Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, F...
Edited by: Nick Ellis
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“All-inclusive” is a term you’ve probably heard if you’ve searched for a vacation destination recently, but what, exactly, does it mean? The dictionary definition is “including everything or everyone,” but when we’re talking about all-inclusive in terms of travel, it’s not quite that simple.
In this post, we’ll show you what all-inclusive really means when it comes to vacations, resorts, and cruises — and how it all works.
Plus, since we’re big fans of points and miles here, we’ll also go over how you can book an all-inclusive vacation with points (yes, it’s possible).
All-inclusive is a term used when more than just the cost of the hotel room or cruise cabin is included in the price. Traditionally, this means all meals, snacks, and beverages are included in the price of the trip. However, there can be many variations on the term all-inclusive. Sometimes all alcoholic beverages are included, but often it only includes select brands. Activities may be included in an all-inclusive price, but many times they aren’t.
Don’t worry, though, because we’ll show you what to look for and how to determine exactly what’s included in your all-inclusive vacation.
“European plan” sounds like a fancy option that may be all-inclusive, but in reality, it’s just a way of saying that the cost includes your room only. If you’re looking for an option that includes food, drinks, and activities, steer clear of a European plan booking.
“Full board” generally means that in addition to a room, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included. It differs from all-inclusive because full board doesn’t typically include snacks, drinks (outside of meal time), or activities. Full-board accommodations can also have more restrictions on meals, often having set meal times and menus.
“Half board” generally means that breakfast and dinner are included in the room price. No other meals or drinks outside of meal times are included.
Hot Tip: Whether booking an all-inclusive, full-board, or half-board rate, keep in mind that pricing is per person, unlike traditional hotel rooms or European-plan hotels that charge by the room (typically accommodating 1 to 4 people for the same price).
Many travelers wonder if an all-inclusive resort is worth it when they’re planning a vacation. There’s no simple answer because the value of an all-inclusive resort varies based on several factors.
An all-inclusive resort may be worth it if:
An all-inclusive might not be worth it if:
Let’s get into how all-inclusive resorts actually work. you’ll pay for your vacation upfront based on the number of nights you’ll be staying. Typically, all-inclusive resorts are priced per person.
Upon arrival, you’ll often get a wristband indicating you’re an all-inclusive guest (although some resorts may not do this). After that, you’re free to dine and drink at most establishments on the resort property. If there are things — like top-shelf liquor — that aren’t included, those can be billed to your room.
A big draw for all-inclusive resorts is that alcohol is usually included. This can be a big money-saver if you’re planning to enjoy some poolside cocktails during your vacation. Typically, wine and beer along with basic mixed drinks are included, with top-shelf liquor and wines by the bottle often carrying extra charges.
However, this isn’t always the case, as some all-inclusive brands, like Sandals Resorts, also include premium alcoholic drinks, while other brands, like Miraval, don’t include any alcoholic drinks.
When staying at an all-inclusive resort, the subject of tipping can be confusing. Generally, you won’t be expected to tip at the time of purchase since part of the beauty of an all-inclusive resort is not having to worry about bringing credit cards or cash to the beach or pool.
Some resorts will charge you a daily tip amount while some prohibit tipping altogether. If the tipping policy isn’t on your resort’s website, you can always send an email before your stay or inquire about the tipping policy at the front desk.
Unless your resort prohibits it, tipping is always appreciated by the resort staff for a job well done.
All-inclusive resorts don’t include flights, so you’ll need to book those separately. However, many resorts and travel-booking websites will offer vacation packages that include a combination of hotel, flight, and sometimes a rental car. These are priced by person and can often offer significant savings over booking a hotel and flight separately.
Cruises are all-inclusive by nature, even though they’re rarely described as such. Most cruises include all meals and snacks throughout the day as a part of the cruise fare. Alcoholic drinks and any beverages outside of the dining rooms or the buffet typically cost extra and can be purchased à la carte or as part of a beverage package.
Keep in mind that many cruises offer specialty dining locations that come with an additional charge in addition to complimentary dining options.
You may be surprised to know that you can book all-inclusive resorts using points. This is a great way to keep your out-of-pocket vacation costs exceptionally low since your food and drinks will be included in the room rate.
Let’s take a look at all-inclusive hotel options for some of the major hotel brands.
Hyatt is a fan-favorite when it comes to booking hotels with points because there are so many opportunities to get great value. Hyatt made big moves in 2022 with the acquisition of Apple Leisure Group, adding over 100 all-inclusive properties under 7 brands to its portfolio.
Now, Hyatt has 10 all-inclusive brands within the Inclusive Collection:
Hyatt also expanded its award chart to include a section for all-inclusive resorts, making it easy to calculate how many points you’ll need for your vacation.
* Based on double occupancy for a standard room
Additionally, Miraval Resorts and Spas are part of the Hyatt portfolio. These adults-only, all-inclusive wellness retreats offer unique activities, luxury accommodations, and perks like a $175 per person per night resort credit. The brand even has its own loyalty program — Miraval Authentic Circle.
There are currently 3 Miraval locations, with a fourth due to open in 2025.
