I will preface this post with the fact that I personally do not prefer all-inclusive resorts for my leisure travel. But I will keep an unbiased view on both, with giving the facts that I have learned in my experiences by staying at over 27 all inclusive resorts worldwide. I will talk about the largest differences that could steer your decision-making process, and then list out the pro’s and con’s of each and this will help you decide if an all-inclusive or non all-inclusive resort is better for your future trip!
LOCATION: This is a huge decision-making factor. Do you want a touristy hotspot, or a small town with charm? Easy access to beaches? Shopping? Location is the first thing people decide on when booking a trip. Next will be the accommodations. If you want a tourist hotspot, then you will find mostly all-inclusive resorts there. If you want more of a hillside, small town retreat, then a non all-inclusive hotel or home rental may be the way to go. For example, if you’re going to Cancun, then an all-inclusive would be easier to find. But if you are going to Hawaii, then you will be more susceptible to having to choose a non all-inclusive property, as Hawaii doesn’t have any or very few all-inclusive resorts.
OVERALL INVESTMENT: This is the #1 reason I prefer NON all-inclusive resorts. In all my research and trips, non all-inclusive properties do end up being cheaper in the long run. To some this may sound crazy, but it’s actually very factual. It may seem you’re paying less for your trip because ‘everything’s included’, but you really may not be. On average, all-inclusive resorts tack on a $150-200 a DAY fee PER person just for food and booze in the room rental rate. Unless you are wanting a binge trip, that’s a pretty hard amount to reach daily per person. If you have a double occupancy room, that means you are spending on average $300 a night just for food an alcohol. Even at some of the fanciest restaurants that’s not even a budget. When my husband and I travel, we stay at non all-inclusive’s 90% of the time and maybe will spend $100/day max for the both of us to eat and drink at leisure.
Keep in mind: Average prices for a double occupany in comparison are: $450/night for a 4 star all-inclusive vs $250/night for a 4-star non all-inclusive hotel or rental. That’s $200/day cheaper.
Another note: If you are pregnant, all inclusive’s can be a complete waste of money. Not only that, but the food quality and risk of sickness isn’t something I personally would mess with. Every time I stay at an all-inclusvie, I take a bottle of Pepto with me. And, every time I’m forced to use it. The quality of meats and produce used are not rated as high as what most people’s stomachs are used to, especially in the United States.
FOOD: This is the #2 reason I prefer non all-inclusive resorts, and a biggie in my book. I’ve researched this extensively and personally eaten at 27 all-inclusive resorts worldwide. In my opinion, the food is definitely lacking. They by fact and majority use poorer quality ingredients (meats, veggies and seafood). If international buffets and bar food are your thing, then you will probably enjoy the AI fare. If you appreciate finer foods, nice steaks and fresher ingredients, or have eating restrictions, be VERY mindful in selecting an all-inclusive resort. The only chain of all-inclusive resorts I find food to be decent in the food category is at Secrets. Unico in the Riviera Maya has amazing fare, but you also pay a nice markup for it.
ALCOHOL: Yes, included alcohol is an easy sell. Who doesn’t love the sound of “free alcohol”? But be weary of how all-inclusive it is. Many AI resort’s limit the alcohol selection to generic brands. Most of the time you have to book a pricey 5-star property to get top shelf ‘included’. Or what they call the ‘preferred club’ options. I find the drinks at all-inclusive’s to be watered down and over poured with Grenadine 90% of the time. Many people ask me, “So how do you stay at nicer hotels that are not all-inclusive and NOT spend a fortune?” EASY. We pack our liquor in our checked bags, along with our Yeti’s. And then buy beer or whatever mixers we want at local markets at our destinations. Easily saves $50-150/day for a couple. I in turn then use that savings towards a nicer room or dinner for us. So essentially it’s ‘included’…make sense?
CULTURE: All-inclusive places tend to have everything under one roof (i.e. resturants, shopping, entertainment). This promotes people to stay on property more and not go outside and experience the local culture.
According to Goldman off Friendly Planet Travel, “The traditional all-inclusive strategy is not going to benefit the local economy – period.” If you are one to enjoy eating at a local hotspot, touring the sights and fully taking in a country, then staying at a small inn might be more you’re thing.
