13 mistakes to avoid at all-inclusive resorts
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers. Some services and amenities at all-inclusive resorts may be temporarily paused during the coronavirus pandemic. Call your resort to check on any changes to normal operation.
I stayed for 28 nights at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic during hurricane season — pre-coronavirus times. I live out of hotels and I discovered an all-inclusive property that was bookable for just 8,000 Choice points per night. So my husband and I went and lived the all-inclusive life for nearly a month.
Between this 28-night stay and a shorter three-night stay at a different property, I discovered many mistakes that can be made when booking, packing for and staying at an all-inclusive resort. Most of the mistakes in this guide only apply to all-inclusive resorts, but some could also apply to other trips.
Here are the mistakes to avoid when traveling to an all-inclusive resort.
Assuming everything is included
"All-inclusive" might make you believe everything is included, but this is rarely the case. You may incur extra charges at a resort for such things as select restaurants, tours, activities, spa offerings, Wi-Fi, premium alcohol and room service. Even if all of these are included, you'll likely incur extra charges for airfare, baggage fees, airport transport and resort fees.
Before booking an all-inclusive vacation, do your research to see what's included and what's not. Some resorts are more all-inclusive than others, so be sure to account for that when comparing prices.
Choosing the wrong resort
Find the right resort for you. In general, this boils down to three things: guest demographics, resort location and resort theme. Location is simple to research, and most properties are relatively clear regarding their theme. But demographics can be difficult and are usually best determined by reading reviews and looking at photos from past guests.
The resort we stayed at for a month was mainly filled with Dominican tourists and Canadians traveling on Sun Wing vacation packages, while the resort I stayed at during JetBlue's Destination Good trip promotion was more popular with large families, weddings and bachelorette parties. The other guests at the resort can have an impact on your experience, so do your research.
Traveling at the wrong time of year
We visited the Dominican Republic in the midst of hurricane season, which may have been the reason Choice priced the property at 8,000 points per night. It only rained a couple of days, but we did need to make backup plans in the form of refundable award tickets leaving the island when we were in the predicted path of a hurricane. Luckily, the storm changed course and we were able to cancel the tickets.
Also check the dates of local and national holidays, since many resorts can get crowded because they offer day passes or annual passes to local residents on those days. You may want to avoid the rainy season or humid season unless you're purposefully traveling during the offseason to get lower prices.
Related: The best destinations to visit in November
Not considering your booking options
In general, you can book direct paying cash rates, book direct using award nights or points, book using cash or points through a credit card portal or book through an online travel agent. And, as some of my recent guides have shown, no single booking method is always best. Consider all of your options.
It's also important to enter the correct number of guests when searching your options. Many all-inclusive resorts effectively charge more for each additional guest, including kids, even when you're sharing the same room. However, you can often get around this by booking award nights, as we did during our most recent stay at the Choice Ascend Hotel Collection's Emotions Puerto Plata where the cash rate almost doubled when adding a second guest but the points rate remained the same.
There are more properties than ever that you can book using hotel points. Hyatt already has a number of well-known all-inclusive properties including the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta and Hyatt Ziva Cancun. But Marriott and Choice are also adding to their all-inclusive portfolios
Not learning about resort procedures early in your stay
Each resort has intricacies that must be mastered quickly in order to take full advantage of your stay, like restaurant reservations. Some resorts let you sign up for restaurant reservations in advance or at check-in but many require you to reserve each morning for that evening. If this seems to be the case for your resort, you'll want to figure out where to make reservations, which restaurants (if any) have a surcharge and what time you can begin to make reservations each morning.
You'll also want to master the operating hours of restaurants, pools, bars and activities. Ideally, there will be a schedule of activities posted or available in your room along with a map of the resort with opening and closing times.
Not packing the right clothing
Most resorts offer a few options for dinner, ranging from a casual beach spot to a buffet to formal dining. If you plan to dine more formally, you'll want to research ahead of time what type of dress is required. The "formal" restaurants may simply require closed-toe shoes, long trousers and shirts with sleeves -- but some resorts will require significantly more formal attire.
Additionally, if you plan to leave the resort, you'll want to pay attention to local cultural norms. And of course, consider the temperature and humidity when you're packing.
Eating or drinking too much
When food and drink are included and unlimited, it can be easy to overdo it. This is especially true for the buffet restaurants, where you may keep seeing additional foods that look appetizing. I found it best to walk around the buffet to peruse the options before getting a plate.
Beer and wine may be your best bets if you plan to drink alcohol during your all-inclusive stay. These drinks have a known and consistent alcohol percentage, so you can easily track how much you are drinking. Mixed drinks, on the other hand, may get light or heavy pours depending on the bartender.
Failing to bring reusable cups
Bringing reusable cups is good for both you and the environment. Drinks at the poolside bar, swim-up bar and beach bar are usually served in small disposable plastic cups. But in pre-COVID-19 times, most all-inclusive resorts are happy to fill up your own cup, regardless of its size. I had no issue getting bartenders to fill up my water bottle with beer or rum and coke -- and I didn't need to return to the bar for refills as frequently. Of course, things may be different now, so it's best to check before you go.
Related: How to be more eco-friendly while traveling
Not packing and using sunscreen
You can usually buy sunscreen at resorts, but it may be overpriced and likely won't be your preferred brand. So if you plan to check a bag, bring ample sunscreen and use it. I saw multiple people who were painfully burned. If you're traveling alone, consider spray sunscreen or simply ask another guest to help.
Falling for a sales pitch
Many all-inclusive resorts have staff whose sole purpose is to sell timeshares, excursions, spa services and upgraded experiences. They are more aggressive at some resorts than at others but be wary that the friendly staff chatting you up shortly after check-in or by the pool may very well be trying to sell you something.
Not taking advantage of included activities and amenities
All-inclusive resorts tend to include a lot of activities and amenities you'd normally pay extra for at a normal resort. For example, room service may be complimentary, golf rounds may be included and some all-inclusive resorts even include excursions. At the same time, most all-inclusive resorts also include some premium options available for additional cost -- so it's best to determine what's included early in your stay so you can enjoy the resort to its fullest.
Not leaving the resort
It's easy to never leave an all-inclusive resort, but it's usually worth leaving to explore a nearby town, take a hike, walk around the neighborhood or have lunch at a beach cafe.
During our stay in the Dominican Republic, a taxi organization in our resort complex prohibited Ubers and other vehicles from picking up passengers. If we wanted to leave the complex, we needed to either (1) take an overpriced taxi, (2) walk 10 to 15 minutes to the resort entrance and get an Uber or (3) arrange a tour. So we walked to the entrance and requested an Uber for about a tenth of the stated price of a taxi.
Forgetting to budget for tips
Tipping is controversial, especially at all-inclusive resorts where tips may already be included. You can certainly choose not to tip and shouldn't feel obligated to tip if the all-inclusive includes tips or if tipping isn't part of the local culture. However, even if tips are included, you may want to budget some cash to acknowledge a favorite server, bartender, housekeeper or concierge.