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5 All-Inclusive Resort Hacks to Make the Most of Your Vacation

Consider these tips to limit billing surprises

spinner image a couple enjoy a spa treatment at The Indigo Spa at Hilton Head Health in South Carolina.
​The Indigo Spa complements the health and wellness experience at Hilton Head Health in South Carolina.​
courtesy Hilton Head Health

When all-inclusive resorts were introduced in the 1950s by Club Med, they were revolutionary. Originally designed for budget-conscious travelers, the big idea was that you could get away to a beach and be guaranteed a roof over a bed, something to quench your thirst and three squares a day without having to whip out your wallet. The resorts were less about quality as they were about accessibility — the fact that they existed was enough.

Nowadays, you can still find value-focused, all-inclusive resorts, but the inclusions that changed the game 70 years ago no longer even meet the bare minimum.

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spinner image Sandals Resort overlooks a beach in Jamaica
​Sandals Montego Bay resort in Jamaica was the company’s first all-inclusive resort.
Sandals Resorts

“When Sandals Resorts opened Sandals Montego Bay … in 1981, unlimited food and drinks, airport transfers and on-site activities such as water sports and evening entertainment were base inclusions,” says Maggie Rivera, 52, chief communications and strategy officer for the brand.

Sandals’ dominance ushered in the era of luxury for all-inclusives. Tight competition in high concentration on desirable beachfronts, predominantly in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, has raised the bar since.

You’ll pay more for these upgrades at an all-inclusive resort

More amenities and opportunities for upgrades can translate into more ways to spend money, by nickels, dimes … and surprise. Pilar Delgado, 74, discovered this when she visited Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for her first all-inclusive experience. When looking at her bill upon checkout, she realized “everything was covered … except the Irish coffees that I was having at night.” Delgado can’t remember the exact price, “but they were more than $10 in American money.” She learned the hard way that availability doesn’t always translate to inclusion.

“All” is often subjective, warns Tom Varghese, 53, owner of prestige agency Travel Tom. “Some claim they are all-inclusive, but they really are not. For example, when you arrive, they will tell you that the buffet is included, but if you want to eat at an a la carte restaurant, there is a surcharge. To me, this is not [all-inclusive].”

Generally, room upgrades, spa treatments, excursions, green fees, golf cart rentals, motorized water sports and wine by the bottle incur additional costs. Some resorts have surcharges for room service, a la carte dinners, workshops, childcare or late checkout. Premium entertainment, such as a guest performer or dinner show, falls into a gray area.

Don’t fear: There are ways around the upcharges. Consider these five tactics to make the most of your experience.

spinner image guests can enjoy many outdoor activities at Hilton Head Health in South Carolina
​South Carolina wellness resort Hilton Head Health features a packed recreation schedule. ​
courtesy Hilton Head Health

1. Look for special programs

“[ALG Vacations] has an Exclusive Perks program, where our buying team negotiates valuable extras at certain resorts that are offered to our clients only,” says Jacqueline Marks, 49, global head of trade brands for travel wholesaler ALG Vacations. “A professional travel agent can help you find the best bang for your buck” with this program. Benefits often include spa and other discounts, private hotel transfers, in-room gifts and even primo bonuses such as discounts on those “romantic dinners” that are always advertised.

Some programs are property-specific, such as H3 cash at South Carolina wellness resort Hilton Head Health, where credit for add-ons is bundled into every stay. It “is a great way to keep the all-inclusive feel while giving guests the opportunity to book a personalized experience for an ‘extra cost,’ ” says David Chesworth, program director for the resort. These experiences include massages, third-party excursions or even therapist or health coach consultations — special services that would otherwise incur added fees.

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2. Stay longer

“What a Difference a Day Makes” is a song anyone can sing when they add a day — and consequently more inclusions — to their vacation. Though three-night stays are often the norm for a quick all-inclusive getaway, the increased benefits for four nights can be worth it.

Under JetBlue Vacations, stays of four nights or more become eligible for perks at participating resorts, which adds values worth at least $100. At some resorts, there are limited-time offers with minimum stay requirements that often include a significant increase in (or manifestation of!) resort credit, complimentary airport transfers, free golf or even fifth- or seventh-night-free deals.

spinner image guests of the Lopesan Costa Bávaro Resort, Spa & Casino can enjoy a private pool.
​Guests who book a UNIQUE by Lopesan room can receive additional benefits such as a private pool, hydrotherapy access or a dedicated butler.​
Lopesan Costa Bávaro Resort, Spa & Casino

3. Upgrade your room

Some resorts offer complimentary room upgrades for special occasions if notified before arrival, but it’s a privilege often worth paying for. It’s also one of the best shortcuts to additional amenities outside your door.

“Guests who book a UNIQUE by Lopesan room will receive additional benefits,” says José Ignacio Alba, managing director of the hotel division of Lopesan Hotel Group. Some of these include hydrotherapy access, a dedicated butler, a reserved section on the beach, a private pool and beach club.

Many other major players offer similar added values. Inclusive Collection resorts by Hyatt provide a Preferred Club lounge serving all-day snacks and premium liquors, plus an in-room welcome bottle or treat. The Level at Meliá has a private lounge and VIP beach area with complimentary Bali beds, which usually require rental.

4. Book a spa treatment

Hydrotherapy circuits have become ubiquitous at many Mexican and Dominican Republic all-inclusive resorts, but access often costs extra. Some include a round on the house with certain room categories. Others offer day passes at varying rates. But the best way to stretch spending at the spa? Book a treatment.

Yes, they can be costly, but at an all-inclusive with a hydrotherapy circuit, a water journey is typically included, giving you both services for the price of one. From there, you can make a day of it, as spa access often unlocks “secret” relaxation spaces, such as private pool areas or decompression rooms.

5. Compare inclusions

When “all” is relative as it relates to inclusions, the best way to compare apples to apples is to line them up, then prioritize by greater personal value. “Today’s clients are likely and willing to pay for these extras,” Varghese says, and resorts will compete to capitalize on that opportunity.

If golf tours and excursions are important to you, choose a resort where admission and a shuttle to all parks is a key selling point. If you’re a foodie looking for extraordinary options, pick a resort where a premier culinary experience is complimentary.

As all-inclusive resorts offer more unique ways to make memories than ever before, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what inclusions are dealmakers and what charges are deal-breakers. With these tips, you just might find more value than you bargained for.

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