The idea of an all-inclusive vacation may conjure images of insipid buffets, watered down drinks, and long lines. But many of today’s all-inclusive resorts have a lot more to offer—including quality food--and can still provide great value to both luxury and budget-minded travelers alike, as well as those traveling with multiple generations.
The shift to higher end amenities came during the Great Recession when even wealthy travelers became more conscious about the cost of vacations. “Suddenly, luxury travelers were looking for package travel bargains,” according to a new report by Skift, a travel industry data and marketing firm, and Club Med. “A new influx of high-end consumers willing to try higher levels all-inclusive resorts for the first time spurred higher and higher levels of luxury product development and resort services based on heightened guest expectations.”
The competition from high end and newer resorts that include fine dining and butler services has forced the entry-level properties to increase services and amenities, while still focusing on delivering value to the consumer.
All-inclusive deals aren’t always lower in price than a vacation booked a la carte, but they’re comparable and they offer the convenience and luxury of leaving your wallet in the hotel room safe for the duration of the trip. “All inclusive doesn’t really mean cheap anymore,” says Michelle Weller an associate with Travel Leaders in Houston. “But it does mean value.”
Follow these tips to find the best all-inclusive summer vacation for you.
Find a resort that speaks to you.
With a growing number of all-inclusive resorts, the hotels have tried to differentiate themselves in order to find their consumer niche. Of course there are resorts that cater just to families with small children, or to couples looking for a romantic getaway.
There are also resorts created specifically for those who want to be pampered at the spa or golf all day. Think about whether you want to pay more to stay at a smaller resort that may offer more personal service, or whether you’d like to dress up for fine dining each night.
“You want to make sure you’re going to the right resort for you, because once you’re they’re you’re going to stay put for most of your stay,” says Gabe Saglie, a senior editor at Travelzoo. “You want to make sure you like your neighbors.”
Check second-tier sites.
Travelocity and Orbitz have good deals, but you may find an even better package on lesser known sites that specialize in all-inclusive trave and may have connections to the hotels on the groundh. CheapCaribbean.com, for example, was recently offering a four-night trip to Jamaica, including airfare, for $1,189 per person, a trip that would normally cost $1,649.
Watch out for extra charges.
Most resorts aren’t truly “all-inclusive.” “You need to carefully look at all of the amenities to find out what’s actually included,” says Brian Shilling, managing director of travel products and services for AAA.
Expect to pay extra for off-site excursions and for Internet access. (Unlike cruises, alcohol is generally included in the price.) To keep these extras from breaking the bank, set a budget upfront for additional costs and stick to it. Sometimes you can get a deal by booking such activities before the trip actually begins.
Look beyond the Caribbean.
A Caribbean or Mexican all-inclusive vacation may still be the cheapest option, but if you’re willing to pay more for value, European resorts are on sale right now thanks to the cheap Euro. “You may not get that traditional tropical beach vacation, but you will find resorts with prices that include meals, cocktails, and access to amenities,” Saglie says.
Be flexible with dates.
You’ll get the best rates traveling mid-week or while kids are still in school. Summer prices are at least 25 percent less than winter prices because of the heat, and they’ll drop even further in August because of hurricane season. If you’re willing to risk it your trip getting cancelled, buy travel insurance, and you can get a great rate. “Seaonality is extremely important to the price for these places,” says Michael Rainey, an editor with Cheapism.com.
Plan ahead and pay upfront.
It’s too late for this summer’s vacations, but some resorts offer a discount for those who book at least six months in advance and pay upfront. That move could shave 10 percent to 20 percent off your total bill.
If you decide that you’d like to regularly vacation at all-inclusive resorts, pick one international chain (like Sandals or Club Med) and enroll in its membership rewards program for access to free upgrades and access to reserved parts of the resort. “They’re usually free to join,” Saglie says. “Sometimes it only takes a few visits to start enjoying some of the perks.”
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