When you should — and shouldn't — book an all-inclusive vacation, according to an expert

grinvalds/iStockChoosing between all-inclusive and booking separately depends on what kind of vacation you want.
  • All-inclusive packages handle your flights and accommodations in one fell swoop, which can make planning easier, according to Travelzoo’s senior editor Gabe Saglie.
  • Booking separately gives you more control over your stay, per Saglie.
  • Planning a vacation is personal, so Saglie recommends reviewing all of your options before booking.

From hotels to flights, there’s a lot to consider when mulling over how to maximise your bottom dollar while still locking down the vacation of your dreams. Should you book that enticing all-inclusive deal? Or, should you do your own homework and book your trip independently of a vacation package?

It’s a question that many travellers may find themselves considering. Before you pack your bags, this is when you should do all inclusive and when you should book separately.

All-inclusive packages handle all of your travel plans, which can be very convenient

If you’re someone who doesn’t like to think about the details too often, then an all-inclusive option could be a good option for you. According to Travelzoo’s senior editor Gabe Saglie, booking an all-inclusive vacation package can make the entire trip planning process much easier.

“Planning a vacation is personal, so there will be times when it makes sense to go all inclusive and other times when it will make sense to piece your vacation separately. The convenience all-inclusive is that it does all of the homework for you. You are presented with this mapped out series of days,” Saglie told INSIDER. “It can make the planning aspect of a vacation easier.”

All-inclusive packages can be limiting in terms of what each bundle offers, but not always

When you decide to book separately, you are in control of where you stay, what airline you fly and the types of activities you engage in. There’s not always so much flexibility with an all-inclusive package, according to Salie.

“You are working with a company that’s sort of putting these basic travel elements together. If you go with an all-inclusive vacation package as-is, you need to make sure the package offers what you want or are looking for from your vacation,” he said. “Because once you lock that in, that’s the experience that you will be having once you arrive.”

Saglie noted that some all-inclusive packages may be customisable, so make sure to check with the company before you book.

Aeroplane rainMichael Rehfeldt/FlickrSome all-inclusive packages might be customisable, making it possible to book your choice airline.

“I see all-inclusive vacation packages as a threshold into what your vacation can be like. Usually, I rarely book a vacation package exactly as presented,” he said. “I may want to fly another airline because I’ve got status on that airline or I’d rather do an adults-only resort and not do the family-friendly hotel, or vice versa. Vacation packages really just go into the possibilities that are out there. The beauty about a lot of these vacation packages, especially if you’re working with a good company, is that you can always go in and personalise them a little bit.”

For a more-localised vacation experience, book the trip on your own

If you’re in search of a cozier vibe that integrates you right into the heart of a particular city’s culture, then it’s best to book your trip on your own.

“The fact that we are no longer relegated to just hotels and resorts gives you the chance to explore specific neighbourhoods and destinations that allows you to localise your trip. All-inclusive packages are not generally there yet,” Saglie said. “With all-inclusive, it’s usually more of a standardised resort you’re going to.”

He added, “Nowadays, more travellers are looking to dive a little deeper into a destination on a cultural level because we have access to so many more accommodation options. Sometimes doing it yourself would be the better way to go, simply because those kinds of options aren’t readily available yet in the all-inclusive landscape right now.”

If you want to stay put in one spot, go the all-inclusive route

All-inclusive vacation packages are great options for travellers who want to stay mostly one spot.

Cancun beachSandra Duarte / EyeEm / Getty ImagesIf you just want to stay one place, an all-inclusive might be a good idea.

“Oftentimes, if all you want to do is sit on the beach for three nights it makes sense to look at all-inclusive packages,” said Saglie.

Factor in credit card points and other travel program perks you have access to when deciding how to book

Many credit card companies offer cardholders a chance to redeem their points for flights, hotel stays, and more. Sometimes, these points can be used to pay for an entire trip. In this case, Saglie said it makes more sense to book separately.

“These days, whether you’re using credit cards or if you have status with a particular resort chain, sometimes it can be more bang for your buck to cash in on some of those insider perks able to buy airfare with miles or upgrade your resort experience because you’ve got points,” he said. “That can be a pretty effective way of enhancing your trip in a way that may be an all-inclusive package can’t or at that same price-point.”

But, sometimes these points can be used to upgrade your all-inclusive packages, too.

“I’m always going in and switching up the airline a little bit because there are a few airlines I like to fly and have a certain amount of status on. Or, I can use miles to upgrade the package,” said Saglie. “You can creatively tailor some of these sort all-inclusive packages beyond what you see in the ad.”

Think about the time of year you are planning to travel, and compare both options

The time of year will play a big factor in the overall cost of your vacation. You may be able to score a money-saving deal with an all-inclusive package during certain seasons, per Saglie.

“If you are looking to go to a destination during a slow time of the year, like travelling to the Caribbean in the summer or during hurricane season, you’re going to be finding some pretty good bargain deals,” said Saglie. “At that point, it behooves people to look at these individual resort pricing and individual airfare pricing to see if they can compete with some of these all-inclusive package options.”

If you’re looking for a particular type of experience, book your travel yourself

Travellers who are seeking a certain type of vacation or have expectations about how the trip should go are better off booking separately.

“If you’re looking for a very specific or special type of experience while you’re vacationing, that’s when it may make more sense to package the travel yourself. Oftentimes there are very unique or specialised resorts that may not play ball with a vacation package,” he said. “If you are an adrenaline junkie and you’re looking to maximise your trip by zip lining in the morning, river rafting in the afternoon, and cave diving in the evening, that’s the specialised personalised experience where vacation packages may come up short. In this case, you really need to do the legwork yourself.”

One may be more cost efficient than the other

Sometimes all-inclusive packages can be a better deal than booking your reservations individually, according to Saglie. This is because travel companies are able to buy up large volumes of hotel rooms and flights at one time and sell them to customers at a discount.

“There’s no doubt that vacation companies that put these packages together pass on legitimate savings to travellers,” Saglie said. “They are usually buying up hotel rooms or airline seats in bulk so that they are getting these lower rates or getting extras tacked on that they can pass on to customers. Oftentimes, you are looking at some pretty dramatic price-points. It can also be sort of a financially attractive way to go as well.”

He recommends exploring all of your options before signing on the dotted line.

“Even if you do go with an all-inclusive package, you want to make sure that what is in that package caters to what you want. We covet our vacation days. We’ve got three, four, five nights if we are lucky to escape for that long,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is be pigeon-holed into an experience that looked really good and was priced right but at the end of the day wasn’t really what you wanted.”

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