They’re the 7-eleven of travel convenience.
Get your flight, hotel, and meals booked for just one price and one click (well, sort-of).
But does that booking convenience come at a cost?
In other words, are you really getting a deal – a good deal – if you book an all-inclusive trip?
I had a suspicion about the answer to this long before, but I wanted the proof. So I dove straight into the online travel-sphere to compare all-inclusive resorts and the plug-and-play method of booking your itinerary.
I looked at a three-star all-inclusive package for Aruba (a popular all-inclusive destination) from JetBlue Vacations (a popular booking site for all-inclusives) and compared it to booking the same hotel and flight separately.
Here’s the search data that stayed consistent during my searches:
Departure: 3/04/2018 from JFK (NYC), Arrival: 3/11/2018 (AUA) (7 nights)
After doing some math (all the way at the bottom of this post), I finally got the verdict on whether all-inclusive deals were worth it (and how you can figure out if they’re worth it for you, too).
The Lay of the Land
Just skimming the featured vacations on JetBlue’s Aruba deals, the least expensive options I found were for $849/person over 4 days and 3 nights:
That’s a pretty hefty price, considering you’re getting just 3 nights at the resort. With flights to Aruba averaging $400 RT (from the East Coast, USA) throughout the year, that leaves us at $149/night for this hotel (without even knowing the star rating or reviews of the hotel).
Typing in my search criteria, the following came up:
For 7 nights, $7,286 a head ($14,572 for two people). Subtracting average airfare, that leaves us at ~$984/head per night. Eek! Granted, this is a 4.5-star hotel. The Mill Resort right below it (3-star) is at $1892.70 a head, leaving us at ~$213/head per night after accounting for airfare. Still up there, especially for a 3-star.
I didn’t go with Mill Resort because it had meh reviews on TripAdvisor (less than 3.5/5).
The Price Breakdown: A 3-Star Resort at ~$414/night
Instead of picking the resorts above, I found another one: the Blue Residences Aruba. Ideally, I would’ve like a 4-star resort at that price, but this was the best I could find with good reviews:
At $3,298.24/head after approximate airfare, that’s $414/head per night.
I clicked through and it looked like I’d be staying in the one-bedroom suite at this price. Upgrading to the two-bedroom suite meant an extra ~$150/night (per person):
(By the way, I totally dug the $3 “Environmental Levy” Promotion – thanks, JetBlue!)
The All-Inclusive Hotel Amenities
I also checked out the hotel amenities just to know what I was getting for that price:
The resort says it has “the amenities of a 5 star resort” (sneaky copywriting, eh?!) offering several items including a car rental. NOTE: this does NOT mean a car rental is included in the price…read all the bullet points and you see they note a car rental service is simply on-site – otherwise JetBlue would note explicitly that it’s included.
Always take note of the food options available, too. They have: a restaurant, a bar, a “mini market,” and deli. This means you’re walking away really with 2 food places to eat at best.
The Cancellation Policy
Next, I looked at the cancellation policy:
Always, always, always check these especially for all-inclusive deals. Most all-inclusive deals have cancellation fees for any time frame before your booked dates.
The Checkout Price – The “Real” Price
Next, I went ahead to checkout:
The total due for one person was $3,298.24. One thing I like about JetBlue all-inclusive deals is that the price you see at checkout is the price you see upfront in the search (attesting more to JetBlue’s site’s user experience rather than the deals themselves).
I’m not a fan of all-inclusive sites where the price you see in the search results isn’t the price you see at checkout (after all the taxes and surcharges get applied).
The Comparison: Hotels.com
I plugged in the same hotel for the same travel dates on an OTA (online travel agency) – Hotels.com.
The price came out to be $375/night. With taxes and fees, that left us at $3,171.42 for 7 nights. Hotels.com also threw in a 15% tour discount per day.
Here are some things to consider:
- $3,171.42 for 7 nights on Hotels.com (one-bedroom suite)
- Hotels.com price doesn’t include airfare
- $3,298.24 for 7 nights on JetBlue all-inclusive deals (one-bedroom suite) per person
- JetBlue includes the price of airfare but remember it is per person
What this means is that if you’re traveling as a couple or with multiple people, you would have to pay the price of $3,171.42 on Hotels.com for this suite.
