In many high population resort areas, all-inclusive may not save you money

We’ve had many discussions in the past about how all-inclusive resorts will generally save money for almost all travelers, but of course there are some circumstances where they aren’t such a great deal. It mostly has to do with the area the resort is located in and how much things tend to cost there.

As a general rule, all inclusives are a great deal on most Caribbean islands because the smaller ones usually have expensive food and drinks at proper restaurants, and the resorts tend to be quite far from the places the locals prefer to eat cheaply themselves.

Where all-inclusive resorts aren’t the best bargain

Mexico is a huge country and it has many popular resort areas like Cancun or Playa del Carmen along the east coast, and Los Cabos on the west coast, that have clusters of resorts and not much nearby. But it also has towns like Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta that have a huge mix of restaurants and bars, many of which are wonderfully cheap.

This is also true in many parts of Asia, where holiday resort areas are typically surrounded by clusters small restaurants that are more authentic than hotel restaurants, at much lower prices. For example, Phuket is the most popular sunshine destination in Asia for European travelers, and at least 90% of the 1,000 or so hotels on this island are a short walk from a city or village, where you can get a meal for only a few dollars, or a beer or cocktail for even less.

More benefits of a la carte resorts

Let’s say you are considering a US$200 per night all-inclusive resorts for two people, or a US$120 per night resort with no meals included. So you are only paying US$80 for meals and drinks for two people each day, which isn’t bad at all on vacation where you can eat and drink as much as you like.

Now consider that you could buy 3 meals per day at small local restaurants plus a bottle of tequila and lemonade each day for US$50 per day for two people. Not only are you saving money, but you will almost certainly eating less, and eating more interesting things as well.

Now, purely on a value basis, it’s hard to pass up on that $80 worth of food and drinks when you know that you can eat double or triple what you should, and drink yourself into a mini coma twice per day, but is that really the best choice for your holiday? In many cases it is the best choice, especially for those who can control themselves well and who only splurge like this once or twice per year. But for too many of us, it’s not the best choice, so if you are thinking about an area with cheap restaurants and bars nearby, it might be better to skip the all inclusive.