The Cost of an All-Inclusive Vacation

Photo credit: oliveirag, CC BY 2.0.

It’s been a good long while since my partner and I went to the beach — but back in February when we were looking for flights for a summer beach trip, nothing seemed to be less than $400 per person from our midwestern home. Hotel reservations in coastal cities were even worse, and so we asked ourselves: how much would it cost to take this beach vacation somewhere more tropical, like Mexico?

We searched various travel agency websites until we settled on a seven-day, six-night trip for two from Ohio to Cancún for $2,320. That’s all-inclusive: flights, meals, the resort (plus an extra $80 for trip insurance). I was a little sticker-shocked, but we had the vacation money saved, so I settled into the idea that by buying everything upfront, we’d also purchased ourselves the ability to relax and not worry about costs after we arrived.

The biggest benefit of the all-inclusive resort package is that all onsite restaurants, most basic drinks (including local beer, wine, and well drinks), and most activities (kayaking, swimming pool, gym, evening music and entertainment) are included in the price of the lodging. I liked the idea of being able to have everything in one place, where I could wander in my swimsuit from beach to lunch to pool to swim-up bar.

The week was wonderful, and the perfect length of time: I swam every day, we read books, and we ate dinner at a cloth-napkins-and-palate-cleansers fancy restaurant every night. This is a major departure from our regular daily life, but we enjoyed the convenience and excess of it all.

It’s harder, however, to figure out whether we got a “good deal.” I can do direct comparisons for things like the flights and the airport transfers, since I can check prices on other sites — flights to Cancún would have been around $350 per person and airport transfers would have been $60 per person, or $820 total. Subtract that from $2,320 and that leaves $1,500 for a week’s worth of food, drinks, lodging, and entertainment, or approximately $215 per day.

Given that some hotel rooms are more than $215 to begin with, that doesn’t seem so bad to me — especially when you consider the other, less-tangible items we bought for that $215-per-day price:

  • We bought the ability to never think “should I purchase another drink now?” We drank a lot of frozen drinks and mini-beers, none of which seemed to have much alcohol in them, but we actually enjoyed that more because highly alcoholic drinks would have made me feel uncomfortable in the hot Cancun sun.
  • We bought the ability to plan ahead and make reservations at the nicer restaurants on the property. The strange thing about the restaurants is that they all have different levels of fancy-ness but are all “free,” so you get better restaurants if you make your reservation as early as possible. We were able to do so, and spent much more time in the nice menu restaurants than we did in the snack bar or the buffets.
  • We bought the chance to give things like the Mayan music show and the magic show a chance without feeling like there was an opportunity cost. We also did activities like movie trivia games, beach volleyball, and in-pool aerobics just because they were included, which are things we probably wouldn’t pay for if they had been “a la carte.”

What we really bought was the freedom from making new financial choices for a week. We’d been warned that even though tipping was “not required,” tips were appreciated, so we just brought enough money to give an appropriate tip, usually between $1 and $5, for any interaction we had with staff. It ended up costing us around $100, but since we’d planned for it, it didn’t really feel like a new cash outlay.

Part of why we were able to buy this freedom without spending an excessive amount was based on the resort we chose.  We scoured the listings and reviews on travel websites, and found a pretty substantial jump in price between two kinds of resorts: older resorts that pushed their timeshare options extremely hard but had lower prices, and better maintained or newer resorts that had higher prices with correspondingly higher satisfaction rates from customers.

The resort we chose was the cheapest we could find in the higher-rated group of resorts. There is no guarantee that it was one of the better resorts — it was smaller than some of the other options and still came with a timeshare pitch, which we skipped — but it was clean, the staff were friendly and accommodating, and all of the perks and accommodations listed online were available.

I don’t know if I will do another all-inclusive vacation, but when you need a week of only making decisions like “pool or beach?” and “mimosa or daiquiri?”, this kind of vacation can certainly deliver. Discovering that, dollar for dollar, we got quite a bit for our money is just a nice bonus.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. Read more of her work at Messy Mapmaker.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Experience Series.

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