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Holiday board basis: what does it mean?

08 September 2016 ( 20 May 2022 )

Do you know the difference between all-inclusive and full board? Writer Pat Richardson demystifies the confusion surrounding holiday board basis.

Food on an all-inclusive buffet
Do you know your all-inclusive from your full-board? Demystifying the differences between each board basis can be confusing.

A bed for the night is always welcome, but do you know what else you’ll be getting? Brochure terminology can be confusing, so here we spell out what each means.

It’s certainly good to know what to expect on your holiday, in terms of what’s included in the price you pay, and when you will need to budget for extra spending. A lot depends on whether your holiday is land-based, ship-based or an escorted tour - and of course some holidays combine two of those options.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Whatever the board basis, you are of course paying for each element that you use or consume; the difference is whether the package price you pay rolls all that up into a single upfront figure, or covers only most of the basics, leaving you with other items to pay for as you go along.

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Hotels and resort holiday packages

A number of options are available. (Meals included in the price, as detailed below, will be served in your hotel restaurant; should you prefer Room Service, there may well be an additional ‘tray’ charge, or you may have to pay for the meal itself.) 

Bed and breakfast (B&B) - means that the first meal of the day is included in the price.

Dinner, bed and breakfast (DB&B) - means that dinner every night is also included.

Half-board (HB) - means exactly the same as DB&B.

Full-board (FB) - means all three meals each day are included. This option is less common, but may operate at hotels in remote locations where there few if any other options for dining. In effect, this is also the board basis offered at all-inclusive resort hotels and on board some cruise ships.

Related: Package holidays vs. direct bookings – which is best?


This board type means that all meals are included, and in a resort almost always* means that drinks are, too. However, this may cover only a range of drinks – for example, soft drinks, beers, some popular cocktails and house wines. You may  also have the option of ordering pricier cocktails, better wines, and certain spirits, for which you will have to pay*.

At an all-inclusive hotel or resort, other facilities are also often covered by the price of your stay. This could mean use of a spa* (but would not cover the cost of individual spa treatments), beach games and water sports* or other sports facilities such as tennis courts*.

*Always check the brochure for details or ask the tour operator or your travel agent to spell out what is and what isn’t covered by the term all-inclusive. The same answer won’t necessarily apply to all the all-inclusive deals they offer, so make it clear that you want the answer in respect of a particular property.

Related: All inclusive holidays: what’s not included?

Doing things differently…

At hotels in the USA and Canada, the board basis often does not include breakfast. In brochures, this is shown as RO or R/O – meaning Room Only. This reflects the fact that many North Americans-on-the-move leave hotels early in the morning to hit the road, and stop somewhere for breakfast an hour or even two hours later. 

As well, it reflects the popularity of going out for breakfast even when you are staying in a hotel.

In some European cities, quite a number of hotels have a breakfast room only, and no restaurant serving other meals. This reflects that guest preference for dining out means having an in-house restaurant is not economically viable. Obviously, B&B is the only board option in these hotels.

Escorted tours

With this sort of holiday, you’ll be spending from one or two nights to perhaps as many as four in one hotel, and then moving on to another, and perhaps several others over the course of your holiday, as it is a tour.  

Not all hotel stays on a particular tour will necessarily be on the same board basis; and even at those where dinner is usually included, your itinerary may feature a special meal out elsewhere.

You are likely to be given a period of free time to take lunch at your own expense on some travelling days. ‘Doing your own thing’ works well on escorted tours, as not everyone wants a big meal at lunch and some are happy to skip it altogether. Your tour guide can often recommend a few local cafes and restaurants to reflect varying tastes and budgets. 

On occasion, your hotel may provide a picnic lunch for you to enjoy on your journey. Some lunches may be included, and then you’ll all eat together; and you may well have been asked to make your menu choices for this meal in advance.

Full details of which meals are included where will be spelled out in the tour itinerary. Check before you book to be sure you’ll be happy with it.

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Almost every cruise ship, whether on a river or at sea, offers full-board accommodation on-board – in other words, breakfast, lunch and dinner. On some cruise lines, such as Saga Cruises, this can include wine with lunch and dinner.

Dining for a price

Some ships have alternative dining venues – often these are called speciality restaurants - where you can have a meal instead of in the main restaurant.  Some ships charge for dining in any and all of them; others charge for some but not all. In some venues, a supplement may be charged; in others, there may be a full-charge menu.          

Larger ocean ships are likely to have a number of alternate dining venues; smaller vessels may have just one or two. Increasingly, high-end river cruise ships are featuring an alternate dining venue; some make a charge, others include one meal taken here in the cost of your cruise.

On river or ocean ships, passengers in top-level accommodation may have dining at one or more of a ship’s speciality restaurants included in their cruise fare.

Advance booking is usually required for alternate dining venues – on any and all ships - because they have a limited number of seats. Passengers in top-level accommodation may well be given priority when making reservation.

All-inclusive cruises

All-inclusive on a ship often covers more than it does when you are staying ashore. It covers not only full-board accommodation on board, on almost all cruises, but also, on some ships, drinks. This may mean just drinks served with dinner, or with lunch and dinner - usually soft drinks, beers and selected wines. (You can order pricier alternatives, and pay for them.)

On some ships – usually at the luxury end of the market, all drinks served on-board, with meals or at bars, are included (with the possible exception of champagne and perhaps brandy).  As well, some also include placing a bottle of your pre-chosen spirits plus mixers in your stateroom mini-bar. 

Also on some luxury vessels, complimentary canapés and pre-dinner cocktails or champagne every evening are included. These inclusions may apply to all guests or only to those in top category staterooms or suites.

Discover Saga's great range of all-inclusive cruises


On-board entertainments and enrichment events are also usually included in the price of your cruise. Other inclusions may relate to on-board spa or sports facilities, and the use - ashore - of the ship’s bicycles and Nordic walking poles.

As well, some excursions may be included. Many river cruise lines offer at least one included excursion or tour at every port of call, some include more than one. There will often also be a range of optional and chargeable excursions to choose from. And at most ports of call, a free shuttle bus service also operates.

Again, check the brochure or ask your travel agent to confirm exactly what is included in the fare you pay for your cruise.


 …means ‘buyer beware’ - and you must, because when it comes to your holiday board basis, one size does not fit all, and what works for one holidaymaker may not be the right choice for another.

For example, ‘All-Inclusive’ may sound as if there’s nothing more to pay – but it doesn’t always cover absolutely everything, because some all-inclusives are more ‘all’ than others. If you’re on a cruise ship, more is usually included than if you are in a hotel or resort. On a ship or ashore ‘all-inclusive’ often means that drinks are included; so if you’re not a drinker, you could be paying more for your holiday than you need to, because drinks have been costed in.

 On the whole, choosing a holiday on the grounds that it’s the cheapest available in a given destination is no guarantee that you won’t end up paying as much as - or possibly more than - the difference between that low price and one that includes much more, because one way or another you will pay for the other elements if you use or consume them. 

Resort owners, cruise lines and tour operators can make economies of scale because they cater for such large numbers. This means they can prices such elements as drinks or excursions, for example, at less than what you might pay if you bore the cost yourself.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.