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15 Sneaky Ways All-Inclusive Resorts Are Scamming You

Don't be surprised when they hand you a hefty bill.

Unlimited drinks, all-you-can eat buffets, a roster of activities every day? We get the appeal of the all-inclusive. But while these resorts may sound incredible—as the saying goes, sometimes it's just too good to be true. For instance, what might look like an excellent deal probably has fine print that can add up to a hefty bill at the end of your vacation. Or you arrive and realize you got the smallest room, next to a bunch of rowdy spring breakers. Not exactly the tranquil beach getaway you had in mind. But, don't worry, we've got your back, so you'll never fall for any all-inclusive resort scams again.

The room you see on the website is probably not the one you're going to get.

tropical resort room

Marketing photos are usually of suites rather than standard rooms, and they're almost certainly doctored to be more impressive. So yes, you can stay in one of those swanky rooms, but you're going to have to pay the premium price for them. And even then, what you see is not necessarily what you'll get.

The advertised room probably doesn't include resort fees.

woman booking hotel room online with credit card

Let's say you see a room rate for $200 per night, but when you go to the check-out page, it's suddenly bumped up to $250 a night. What gives? You can likely blame resort fees that are conveniently left off the advertised price. Such fees are common for both all-inclusive and à la carte resorts, and they usually cover things like Wi-Fi, beach towels, and parking, in some cases.

A"hurricane guarantee" doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a refund if there's a storm.

hurricane nearing a beach in the bahamas

A good portion of all-inclusive resorts are located in Mexico and the Caribbean—where hurricanes are known to wreak havoc. Though many properties offer some sort of "hurricane guarantee," you'll want to know what that policy is actually guaranteeing. In some cases, you won't get a refund if a hurricane strikes during your stay, but you'll be offered a voucher that needs to be used within 12 months. In others, you can get a refund—but only if the hurricane directly hits the resort. If it passes 50 miles offshore, that might not qualify, even if the weather is poor on property.

You might have to sit through a timeshare presentation upon arrival.

businessman giving a presentation to a group of people

Some all-inclusive resorts are timeshare properties, where owners purchase individual units and the resort rents them out to guests. If you're staying at one of these, you might get roped into a presentation about the program hosted by pushy salespeople that will try to convince you to buy a unit yourself. Worst of all, these presentations could be hours long. If you're not at all interested, see if you can opt out.

The all-you-can-eat buffets are probably gross.

buffet style display of sushi rolls

Just because you've purchased an all-inclusive package doesn't mean you're going to be served by wait staff at every meal. At some all-inclusives, meals might be buffet-style only. And buffets aren't known for being the most sanitary form of food service… In fact, E. coli, salmonella, and listeria are the most common types of bacteria found at buffet stations, according to Allison Agwu, professor of pediatric and adult infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Even if there are full-service restaurants, some of the menu items might not be covered by your all-inclusive rate.

mature couple dining at a beach resort restaurant

Don't think you're going to be having surf and turf every night for free. Some menu items—typically ones that are more expensive, like steak, lobster, and caviar—will most likely cost a supplemental fee.

Your resort may be under construction during your visit, and you're not getting any discounts because of it.

International Hotel in Europe, International Hotel Under Construction

All-inclusive resorts are often sprawling, and so they are frequently undergoing renovations somewhere on the property at any given time. If your room is near the noisy construction, or the work crews interrupt amenities like the pool or the spa, well, you're out of luck. Even worse? Don't count on getting any money back for the interruptions.

All-inclusive resorts don't usually promote off-property activities, so forget about having any sort of "local" experience.

sunset on a Cancun resort with blue water

All-inclusive resorts want to keep you onsite because that's where they make the most money. Though some do have concierges that can organize off-property activities for you, they're not going to promote that strongly. Plus, many all-inclusive resorts are packed shoulder-to-shoulder, meaning there's really nothing genuinely local around, anyway. And if there are businesses nearby, they could be harmed by the presence of all-inclusive resorts. Most hotel guests choose not to step off the grounds, since they've already paid all that money for meals and drinks, leaving local restaurants and bars to lose out on potential customers.

Not all alcohol is included.

two glasses of cocktails near a resort pool

Many travelers head to all-inclusive resorts to booze it up, which you can definitely do. Just don't expect to be sipping Grey Goose martinis. At many resorts, the all-inclusive rate only pertains to bottom-shelf spirits, domestic beer, and house wine. If you want to try something else, you'll either have to pay for a higher-end drink package, or you'll have to buy each cocktail individually at the bar.

All-inclusive prices might actually be more expensive than paying à la carte.

woman enjoying the pool at a resort

Unless you plan on gorging yourself at every meal, having a drink in your hand 24/7, and participating in all offered activities, you actually might be better off skipping the all-inclusive rate. Many guests don't necessarily get their money's worth, though they do have the added convenience of not worrying about carrying a wallet around with them on the property.

Blackout dates may apply.

man using digital calendar on iPad.

Some resorts offer all-inclusive packages and à la carte ones simultaneously—that is, people who pay for the former get meals and activities included, while those who pay for the latter just get rooms for the rate they've paid. While it's nice to offer both options, some resorts have black-out dates for the all-inclusive rates, so you'll have to keep an eye out for those when you're making your booking.

You might still have to tip.

Unrecognizable male coffee shop customer places cash into a tip jar.

Some resorts include tips in their rates, but not all of them do, so you should read the fine print to find out for sure. You certainly don't want to leave your bellhop, housekeeper, or bartender shortchanged, especially if you're in a destination where the staff likely makes low wages to begin with. Plus, an extra tip could go a long way in getting you better service.

Spa treatments are usually not included.

woman in spa at resort

Unless you're staying at a high-end (read: pricey) wellness resort, don't think a daily massage is included in your rate. If you're lucky, though, you might have free access to spa facilities like the sauna and relaxation room.

Golf, scuba, and other "top-tier" activities aren't always included.

Father and son golfing together

While many sports like volleyball and soccer are typically included in the rate, some of the "luxury" activities like tennis and golf could cost an extra fee. When it comes to watersports, you might be able to borrow snorkel gear or kayaks for free, but motorized equipment such as jet skis are going to be upcharged.

You're probably on your own for airport transfers.

taxi lined up in front of airport

While everything on the property might be included, your ride from the airport to the hotel might not be. Your hotel can usually arrange a transfer, but you'll have to fork over more cash.

And when you're planning your next vacation, keep in mind that This Is the Worst Time to Book a Hotel Room.

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