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4 Top Strategies for Avoiding All-Inclusive Vacation Traps

It pays to carefully read guest reviews and understand what's truly included in the overall rate.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Top Strategies for Avoiding All-Inclusive Vacation Traps

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Avoid getting nickel-and-dimed on your next all-inclusive getaway by researching recent guest reviews before booking your stay. Getty Images/Moment RF

All-inclusive resorts tend to offer the illusion of a great bargain, but in reality, that's not always the case. After all, with many all-inclusive resorts bundling meals, drinks, lodging and activities into one price, it's easy to see how all-inclusives can be an enticing proposition for families and frugal travelers alike. But unfortunately, what you see online isn't always what you get. Even after you've sifted through guest reviews and combed through well-crafted sales pitches online, sometimes the resort's cuisine, customer service and cleanliness can fall short of expectations. For this reason, choosing a low-end all-inclusive resort is a lot like playing the lottery. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

But here's the thing: If you know what to look for, you can avoid wasting your time and money on an unsatisfactory vacation experience. Here are four of the biggest all-inclusive vacation traps to watch out for, and how to avoid them.

If It Looks Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

During the off-season, you can usually book a room at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean for less than $100 per night if you're not picky. But to be able to offer all-inclusive nightly rates at around $100 with all food and drinks covered in the price, oftentimes quality is sacrificed. Picture all-you-can-eat buffets with hot dogs as the main meal option for a week and less-than-appetizing pre-made margaritas to drink. Other times, the room quality may not be stellar (think: mismatched sheets, thin walls and broken TVs in every room).

The bottom line is reading plenty of reviews and being willing to spend a little more for a well-maintained property is a simple way to avoid retreating to an all-inclusive resort that fails to meet your needs and expectations.

Beware of Not-So-All-Inclusive Rates

While some all-inclusive resorts really do cover drinks, meals and entertainment, others exclude some perks and benefits you might not anticipate. For instance, at certain all-inclusive properties, some menu items can require extra fees. Meanwhile, other low-end resorts may charge extra for specialty drinks and top-shelf liquors. If you don't like drinking nonalcoholic beverages or bottom-shelf brands, this is important to factor into your budget ahead of time. To avoid any surprises, make sure you know what is – and isn't – included in the fare before you book.

Avoid Time Share Scandals

Many all-inclusive resorts also offer time shares. While offering time shares isn't an issue in itself, the way all-inclusive sales associates sometimes market all-inclusive properties to potential customers can be problematic to unsuspecting travelers. At some all-inclusive resorts, staff members approach vacationers at any opportunity to offer them a "free gift" for attending a presentation, which can translate to an awkward and pushy sales pitch.

While you may not want to avoid all-inclusive properties that double as a time share altogether, it's a smart idea to know whether it's something you should watch out for. Usually, a quick scan through recent traveler reviews online will help you determine whether past guests felt hassled by sales associates.

Determine If the Property Caters to Families

Conducting a quick online search will yield a slew of affordable all-inclusive resort options well-suited for families of all sizes. Some properties even offer promotions that allow kids to stay for free, a major draw if you have a gaggle of kids to bring along and you're on a tight budget. On the other hand, if you're planning a kid-free vacation, many all-inclusive resorts offer adults-only areas that afford more privacy and a whole lot less crying for a higher nightly rate. Also keep in mind that some other all-inclusive resorts ban guests under 18 to attract adults seeking a child-free vacation.

Before you book your all-inclusive vacation, remember that family-friendly resorts are often full to the brim with – you guessed it – kids. If you want a little peace and quiet, it's almost always worth splurging for the kid-free option next door.

The Takeaway

Though the right all-inclusive resort can make your vacation convenient, affordable and fun, choosing the wrong place to stay can leave you wishing you had stayed home. Fortunately, a myriad of review sites and trusted travel resources on the Internet can help you wade through the good, the bad and the ugly to identify red flags and find an all-inclusive resort that offers a truly great vacation value.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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