Marriott Bonvoy currently offers 31 all-inclusive properties across the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America, plus additional resorts that offer all-inclusive or full-board rates.
Since Marriott doesn’t have an award chart, prices can vary dramatically. When searching for a room at an all-inclusive resort be sure to include the correct number of people in the room for accurate pricing.
You’ll notice that the price in cash for 1 or 2 people is different, but the price in points is the same. That’s because the points cost is based on 2 adults in 1 room and the cost will be displayed for your entire stay as opposed to a per-night price.
Hot Tip: There are lots of ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points to stay at an all-inclusive resort. If you’re just a few points short, you can transfer points to Marriott Bonvoy from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.
IHG made big moves in late 2022 in the world of all-inclusive resorts by partnering with Iberostar to add 70 of its beachfront all-inclusive properties to the IHG One Rewards program under a new brand called Iberostar Beachfront Resorts. Iberostar Beachfront Resorts will be bookable through IHG later in 2023.
Until then, guests can use IHG One Rewards points to book these all-inclusive resorts:
When booking an all-inclusive IHG property, it’s easy to toggle back and forth between the price in points and cash.
Hilton currently has 13 all-inclusive resorts across the Caribbean, Mexico, Egypt, and Türkiye.
Since Hilton doesn’t have an award chart, point rates can be all over the map. The price will be shown per room and is usually the same for up to 2 adults (note that the price in cash will differ for 1 or 2 people). The price for adding kids varies by location.
If you have at least 5,000 Hilton Honors points you can use the Points & Money feature which allows you to pay for your room partially with points and partially with a credit card. Of course, there are lots of ways to earn Hilton Honors points, such as transferring points from Amex Membership Rewards, if your goal is to keep your out-of-pocket costs as low as possible.
Wyndham has 27 all-inclusive resorts across Mexico, the Caribbean, and Brazil. The majority of these resorts are in Dominican Republic (10 resorts) and Mexico (12 resorts).
Guests can book any of these resorts with Wyndham Rewards points, and since Wyndham only has 3 pricing tiers, you know you’ll pay 7,500, 15,000, or 30,000 points per night for any Wyndham hotel.
Plus, if you have 1 of the 3 Wyndham Rewards Earner credit cards, you’ll pay 10% less when booking a room with points.
There are a couple of benefits to using Choice Privileges points to book all-inclusive resorts. First, the price in points is the same for all room categories, so you can book a room with a great view or even a suite at the same price as a basic room. Second, anyone who has a Citi Premier® Card and/or a Citi Prestige® Card (no longer available to new applicants) will enjoy a fantastic transfer rate — Citi ThankYou Points transfer to Choice at a 1:2 ratio.
American Express Membership Rewards points and Capital One miles also transfer to Choice but at a less-desirable 1:1 ratio.
Choice Hotels offers 11 all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Dominica. You can easily search for a resort by selecting All-Inclusive Resorts in the search filtering options on Choice’s website.
There’s 1 more all-inclusive resort you can book with Choice Privileges points. Radisson Blu Punta Cana, an All-Inclusive Resort, is part of the Radisson Rewards Americas program which was acquired by Choice in 2022. While each loyalty program is still separate (they will be integrated later in 2023), you can transfer points between them at a rate of 1 Choice Privileges point to 2 Radisson Rewards Americas points.
All-inclusive is a common term used to describe a hotel or resort that includes all meals, snacks, and beverages in the room cost. These locations are priced per person, so it’s important to be accurate when searching for a resort so you’ll see the correct price.
All of the major hotel programs — Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Choice, and Wyndham — offer all-inclusive resorts that can be booked with points. This can be a great option for travelers looking to keep their out-of-pocket costs low since meals are included in the cost of the room.
The information regarding the Wyndham Rewards® Earner℠ Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Wyndham Rewards® Earner℠ Plus Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Wyndham Rewards® Earner℠ Business Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information for the Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
While the definition of all-inclusive can vary a bit, it generally refers to a hotel or resort that includes all meals, snacks, and beverages in the cost of the room. Things that may not be included at an all-inclusive resort are extra activities, tips, top-shelf liquor, and spa services.
Generally, yes, all-inclusive rates include food and some alcohol, however top-shelf liquors or wines by the bottle often cost extra.
Room service at all-inclusive resorts can vary, but it is often complimentary.
Many cruise lines, with the exception of some high-end brands, don’t include alcohol in the cost of the cruise. However, beverage packages, which can include alcohol, are available for an extra cost.
Every all-inclusive resort has its own tipping policy, so it’s a smart idea to check before your trip so you know what to expect. Unless tips are forbidden, it’s always appreciated to tip above and beyond what’s included for excellent service.
One of the big disadvantages of staying at an all-inclusive resort is that there’s little motivation to explore the local area and dine at local restaurants. If you enjoy immersing yourself in a destination’s culture or eating at a variety of restaurants, an all-inclusive resort may not be the best choice for your vacation.
While the amount of money you’ll need on an all-inclusive vacation will vary based on your resort and activities, it’s always a good idea to bring plenty of small bills with you for tipping as well as a good credit card without foreign transaction fees.
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