For an all-inclusive deal, you’d have to pay $3,298.24 per person ($6,596.48 for two people), regardless of the fact both of you would be staying in the same room.
What this means: better deal in accommodation obviously lies in booking this resort separately on Hotels.com if you are traveling with another person or in a group.
A Step Further: Plug-and-Play Booking
Now that we determined this all-inclusive deal wasn’t really a good “deal” if you were traveling as a couple or in a group, I wanted to go a bit further and see what deals I could find by booking my flights and accommodation separately.
I plugged in the same dates in Hotels.com and found this little gem (Club Arias Bed & Breakfast):
It’s got one higher star rating (4-star) than Blue Residences and Hotels.com was offering a special promotion on the room type, at $149/night. The hotel has a 5/5 rating on TripAdvisor with 946 reviews, a “Very Good” 8.4/10 on Hotels.com with 77 reviews, and is marked a “Top Hotel” by Hotels.com (these hotels have a reputation for consistent quality, customer feedback, and service).
At that price, you’re getting a King or Queen suite that sleeps up to 4 people and includes free wifi, free parking, and a 15% tour discount per day:
You also get a free cancellation until the 22nd of February, which is 10 days from this search.
When you go to checkout, Hotels.com adds on the taxes and fees, leaving us with a total of $1,382.50 for 7 nights. This effectively increases our $149/night “search” price to $197.50/night (taxes and fees add an extra $48.84 a night):
Next, I looked up flights on Google Flights to match up with this stay. The best price I could find was at $484 with JetBlue:
The Verdict: All-Inclusive Deals or Plug-and-Play?
To figure out whether all-inclusive deals were really worth it (and because I like to turn everything into a science experiment), I made this little table over here. I used the plug-and-play hotel price for the Blue Residences resort on Hotels.com (not the better 4-star resort I found, for proper comparison’s sake):
Notice how for 1 person the all-inclusive deal actually wins with a total cash savings of $357.18 (9.77% savings compared to the plug-and-play price)…
…But for 2+ people, you get huge savings if you use the usual plug-and-play method for the same room in the same hotel. For two people, for example, your savings spike up to 37% and you end up with cash savings of $2,456.06.
Now, I know you may be wondering: Alex, the all-inclusive deal includes the food, too, right? That’s not getting factored into my total price for the plug-and-play method.
Factoring in meal prices, this means two things:
-You save more with one person getting an all-inclusive deal compared to plug-and-play (since food costs are included)
-You save less with 2+ people using the plug-and-play method compared to all-inclusive (since you have to pay for your meals in restaurants)
But considering you are saving $2,456.06 in cash for two people on the plug-and-play method, I’d say that’s way more than enough to spend on food for a 7-night stay in Aruba (essentially, you’d still walk away with savings).
So…here’s the final verdict:
All-inclusive deals can be more cost-efficient if you’re traveling alone. But with parties of 2+ people, you save a lot more by booking your hotels & flights separately.
Side note: I’ve also rarely seen people take up all-inclusive deals all on their lonesome. The markets for all-inclusive deals include couples, families, and travel groups of 4+ people.
Step-by-step, here’s what you do if you want to know whether an all-inclusive deal is worth it for you and your travel group:
- Pick an all-inclusive deal
- Evaluate it based on Price Breakdown per night (after accounting for approximate airfare)
- Evaluate it based on the Cancellation Policy
- Evaluate the Checkout Price (as opposed to “search results” price – in essence, look out for outlandish fees)
- Compare the same resort on a site like Hotels.com
- Find separate flights for the same dates
- Use a table similar to the one I used above and check your savings
My two cents: no matter the all-inclusive deal, *ALWAYS* do a side-by-side comparison with the plug-and-play method. Though my verdict applies to most cases, it may not be the case for every destination (some all-inclusive deals are more cost-efficient – say a deal for Aruba compared to NYC).
Have you been looking to get an all-inclusive deal? Is the conclusion I’ve come to consistent with what you’ve seen so far with all-inclusive resorts?
Let me know in the comments below!