. However, once I looked at the cost, I realized that there was so many more reasons not to go back to one.

      • I certainly agree with you regarding the food at all-inclusive. Usually it’s barely tolerable. As a solo traveler all-inclusives are close to double the cost of independent travel. However…..when travelling to some counties or islands, such as Mexico, all-inclusive resorts are a safer alternative for the solo traveller.

        • That is an interesting perspective – safety for a solo female traveller. I think that is why so many people lean to all inclusive resorts in Mexico because of the perception that it is otherwise dangerous. I don’t think that is the case for couples or groups in touristy places like Cancun, Isla Mujeres or Playa Del Carmen. However, I don’t know about being a female solo traveller. All I can say is that in the dozens of times that I have been to Mexico for a beach holiday, I have never felt unsafe.

    • Thank you! There is so much out there to choose from. Everyone should spend just a few moments and make sure you are getting what you want for a reasonable price.

  • This was an interesting break down. I think it comes down to personal preference for everyone when it comes to choosing all inclusive or not. Everyone travels differently and has different priorities and expectations for their travel experiences. Doing research is important if you are looking to getting the best deal!

    • Absolutely. Everyone travels differently and wants their own experience. As long as people are making their decision based upon research and their desires versus just assuming they are getting a good deal.

  • I like staying in all inclusive hotels for beach vacations and usually get really good deals but truly haven’t sat down to compare and you numbers made me think! Going to antigua in April and there’s still time to cancel so I’m going to do the numbers

    • I think that if the all inclusive is offering a really good deal then it is likely other hotels are offering good deals too. Let me know how your research turns out!

  • I just went on an all-inclusive cruise, and I can definitely attest to over-indulgence! I totally agree with it! I prefer not to do such vacations too often, but sometimes it is nice!

  • I agree that all-inclusives aren’t worth the money. When we travel we like to explore the area, and will usually only spend a full day or two at the resort’s pool or beach. With the resort fees and gratuities, we’d never get our money’s worth. I suppose if a family wanted to stay on the property for their entire vacation, eating all of their meals there and trying lots of the activities, it might make sense. I know it would just be a waste of money for us as well.

    • Exactly! If you never leave and really indulge, maybe it could be worth it… it just depends on the resort and the cost. However, I think that if there is a good deal at the all inclusive then there will be good deals at other “normal” hotels too.

  • Completely agree! But I guess it very much depends on the lifestyle, when I travel, I don’t want to stay in a hotel at all, so I don’t need the services that they are offering. I can imagine that someone would like that like if you don’t want to take too much care about what to eat or traveling around, I guess it can be a solution

    • Yes, it is an easy solution and that’s ok if you are too busy to figure something different out. However, people just need to be aware that they are likely spending more money than elsewhere.

  • We have stayed at an all inclusive resort before and we really enjoyed it. I think it just felt convenient for us at the time. We enjoy all types of vacations- whether they are all-inclusive or we just pay as we go.

    • I agree. I’ve stayed at them before and it was just very easy. Especially when our kids were little. However, people need to be aware that they aren’t a great deal and that there is better value out there.

  • I totally understand and agree with your point of view, especially about the questionable quality of the food and drinks being received at many resorts and also having to pay for facilities you don’t really want or need. Having said that, sometimes it does work out cheaper than the alternative, especially for people who wish to spend their entire time at the resort, eating a lot of food and drinking a lot of alcohol and all-inclusive holidays, once in a while, with families or large group of friends, can be a lot of fun too!

    • I think that if someone wants the all inclusive experience of over indulging without thought and never leaving the resort, then they certainly have lots of choices out there in the world. However, I think that everyone should at least take a few moments and compare prices to see if you are getting good value for your what you are paying. I think that the results would shock a lot of people.

  • I like the comparison and that you play out the numbers. For me, I really like all inclusive resorts and actually have never found we were limited with a la carte restaurants or the alcohol we wanted to drink. So like you said, it depends on the traveller and what they are looking for. I also like to leave the resorts and see where we are, and some people never even step foot outside the gate!

    • Yes, it really depends on each person and the resort. I would just encourage people to crunch the numbers before assuming that it is a good deal. That’s all.

  • I have never done an all-inclusive but I have been thinking about it quite a lot lately. I have always wondered if it is cheaper or more expensive if I do everything myself but now it does make sense that it is more expensive especially when you think of it in a way that you are paying for things you are not going to be using/doing. I also now realize that there are a certain type of people that loves doing all-inclusive, may I say that they are not much travellers and prefer not planning their own trips? They’re so different from people who enjoys and finds it exciting to plan every detail of a trip. Anyways, I still think I would like to experience an all inclusive trip at least once. 🙂

    • I think an all inclusive is a lot of fun for lots of different reasons. I would just look very carefully at the comments related to food and alcohol to make sure that the resort is good. After that, it is just a question of whether it is money well spent.

  • I’ve only stayed in one all-inclusive and it was a so-so resort. The quality of the food was terrible, and I’m not really a fan of staged entertainment either! I never considered about paying for the kids club and the waste of the food too. Another reason to stay away!

    • That was my last experience – terrible food and terrible entertainment. I hated that I had already paid for something that was awful and repeated every day and night!

  • This is a wonderful perspective. I have never really thought of this. All inclusive resorts sound really great to me, but I totally understand your point. We mostly end up paying for the waste, for things that we don’t want, hence I am surely going to reconsider my next plan.

  • What a good breakdown. This is really helpful, I’ve stayed at both types of resorts and I DO actually like an all-inclusive – but I’ve never done the math.

    • I think the math is a bit of shock especially when everyone thinks these are pretty good deals. I’m sure there are some out there, but you just have to be careful assuming that they all are.

  • Its so great that you looked underneath the surface of that one price to enjoy everything, if it is worth it. I do feel instead of being free , it is often limiting. Because you have paid for food, drinks and activities up front – you don’t go out exploring other possibilities. This could be a shame. I too have come across the specialty restaurants having such a long queue that we gave up in the end. The tendency to over-indulge is also a danger with all-inclusives. Its not all bad , just to keep in mind if one would utilize what is offered in the all-inclusive package and that’s what you have done in the post!

    • Thanks Adele. All Inclusive resorts are so alluring, but the resorts are businesses and they want to make money. You just have to think about this and make sure the choice is the right one for you and your family.

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