If there's anything that seems too good to be true, it's the all-inclusive holiday. Free booze for 14 days? All-you-can-eat lobster luncheons? The luxury of not spending a single penny for a fortnight?
Yes, an all-inclusive break may occasionally involve hiding from that tiresome couple from Telford by the buffet counter every morning, but the appeal of those plastic wristbands isn’t difficult to see.
Are all-inclusive holidays value for money?
You don’t have to be on a tycoon’s wages to enjoy an all-inclusive holiday. Saga offer all-inclusive getaways from as little as £349 a week per person.
Going all-inclusive is becoming staggeringly popular too. According to market research firm GfK, half of all package deals are to an all-inclusive resort.
What’s more, the all-inclusive has evolved since Club Med pioneered the concept in the 1950s. Today, you can enjoy all-inclusive river cruises along the Mekong and safaris through the wilderness of South Africa - your options are endless.
However, despite the seemingly wallet-friendly prices of all-inclusive breaks, a Post Office Travel Money survey earlier this year found that nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of all-inclusive holidaymakers paid for additional expenses during their holiday, spending an average of £254.
So how much can you really get with your snazzy pink plastic wristband?
Before you book
Before clicking ‘buy’, it’s worth pondering what type of all-inclusive break you want. Are you looking for a hedonistic, romantic retreat with frangipani-strewn private pools and personal butlers? In which case, you’d hate family-orientated resorts where kids dive-bomb the Jacuzzi and noisy Peppa Pig Club meetings are held by the pool every morning.
Also, make sure you read the small print or FAQs/Terms and Conditions of the resort/operator website to check exactly what is included. Every deal is different, with most resorts charging for extras such as spa treatments, premium food/drink and excursions.
Check out online message boards and guest review websites too – those sumptuous shots of infinity pools you’ve glimpsed on the brochure/website, might look very different when you arrive to find the entire resort has ear-perforating construction work going on.
The benefits of going on a relaxing all inclusive holiday
Going hungry is rarely a problem in all-inclusive resorts. Buffet breakfasts, lunch and dinner will generally be included, as will snacks throughout the day plus tea/coffee. Some resorts have a battalion of different eateries, which usually includes a fine dining à la carte restaurant, where you may be restricted to a limited number of meals during your stay, or have to pay extra for premium dishes such as lobster or steak.
At some resorts, only meals in the main buffet room are included. Which is fine for two days. But facing the same re-heated paella and sorry-looking chicken wings every mealtime for a fortnight can get repetitive and you’ll probably find yourself desperate to dine outside the resort.
Indeed, a 2015 Post Office Travel Money survey found that two-thirds of all-inclusive holidaymakers get bored of the food in their hotels, spending an average of £233 on meals/drinks in local restaurants/bars, on top of what they’ve already paid.
A guide to healthy holiday eating
Step into an all-inclusive resort and it can feel like a Wham! video circa 1983, with guests guzzling fluorescent-coloured cocktails while larking around on lilos at 10.30am. And while George Michael was correct in observing that drinks are free (‘fun and sunshine, there’s enough for everyone’ might be a moot point), it’s usually only locally-produced wine, beer and spirits that are gratis in all-inclusive resorts, with guests paying for top-shelf beverages.
Should you fancy your regular nightcap of Glenglassaugh 30-year-old malt, rather than that chemical-looking Thai whisky, you’ll usually have to fork out extra for it. In some regions, such as the Caribbean or the Far East, where wine has to be imported, vino with your meal will normally require a charge.
Meanwhile, some resorts have midnight curfews on free drinks. It’s at such times you may envy guests in upscale resorts, with their wine cellars and in-room mini-bars stocked with bottles of premium spirits.
Q I’ve heard that Brits could be banned from taking all-inclusive holidays to Spain because of an insurance scam. How likely is this?
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says there’s been a rise of 500% in food poisoning claims by British tourists since 2013.
It suspects that this has been driven by rogue claims firms taking advantage of Spanish consumer-protection laws. ABTA says that the claims are damaging to the holiday industry as a whole and may lead to increased prices as a result of what is essentially fraud on a multimillion-pound scale, in exactly the same way as fake whiplash claims affected car insurance.
In June 2017, ABTA launched a Stop Sickness Scams campaign. ‘Our reputation in Spain is being trashed as a result of these spurious claims,’ says the association’s Sean Tipton. ‘A ban on “all-inclusives” there is not inconceivable.’
To us, it seems unlikely. But beware cold-callers asking whether you’ve been ill while holidaying abroad and claiming that you may be ‘entitled’ to money in compensation. Police here and abroad are coming down hard on anyone suspected of making, or colluding in, a fraudulent claim. It’s a criminal offence with a possible jail term. Of course, genuine food poisoning should be addressed immediately. If you go down with it, notify the hotel/complex (as well as your tour rep) straightaway and seek medical help if necessary. This is not only to alleviate the illness but to obtain documentation showing that your sickness is genuine should you wish to pursue a legitimate claim.
Non-motorised watersports such as snorkelling, kayaking and pedalos are usually free. But should you want to skim across the waves on jet skis, or scuba-dive, you’ll probably have to pay for the privilege (however, some packages may include a free beginners’ dive).
Although playing tennis or hiring a yoga mat from reception isn’t likely to incur any costs, there will usually be a charge for lessons or the use of a yoga-teacher. Some operators, such as Club Med Academies cover lessons under its all-inclusive rates.
Package holidays vs. direct bookings - which holiday type may be better for you?
Families and childcare
All-inclusives are perfect for families, but unless you’ve chosen a child-friendly resort, it could end in tears – both for the youngster and out-of-pocket parents. Kids’ clubs may be advertised as ‘free’, but some require payment for looking after non-potty trained toddlers.
Also, not all kids’ clubs are seven days a week – some may not occur at weekends. It’s worth reading online message boards about the quality of child-care too – are the nannies fully-qualified staff or local teenagers earning pocket money? Look out for hidden extras too – if you want a baby-listening device, you may need to pay for it.
The stuff you’ll typically need to pay for includes excursions, spa treatments and laundry. However, Wi-Fi, internet use and evening entertainment shows should be free. There may also be local city taxes or ‘resort fees’ to pay on check-out too. It’s worth taking some local currency – despite the ‘No Tipping’ policy at some resorts, many employees expect to be tipped.
Leaving the resort
The one thing that isn’t included in many resorts is local colour. A criticism oft-levelled at all-inclusive resorts is that they’ve become ‘luxury ghettoes’, isolating wealthy western guests from the vibrant cultures outside. They can also have a harmful effect on the local economy too.
Because resorts ply guests with everything they need from food to shopping, they’re unlikely to venture to the nearest jerk chicken shack, hire local drivers or buy from artisan craftspeople in local markets. Last year, the president of the Canary Islands said the archipelago – which has the second-highest unemployment rate of any region in the EU – needs to encourage all-inclusive tourists to “leave the hotel” and spend money to support local businesses.
Forget sinking copious piña coladas: Leaving the resort to explore the local region could be the most all-inclusive thing a tourist can do…
Buying food from street vendors