The problem with going to an all-inclusive resort for a vacation — and this probably won't be a problem once you're relaxing on the beach — is the nagging feeling that you paid too much for it and could have gotten a better deal if you'd priced out everything for the trip yourself.
With the Internet at your hands and a few hours of searching, you could probably find a better deal, right? Maybe, maybe not. Even if you did, you wouldn't be as relaxed every time you had to pull out your wallet to pay for something during the vacation. It's a psychological game. And the people who know how to play it best are the ones who run the ads trying to entice you into booking an all-inclusive vacation.
To understand the psychology of one of these deals, we talked with some professionals for their views on what goes through someone's mind when buying such a package.
Specific deals weren't discussed by the professionals, but for our purposes we'll use as an example this deal: A seven-night all-inclusive flight and hotel package at the Gran Bahia Principe Coba in Cancun, Mexico, starting at $799.99 per person and based on double occupancy. It's 55% off and the lowest total price we've seen for a seven-night flight/hotel package to Cancun by $480. Travel must be booked by Jan. 21 for travel through April 14.
It's a great deal, but is it good enough to get you there and back without worrying the resort took advantage of you? That there won't be any hidden charges? That you can just arrive and be pampered without worrying about anything?
"I think the appeal of an all-inclusive is you can be a kid again," says Judy Belmont, a psychotherapist who has a book coming out in April about resiliency and life skills education. Not having to pay for every meal, drink or night out dancing allows more time to relax, Belmont said. Vacationers can focus on the experience of the vacation and not on the cost. "You take a mental break when you don't have to look at your wallet," she adds. The all-inclusive vacation is a fantasy where money doesn't matter and where "you get a better bang for your buck psychologically."
Before buying such a vacation, buyers should check all of the fine print and be sure that there aren't hidden charges, recommends Glenn Haussman, editor-in-chief of the hotel industry publication HotelInteractive.com. And if all of the costs aren't paid upfront, such as fees and tips, be prepared to pay for those extras, Haussman says.
Most all-inclusive resorts include meals, room, resort activities, flight and sometimes alcohol and are often based on prices per person for double occupancy. The Cancun deal above also offers transportation for "quick service to the beach and throughout the complex," according to the Apple Vacations website, along with free entrance and all local drinks in the disco.
It may be a little cheaper to just buy a flight and hotel room ahead of time and then pay for meals, drinks, activities and other things out of your pocket when you arrive, but it won't be the same relaxing experience as an all-inclusive, Haussman says.
Travelers should always do price comparisons and look at restaurant reviews, nearby hotels and apartment rentals and other costs to see if they're getting a better deal at an all-inclusive resort, says David Lytle, editorial director at Frommers.com. The Cancun deal works out to $228 per day, so finding similar lodging, meals and flight for two people might be difficult.
The resorts are especially good deals for families that want to stay on the resort property, and allow parents and kids to have their own activities, he says. That goes especially for those who are worried about safety in other countries. Other than all-inclusive cruise ships, most all-inclusive resorts are outside of the United States. Such resorts don't require leaving the property for food, entertainment or anything else, so paying ahead for that luxury can also bring peace of mind.
From a psychological perspective, all-inclusive resorts are aimed at specific demographics, says Elliott Jaffa, a behavioral and marketing psychologist:
- The Lazy Traveler. They want everything at their fingertips and don't want to have to look outside of the resort for excursions.
- Recreation Lover. These users want a lot of recreation opportunities on-site so they don't have to leave the resort to enjoy themselves.
- Sequestered & Satisfied. The alcohol may be watered down in the drinks, but at least they can get them anywhere they want.
- Scared Safe. There's a safety factor when going to South or Central America, and the chances of getting mugged are lower at a resort.
"You're paying for the convenience but you're getting a perceived value," Jaffa says. So if you meet these four criteria, then the decision is a no-brainer. "You go on vacation, you want it to be mindless," says Jaffe.
Just be sure that only applies to the vacation itself, not the planning for it.
Photo credit: Maldivestourism.net/