All-inclusive vs Full Board or American Plan in Cancun resorts

One of the most common questions we get about all-inclusive resorts has to do with whether or not they include unlimited alcoholic beverages. The answer is usually yes, but that raises questions from non-drinkers or very light drinkers about how to avoid paying for everyone else’s alcohol. In Cancun and most of the Caribbean, this is not easy, and we’ll explain why below.

Understanding the terms

All-inclusive – This always means 3 meals per day are included and almost always means alcoholic beverages are included as well.

Full Board or American Plan – These terms both mean the same thing, which is that 3 meals per day are included in the room rate, but that alcohol is not.

European Plan – You’ll sometimes see this at Cancun resorts and it simply means that the room comes by itself, with no included meals at all.

All-inclusive is almost always cheapest

While all-inclusive resorts seem to be especially popular with people who enjoy beer, wine, and cocktails, there are also many guests who prefer not to drink or can’t for a variety of reasons. Since alcohol is quite expensive when you promise it in unlimited quantities, it’s natural for non-drinkers to wonder how to save money by not having to subsidize the drinking of others.

The problem is that, in Cancun and many other parts of the Caribbean, pretty much every resort has chosen to go all-inclusive or no meals, and only a few do the style in between. There are about 60 Cancun resorts that are fully all-inclusive, and only around 5 that offer Full Board, so you are better off just shopping for the best deal among all of them rather than limiting yourself to the ones that do Full Board.

Alcohol doesn’t actually add that much to the price anyway

If you are a non-drinker (or a former drinker) you probably know friends who can put away 10 drinks a night, and maybe a few beers at the pool during the day as well. They might pay US$100 for those each day at a normal resort, so who wants to help them pay for them as a non-drinker at an all-inclusive resort?

But at most of these all-inclusive Cancun resorts, including all of the cheaper ones, they only offer domestic beer, house wine, and the cheapest spirits as part of the deal. If you want imported beer or good wine or tequila with a brand you’ve heard of, you have to pay out of pocket.

For this reason, the resorts only have to pay maybe US$10 per person for the wholesale costs of those cheap drinks, and they can also count on many guests to buy the name brands, which helps offset the free ones.

Another complication is that if a resort has guests that don’t qualify for the free alcohol it means they have to give wristbands or check room keys of all the