PERSONALIZATION: All-inclusive’s will put a Honeymoon or Wedding sash on your door for a special touch, or gift you a ‘free’ bottle of paid for champagne. But if you want to be referred to by name, or just have more personalized/luxury service, I recommend staying at a non all-inclusive. When you find smaller properties, like the Rockhouse Hotel for instance in Negril, Jamaica, they call you by your last name and the whole staff memorize photos of you upon check-in in order to do so while on property. These little touches definitely make for a luxury experience, and is wonderful for honeymoons, anniversaries, etc.
SERVICE: Service at all-inclusive hotels is remarkable. Pretty much all the time. Mom and pop hotels can vary, but if researching in advance, you should never have an issue as well.
SIZE AND CROWDS: If you are going with a large group, or want to have a more social experience, I recommend going the all-inclusive route. They are easy to book with a travel agent or online, and have many onsite activities to keep groups occupied. If you want more privacy, romance and relaxation, I recommend staying at a non all-inclusive. One of my biggest pet peeves is having to wake up at 6 am in order to ‘lay something on a pool chair’ to ‘call it mine’ for the day. This is an everyday thing at all-inclusive resorts. I prefer waking up at a normal hour, having breakfast and then causally strolling to the pool and scoring an open chair.
General rule of thumb to keep in mind: The larger the property, the more crowded it will be.
KIDS: For family-friendly vacations, all-inclusive’s that allow children are a no-brainer. So is renting a home on Airbnb. Once again…it’s all about how much quality and privacy you want. Each family prefers different things. Families with small kids also should remember that all-inclusives tend to be mega-resorts, featuring many stairs and elevators, are very spread out and require a lot of walking.
DÉCOR: All-Inclusive properties tend to gear more towards the cookie cutter side. They all have their own ‘theme’, for example Secrets tend to be more upscale modern, and Hard Rock’s tend to be more trendy, music themed and geared around alcohol. They all share one thing in common though, and that’s amenities. They all have similar ‘themed’ restaurants – just with different names, free water sports and classes, ‘nightclubs’, and spas. Non all-inclusive places have more charm and character, with a one-of-a-kind touches that you won’t find at large resort chains. Just depends on what means more to you!
EXCLUSIVITY: Most/all of the more exclusive places in the world do not offer all-inclusive resort options. The harder the place is to get to, the chances of having all you can eat food and drink are slim. So for example, if you want to go to Bora Bora or Hawaii, the chances of finding an all-included place are not likely. If your heart is set on one, then popular tourist locations are your best bet, like Cancun, Riviera May and Dominican Republic. Busier places will have cheaper airfare and more direct flights, too!
QUICK OVERVIEW TO REFERENCE:
- Easy to book for groups, especially with a travel agent. For weddings, I recommend this read: Link other post here
- Good for college students or younger crowds
- No bills at the end of the trip – everything’s included (except some wines and lobster – which usually have an upcharge)
- Generally close to popular destinations and hotspots
- Airport transfers are simple
- Cheaper flights because they are typically located in busy cities
- Unmatched service
- Overall, they are more expensive when compared to non all-inclusive resorts when looking at the daily price average
- Less romantic due to large capacities
- Décor is more cookie cutter and flashy
- Closed off from cultural experiences and local gems
- Hundreds of rooms and more crowded
- Some require pointless restaurant reservations
- Lots of walking = Less relaxing
- Can be very party-rific and noisy if you choose a hip location
- Poorer food quality. In my findings, I’ve found the food to be lack luster and 90% of the time lesser grade in quality when compared to non all-inclusive resorts (ex. Red meats, produce, reused food). The chances of getting a stomach bug are far greater.
- Lack of/difficulty getting beach or pool seating
- Harder to leave the property for day trips. More of a compound feel.
NON ALL-INCLUSIVE PROPERTIES
- Overall, they are usually cheaper when compared to all-inclusive resorts on a daily price average
- More romantic
- Personalized and charming décor with boutique characteristics
- Gives you more local culture and options to explore
- Less walking = More relaxation
- Amazing personalized service (ex. Referring to you by your last names on property, randomly)
- Located in more exclusive and exotic locations
- Safer food quality
- Come and go as you wish with little to no questions
- Having a bill at the end of the trip to cover for incidentals
- May require more traveling to get to, more costly tickets, or in more rural or quieter areas
- Knowing how to convert money in local currency/carrying cash
- Transportation and airport shuttles require taxis/private cars/uber