8 Things That Will Run Up the Bill on Your ‘All-Inclusive’ Vacation

Don't let a vacation called "all-inclusive" surprise you with expensive add-ons and fees. Here's what to know before you book.

Nothing quite says vacation like sipping a mai tai under a palm tree by a pool. But having that drink at an all-inclusive resort could end up costing more than you expected.

This is especially disappointing when you’ve made an effort to get away without breaking the bank. (Check out: “13 Simple Ways to Save on Your Summer Vacation.”)

All-inclusive vacations, be they resorts or cruises, offer a model in which the guest pays once and, after that, everything is supposed to be taken care of — presumably including meals, drinks and entertainment. In many cases, however, the resort’s definition of “all-inclusive” may not match your expectations. Various activities, and some food and drink, can come with an extra charge. It can be particularly easy to rack up these charges, since money won’t usually change hands until the end of the trip. Usually, the resort has your credit card number, and you’ll simply sign a paper to charge things to “the room.”

To avoid an unpleasant surprise when you settle your bill, and a sour ending to your vacation, here are eight things to consider before you book an all-inclusive deal:

1. It may not be cheaper

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The price often includes a host of different activities which you will pay for even if you just want to lounge by the pool. A more a la carte-style vacation, where you only pay for things as you do them, can end up being much cheaper — even though it might feel pricier to keep pulling out your wallet. Another advantage of this model is not needing to fight for refunds. Negotiating a refund from a resort, even if it’s closed because of a hurricane passing through, can be tricky and involve lots of legal wrangling. Paying as you go avoids this potential problem, since you only buy things as you use them.

2. Getting there

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The resort may be wonderful, but unless it’s walking distance from home, there will be travel expenses. Airfare to and from will be an added cost. Resorts may cover the transfer from the airport to their facility, but that’s certainly something to consider and factor into your budget if they don’t.

3. Food and drink

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Not all the food is included. Many resorts offer multiple restaurants, but the top-of-the-line choices with the best food may cost extra. Or, in some cases, a buffet may be included in the fee but going to a table-service restaurant will come with an added fee.

Drinks can work on the same model: Cocktails may be free if you’re OK with house liquor, but the top-shelf stuff, or the mid-shelf stuff for that matter, could cost extra. In some cases, only non-alcoholic drinks are free, so if you want a beer of glass of wine with dinner, it will cost you.

One way around this fee could be to upgrade to a premium package, in which you pay for the more expensive stuff in advance. If you have expensive tastes, it could end up being a better choice.

Also, to prepare for the worst, check out: “Don’t Let Sickness Sink Your Vacation

4. Activities

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A common practice is to include non-motorized activities like snorkeling or volleyball in the price, but to charge extra for you to hop on a jet ski or go parasailing. Other activities might be partly included in the base cost. If they say “golf all you want,” for example, it’s worth checking into that anyway — it might mean the greens fees are included, but you’ll still need to pay to rent clubs, or it could mean unlimited golf, after you pay an initial fee for it. Best to ask so you’re not surprised.

5. Excursions

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Even if everything on the resort or the ship is included, that isn’t going to apply once you leave. If you want a look at the local culture, everything in town is going to be at an extra cost.

6. The view

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The room they show in the brochure is likely to be one of the best at the resort, and it’s likely to cost you extra. If you want a view of the ocean, it’s going to cost more than a view of the parking lot.

Also, be careful of the language they use. The term “beachfront” may not mean you see any of the actual ocean, just the sand. And keep in mind, a term like “ocean view” may be loosely defined. It could mean a sweeping, unobstructed vista, or it could mean if you lean against the window and squint, you can see a sliver of blue. Consider checking travel review sites, or simply calling the resort to clarify what sort of room you’re getting.

7. Tipping

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Some places fold tips into the base price, other places don’t. Find out ahead of time, so you can budget accordingly.

8. Resort fees

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Something else that rarely makes it into the brochure are “fees” that resorts, and even regular hotels, often say helps them maintain a nebulous set of items, which can often seem like they should be included in the base price. These non-optional fees can sometimes run as high as $75 per day. It’s little more than a way of making the advertised room rate seem lower than it actually is. Again, checking travel review sites, calling ahead and reading the fine print when booking can help you avoid surprises.

Also, check out “12 Ways to Avoid Paying Obnoxious Resort Fees

Do you have experience with all-inclusive vacations and have some tips? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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