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More For Your Money

All-inclusive? Not always

February 15, 2009|Jane Engle

Here's a siren song for the stressed-out traveler: "all-inclusive vacation." Pay all your costs upfront, this seductive sea nymph croons, and whip out your wallet no more.

It's not always a lie. But to avoid scuttling the family budget on faraway shores, figure on extra expenses that can add hundreds to your trip costs. How much depends on the resort or cruise and your idea of fun.

If your passions run to water sports or golf, book a resort that includes these in the package. If kicking back means downing a few drinks each day, go for unlimited alcohol. At tropical resort chains such as SuperClubs, Sandals and Couples Resorts, you may be able to get it all -- almost.

Cruises, often marketed as all-inclusive, may not be. And whether you're on land or at sea, you'll usually pay extra for spa treatments.

The total tab for these and other expenses, such as drinks, taxes and fees, tips, transfers, and phone or Internet access, can easily double the price of your all-inclusive vacation. Here are extras to watch for:

Taxes and fees: Can add 15% or more. You should see the final total before you book, but not always in the initial quote. On its website, for instance, Norwegian Cruise Line recently touted "prices from $499" for seven-day Mexico cruises out of Los Angeles. Only after you choose a cabin class do you learn that taxes and fees will add $69 to that fare.

On land, local taxes can be even higher. They added $108 to a four-night, $675 spa-golf package advertised at Ixtapan Spa Hotel & Golf Resort, a well-regarded budget resort near Toluca, Mexico.

Airport transfers: At the Ixtapan Spa Hotel & Golf Resort, this could add $45 to $320, round trip, depending on party size and whether you fly into Toluca or Mexico City. Some SuperClubs include transfers; some don't.

Spa treatments: At SuperClubs Breezes Bahamas, facials start at $45 and 55-minute massages at $75. On cruises, expect to pay more than $100, plus tip, per session, said Paul Motter, editor of, a consumer information website. More elaborate treatments can cost hundreds.

At the Ixtapan resort, two massages and a facial are included in the four-night spa-golf package.

Drinks: With prices starting at $5 for a beer, $7.50 for a mixed drink and $35 for a bottle of wine -- the going rate on cruises, Motter said -- even a modest tippler can rack up a $100 bar bill over several days. Soft drinks can cost extra too. To avoid some costs, Motter suggested, take a refillable water bottle with you.

The Ixtapan resort provides bottled water for free, said spokeswoman Phyllis Stoller, but charges about $1.10 for soft drinks and $4.25 and up for margaritas. A better deal for serious drinkers is SuperClubs Breezes Bahamas, where free alcohol is readily available except from 6 to 10 a.m., when the bars are closed, said General Manager Jackson Weech.

Tips: Can add 10% or more to your cruise fare or package. Big all-inclusive chains typically include them. Cruise lines often do not.

Phone and Internet: Keeping in touch has its costs, and don't expect your all-inclusive to cover them. SuperClubs Breezes Bahamas charges $7.50 for 15 minutes, or $18 per hour, at its Internet cafe; wireless is free. The Ixtapan resort charges $3.50 for 30 minutes of Internet time and $17 for 24 hours of wireless access, Stoller said.

On cruise ships, expect to pay about 75 cents a minute for Internet access, or half that if you buy an Internet package, Motter said. Cellphones, with roaming and cruise-line charges, can cost $3.50 a minute, he added.

Recreation: Although super-inclusives usually offer tennis, sailing, volleyball, rock-climbing and other activities in the package, they may charge extra for scuba diving ($65 and up at SuperClubs Breezes Bahamas), water-skiing, golf and other sports. Even if greens fees are covered, you may get dinged for a mandatory caddy (for 18 holes, $14 or more at some Couples Resorts; $35 at the Ixtapan resort).

And the final tab is . . . After adding taxes, gratuities, caddy fees, communications, transfers and a few drinks, the Ixtapan resort's $675 package totaled about $1,000. A hypothetical $499 cruise, based on Motter's cost estimates for extras, also hit $1,000.

Extras for a four-night, $525-per-person stay at SuperClubs Breezes Bahamas were more manageable: less than $200 total for massage, facial and some Internet sessions. Weech suggested carrying $300 for incidentals.

How did I learn about these costs? I asked Weech because they were tough to find on the resort's website.

"Point well taken," he responded, adding that he would recommend the costs be more visible "so people can make an informed decision upfront."


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