Photo: Emma-Kate (Shutterstock)
All-inclusive vacations can be a great deal, at least on paper: Just hand over a fixed amount of money to a resort or cruise company, and they’ll take care of your lodging, meals, entertainment, and maybe even airfare. But “all-inclusive” means different things in different situations—and you might be surprised at what’s not included.
The single most important thing to know before booking an all-inclusive vacation is that no two companies operate in the same way. Although the following perks are among the most frequently excluded, some packages do include them. There’s only one way to know exactly what you’re getting for your money: Always read the fine print. Reading legalese sucks, but the alternative (getting slapped with a surprise bill on an allegedly relaxing vacation) is far worse.
When people complain about hidden fees and surprise charges on a supposedly all-inclusive vacation, they’re almost always talking about resort fees. These charges run from a few bucks a night to hundreds of dollars, and usually show up on your bill with a line item like “housekeeping fee,” “gym access,” or some other standard amenity you’d expect to be included in the price of your room.
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Because they’re also mandatory—even if you don’t use the amenity covered by a resort fee, you still have to pay it—and not included in the advertised nightly or weekly price, resort fees can feel like a sneak attack. Reading between the lines, it’s obvious that this is just a sneaky way for hotels and resorts to advertise a lower rate than customers will end up paying.
If that smells like a bait-and-switch to you, you’re not alone: Consumer protection laws in Australia and the European Economic Area (basically the EU plus Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway) outlawed the practice by requiring businesses to state the total cost of a good or service as one number, including all mandatory taxes and fees. Unfortunately, outside Australia and Europe, resort fees are still very much legal, so be prepared for some extra charges when you check out.
Some all-inclusive vacation packages come with shuttle service to and from the nearest airport. Some don’t. It goes without saying that you should figure out which one you booked before you get on the plane, particularly if you’re traveling to an area you don’t know well.
Room service and “premium” food and drink
Not having to worry about meals is a huge reason why people choose all-inclusive vacations, but as many travelers have learned the hard way, only some food is part of the deal. Room service and “premium” alcohol—which can mean anything from “non-well mixed drinks” to “certain bottles of wine”—are the two most common exclusions.
Additionally, some packages only include buffet-style meals, which means onsite restaurants or bars cost extra. If eating and drinking are a big part of your vacation plans, make sure the sticker price includes the amenities you want.
Motorized water sports
Here’s a seemingly random one: The majority of beachfront resorts are very careful to specify that their vacation packages only include non-motorized water sports. (Presumably, insurance rates go through the roof once motorized watercraft get involved.) Even if the website features photos of people waterskiing, jet-skiing, or parasailing, those activities usually cost extra—so plan accordingly.
Any off-site activities
Finally, keep in mind that all-inclusive vacations very rarely include anything you do outside the resort. If you’d like to take a local walking tour or cooking class, visit museums, or generally do some sightseeing, you’ll be responsible for the cost.
This sounds super obvious, but offsite activity costs are surprisingly easy to overlook when leaving the resort isn’t exactly part of the plan. You don’t have to budget a huge chunk of cash for excursions—it’s just worth considering that, at some point, you might want to leave the resort to do something fun. Even if you don’t, you’ll be glad you set aside some money for unexpected expenses.
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