11 Ways to Get the Most Value From Your All-Inclusive Vacation

By and large, an all-inclusive vacation is a sure bet for the price you're paying. The quality of what's included, of course, varies depending on where you're staying, so you should do your due diligence before booking. There are tactics, however, on how to make the most of your travel dollars and head home satisfied with a smile on your face. With these tips, your next all-inclusive resort vacay or cruise will be the best one yet. (See also: Are All-Inclusive Vacations and Cruises Worth the Money?)

1. Determine what "all-inclusive" really means at the resorts you're considering

"All-inclusive" is a relative term. Generally, it means that your food and nonalcoholic beverages are included for the length of your stay, but it's important that you determine all the perks before settling on a place to unwind and relax during your time off.

Does your purchase include alcohol, activities and water sports, transfers, and resort fees? What about exit costs or tourist cards for immigration? What is the practicality of the pickup for your return departure, and what does that value mean to you?

Shy Bredewold, owner of online travel agency Odyssean Travel, stresses the importance of getting to the nitty-gritty of what's included in your "all-inclusive" package. She proposes a hypothetical situation to help dissect the value.

"For example," she says, "there's a free shuttle back to the airport, but it needs to be affordable, so they pick up at several hotels. You are given a time from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for your return to the airport. Is it good value to check out early and waste your last morning, hung over in the lobby — or might you better spend $20 on a local taxi to take you at a time convenient to you?"

With the taxi option, you get to eat and drink at the hotel, use the pool or the beach, and enjoy two more hours of your life at the resort instead of taking turns getting drink refills in the lobby in case the coach arrives. (See also: 6 Things You Need to Know Before You Book an All-Inclusive Vacation)

2. Consider the tiers of "all-inclusive" before making your purchase

Some resorts offer tier pricing for their all-inclusive options, which basically means you'll have access to more perks, the more you pay. You can mind your budget and opt for a lower tier, which may restrict you to a single resort, or you can upgrade, the provisions of which could grant you mobility to travel to nearby resorts and enjoy services in a different atmosphere.

"The Oasis branded resorts in Cancun, for example, have been known to allow guests to use some of the facilities at both sites along the Cancun resort strip." Bredewold explains. "Get a little change of scenery, a new beach, different bar staff, or maybe even new drinking and dining options."

Some resorts also are split into sections. If you're looking for the most options for dining and quiet bar spaces, consider taking the higher value wristband or resort access.

Bredewold adds, "A Melia resort in Cuba recently split into three tiers — the highest value (and cost) stay includes adults-only [areas] so you can escape the children of other people if you so desire." (See also: 6 Questions to Ask Before You Book a Vacation Package)

3. Research the included entertainment

I'm somebody who likes to keep it moving during my vacations. I enjoy lounging on the beach briefly, but for the most part, I enjoy the games, entertainment, and activities the resort has to offer, especially if I've already paid for them. Of course, to make sure you get your money's worth, it's important to scout out these extras in advance to achieve maximum enjoyment. If water sports like snorkeling and paddle boarding are included but aren't appealing to you, are you sure you want to pay for them? Likewise, investigate the nightly entertainment options so you know what you're in for ahead of time, as well. You'll narrow down your choices quicker if you dissect the perks to match your personality.

4. Books tours as a group, if possible

While everyone in your party may not be on the same page as far as activities and excursions go, you should try what does appeal to most of you at the same time so you can qualify for group discounts where applicable. (See also: How to Book an Amazing Cheap Vacation Package)

5. Take advantage of the fitness class (you'll thank yourself later)

I once took an amazing all-inclusive vacation to the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, California. It was the most luxurious getaway I've ever taken, and I just couldn't pass up the small-group fitness classes offered in the morning. These boot-camp style classes not only helped me start my day, but they also made me feel much better about stuffing my face throughout my four-day trip. Plus, the classes took place on the beach, with the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing just a few feet away, and how often do I get to experience that? Other classes may be offered with your itinerary, like yoga, spin, or cardio, all of which are a great value (that you've already paid for) considering how much one-off classes cost regularly in real life.

6. Order room service

Room service is one of those luxuries that most of us forgo when we're on vacations. But when it's all-inclusive, go ahead and have dinner delivered straight to your door. I especially take advantage of late-night room service if I've been out all night having fun. PB&J sandwiches, chips, and chocolate-chip cookies with milk are just what the doctor ordered. Or, ya know, go huge and get the steak and shrimp cocktail. Whatever floats your bloat.

7. Make dinner reservations at the specialty restaurants

Specialty restaurants at resorts and on cruises book up the fastest, so get your reservations in early so you don't miss out on the best cuisine the joint has to offer. You'll also be able to secure a decent seating time by planning ahead too, so you're not breaking bread an hour before bedtime.

8. Pack snacks from the buffet if you're going off campus

If you're headed out for a day trip that doesn't include lunch, pack your own at the buffet in the morning and take it with you. Choose items that will travel well and hold up without refrigeration for a few hours. Avoid mayo-based dishes if you know what's good for you.

If you're splitting your vacation time at a pay-as-you-go and an all-inclusive resort, however, plan your off-campus trips for your non-all-inclusive days. For instance, I spent a week in Costa Rica on a Groupon Getaway a few years ago. The pay-as-you-go part of which was ripe for exploration and adventure, but when I got to the all-inclusive I put my feet up, ate nachos by the bucketful, and never set foot off campus.

You'll only get the most for your money when you're using the services, eating the food, and participating in the activities while you're there. Enjoy it while you can.

9. Stay brand-loyal for the best discounts

Find a brand you like and stay loyal.

"If you can accept limited options, you may find that rewards points and other perks add up faster by booking with one brand or chain exclusively," says Bredewold. "You may even be able to double up in some instances if the vacation package is administered by an airline but includes a stay at a branded hotel." (See also: How to Evaluate a Travel Program for the Best Rewards Redemption)

10. Get the "good stuff" at the lobby bar

Some top shelf liquors are not at every bar, and the swim-up bar tends to have the smallest selection of premium brands, according to Tom Carr, CEO of PreferredVacations.com. Head to the lobby bar if you want quality hooch (and less of a hangover) since that's where they want to impress visitors with the best options. (See also: 7 Ways Your Bartender Is Ripping You Off)

11. Look for "Kids Stay Free" offers

Some resorts offer deals like "kids stay free." For instance, the Dreams Resorts & Spas, Now Resorts & Spas, and Sunscape Resorts & Spas properties offer a Kids Stay Free deal that will save families a bundle. At these resorts in particular (program details will vary at other destinations that offer a "kids stay free" promotion), one kid stays free when staying in the same room as a paying adult. Food and activities also are included. (See also: Family-Friendly Hotel and Resort Chains Where Kids Stay Free)

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11 Ways to Get the Most Value From Your All-Inclusive Vacation


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