Do All-Inclusive Resorts Really Save You That Much Money?

Where are you going? Who are you with? What do you want to do? It all depends what you’ve got planned, kiddo.

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All-inclusive resorts definitely have their perks: You know exactly how much your trip is supposed to cost; you can stuff yourself with as much food as you want, or drink enough to embarrass a dumpster full of frat boys, at no extra charge; and you don’t even have to go anywhere if you don’t want to! But does an all-inclusive resort actually save you money? It depends — on a lot of things. Alongside travel agent and expert Jonathan Geen, of Purple Light Vacations, we’re going to look for some all-inclusive answers.

So, does an all-inclusive save money, or what?
Let me retort by asking some questions of my own! What kind of traveler are you? What kind of trip are you taking? Do you have kids that are gonna be eating all day? Are you going on a booze-filled bachelor party? If the alternative is a lot of fancy restaurants around your destination, or high-priced drinks, sure, an all-inclusive will generally save you money. “Certainly for people who like to drink adult beverages, an all-inclusive resort provides good value,” Geen says.

But also: Are you traveling with your family, your crew, or in any case, do you foresee a lot of group dinners? The restaurant tab for that in a tourist zone or a non-all-inclusive hotel could be pricey.

Okay, let’s assume I’m already considering it. Do some places have better all-inclusive resorts than others?
Yes — so much of this depends on where you’re going. Some destinations (Cancun, Dominican Republic, etc.) have many good ones; others, not so much. Thankfully, generally speaking, Geen says you get what you pay for. Keep in mind that there are all-inclusives at every price point. As an example, Geen likes to send his clients to a five-star resort in Cabo that isn’t cheap but is, he claims, a great experience.

I have kids. How does that factor in?
Plenty of all-inclusives cater to kids, with day camps and tons of options to keep them occupied and out of your hair — and of course, all the food they can eat, which is often an immeasurable ton. But Geen points out that there’s also a whole series of all-inclusive resorts that cater to adults only, no children allowed. You may want to consider the latter if you’re planning on anything romantic or generally find the sound of shrieking children less than relaxing.

What else should I be considering?
Think about the location. Is this in an area that’s all about chilling? Or are you traveling to a place that demands exploration, discovery and experience? “If you’re in a place where there’s culture, there’s things to do, there’s good restaurants with local flavor that you want to try out, the all-inclusive resort may not provide the best experience or the best value,” Geen says. After all, you’d be paying for meals at the resort that you wouldn’t be eating, while also paying for meals outside the property that you visit.

It’s the same for activities: If everything you want to experience on your vacation (spa, water sports, etc.) is already at the all-inclusive, that’s a hell of a value. But if there’s a lot of things to be seen and visited all around you, you might be better off at a standard resort, where you won’t lose value in not participating in resort activities.

Are you more likely to get sick at an all-inclusive?
The current news cycle around tourist deaths at all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic certainly aren’t encouraging, particularly since the suspicion is that local moonshine, which is being used in the resort bars, is the likely culprit. However, “I don’t know of any data that suggests that being in an all-inclusive resort is more dangerous than being at a not-all-inclusive,” Geen says. At some all-inclusives you’re somewhat in a bubble, which, he points out, could make it safer.

“I’m not saying it never happens — like with cruise ships, you do see stories of isolated incidents where something happens, but I haven’t heard about it spreading through all-inclusive resorts,” he says. Whatever’s going on in the Dominican Republic, it’s probably worth noting that, according to Geen, two million Americans stay at all-inclusive resorts on the island every year, and millions more visit all-inclusive resorts around the world.

What about safety?
It’s a sad reality that high crime rates exist in certain tropical destinations. If you’re going to one of them and you’re worried about personal safety, there’s a big advantage to the all-inclusive: You’ll be on the property most or all of your vacation, rather than out in the streets looking like an obvious mark when you’re simply going somewhere to eat.

Where does all this leave us? Does the all-inclusive resort save me money or not?
After factoring in all of the above, perhaps the best way to compare cost is to talk to a travel agent. Geen points out, “This is one of the reasons we provide added value to our clients. We’ve been to these places and sent clients there, and so, by using an agent, they’re getting experience and advice at no additional cost.”

If you’d prefer to handle it yourself, first figure out where you want to go, and who’s going with you. Got hungry/high-energy kids with you? An all-inclusive is probably a good idea and likely to save you money overall. Are you planning on going absolutely nowhere and luxuriously boozing your time away on-site? Daaaang, that’s practically what all-inclusives are made for!

If you’re looking to really explore a destination, though — trying new foods, seeking out new experiences, conversing with local people and having adventures — you’re not going to get that while ordering your eighth Long Island Iced Tea on your pool lounger, 12 feet from the bedroom door. If you want a real trip, as opposed to a glorified lie-in, you’re gonna have to pay for it.