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12 Things All-Inclusive Vacations Won’t Tell You

If you think that all-inclusive hotel seems like the deal of a lifetime, read the fine print—and the advice from these travel experts. There can be loads of hidden fees.

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Don’t assume beach photos mean beach swims

If you made your all-inclusive vacation booking based on gorgeous beach photos from the resort’s website, you’ll probably want to call ahead to ask if you can actually swim there. “Don’t just assume that you’re going to an all-inclusive resort and you’ll able to swim in the ocean,” shares Travelzoo producer Gabe Saglie. “Some resorts have pristine beaches, but the water’s too choppy to be safe. Make sure you know ahead of time.” For instance, these are the most dangerous beaches in the world.

Beautiful St Martin Caribbean ocean vacation destination sceneKent Weakley/Shutterstock

Beach chairs cost extra, too

Even if the beach is a picture-perfect scene of tranquility, many all-inclusive vacations and resorts rake in extra dollars by charging for things like lounge chairs on the beach—to the tune of $20 or more per chair, per day. Add in towel fees, fees for beachside beverage service, and other add-ons, and you may consider making a beeline for the pool instead. Here are some more ways you’re wasting money on vacation.

Couple toasting wineglasses in a luxury restaurantUfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock

Food is included, but it’s often pretty basic

Don’t expect the all-you-can-eat buffet to be a culinary delight. “Most all-inclusive stays come with all the food you can eat, food that’s usually themed differently depending on the venue you visit and that is available, at one location or another, 24 hours a day,” explains Gabe Saglie. “However, there are many offer options to elevate your culinary experience for an affordable cost, like $20-$40 per person. If you’re on a special vacation and need to spruce up dinner one night, this may well be a worthwhile option as it opens you up to a finer dining experience.” Saglie suggests reading up on the added-fee dining options at your all-inclusive before traveling because the best restaurants book up quickly even months in advance, even at the best all-inclusive resorts in the world. 

 Fresh spaghetti with tomato sauce and man hand, Low angle view of a serving of Italian spaghetti with a meat based bolognese, aodaodaodaod/Shutterstock

All-inclusive resorts are diet killers

While you may be getting more bang for your buck, all-inclusive vacations can actually be major diet hazards thanks to carb-heavy buffets and tons of sugary snacks. “If you are trying to not overeat, then the all-inclusive option can be hazardous to your health,” says Ryan Pyle, travel expert and Travel Channel host. “The value of paying for an endless supply of food is not the best if your goal is to maintain your weight.” Watch out for these foods you should avoid on vacation.

promising young people celebrating and drinking champagne toastIVASHstudio/Shutterstock

Your favorite drink will probably cost extra

“All-inclusive resorts have a lot of alcohol on hand, but the higher-quality spirits like some single malt whiskey options are often extra, while an onslaught of mixed, cheaper drinks are free,” says Pyle. “Again, it’s the quantity versus quality argument.” Bottom line: Don’t expect to uncork a fancy bottle of wine to pair with your dinner unless you’re ready to pay.

Wine bottles in wooden boxes are on the table restaurant. Wine background.Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock

There is a hack if you prefer better alcohol

If the sugary mixed-drink scene isn’t your thing, Pyle advises hitting the airport’s duty-free shopping section before you get to the resort. “You never know what kinds of alcohol are going to be included and what alcohol will be an extra charge or even unavailable. Going on a nice holiday and not having your favorite beverage in your hand while watching the sunset is a tragedy.”

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“Free” airport transfers could ruin your first and last days

If your all-inclusive resort boasts free airport transfers, Pyle suggests calling ahead to find out exactly what that means. If you’re sharing a ride with several other vacation-goers expecting drop-offs at other resorts, your half-hour ride could easily turn into two or more hours. Learn these other surprising secrets hotels won’t tell you.

little boy in the plane looking out the windowAleksei Potov/Shutterstock

Bringing kids?

A lot of all-inclusive resorts brag about child-friendly programming, babysitting, and drop-off programs, but what they don’t always advertise is that they’re extremely limited or cost lots of extra dough. A few all-inclusives, like Carnival Cruises, are known for their free and extensive day camp-like programs.

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All-inclusives offer travel agents the biggest commissions

If your travel agent is really pushing that all-inclusive beach resort, they could be making way more money off your booking than if they set up the actual vacation of your dreams. In fact, sometimes it’s more affordable to go à la carte with your travel bookings if you know what you like and have an expected budget for food and drinks. Here are some more secrets from travel agents that’ll help you save some cash.

Close-up Of Bill With American Dollars On Wooden TableAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Tips could add thousands to your bottom line

Yes, you’re expected to tip—a lot. All-inclusives are generally lots of fun—but most of the resort workers are employed with low salaries and live almost entirely on their tips. You’re expected to tip everyone from the guy who helped carry your luggage to the bartender to the towel clerk by the beach. Think you’ll get off cheap by not tipping housekeeping? Think again—standard rates are $5-10, per person, per day just for housekeeping tips.

Stand up paddle group on the seaPavel1964/Shutterstock

Water sports and adventures cost a pretty penny, too

The resort might’ve lured you in with a brochure or website that showed guests water skiing, kitesurfing, or using ultra-cool stand-up paddle boards, but all those activities cost extra cash. “Just about everything beyond taking a nap on the beach or swimming on your own will cost extra,” says Gary Randall, an adventure travel expert at the travel website Weekends Please. “Expect to pay $75 to $200 an hour for water sports—sometimes more, depending on if you’ll need instruction.” Check out our favorite summer vacation packages that really are worth the money.

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Don’t expect too much local culture

If you’re heading to an exotic island, a picturesque Mexican Riviera resort, or some other photogenic all-inclusive location, don’t expect to get immersed in the local culture. “All-inclusives tend to keep vacationers on their own grounds,” explains Gary Randall. “Once you realize how much extra you’re paying for activities and tours, you’ll be more likely to stay at the resort, which means you’ll be missing out on a lot of the wonderful local culture and people you probably traveled for.” Next, learn the travel mistakes that’ll make your vacation way more stressful.