Dear Father Hood: family holidays – is going all-inclusive worth the extra cash?

Great questions deserve great answers. And as my family unit’s self-appointed Holiday Booker-In-Chief, I feel perfectly positioned to give this top quality query the thought-provoking and insightful response it warrants. Which is…

… it depends.

What the?! Is that it? Because if it is, then I want my money back.

Whoa, whoa, whoa: a) you haven’t paid any money and b) no, that is most definitely not it.

Heart rate and anger levels back to normal? Great, then let me begin with a little background info otherwise known as my recent family holiday history.

All-inclusive family holiday to Dubai

I first encountered the all-inclusive versus bed & breakfast versus half-board conundrum in the middle of 2016. At that stage, my son was six months old and my wife and I were planning our first big family holiday. The little man has never been a great sleeper, so our booking goal was simple. We wanted to find somewhere to go in the November of that year that offered almost guaranteed sunshine, a beach, a pool, a variety of nice restaurants and a major opportunity to refresh and relax.

It turned out this was just about every hotel in Dubai. This meant our focus turned to price and this brought the all-inclusive JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel to our attention. This resort is not exactly in the heart of Dubai, but it ticked every box we were looking for and when we considered how little we wanted to move and how much alcohol and food cost in Dubai the all-inclusive deal it was offering appeared to be fantastic value.

And do you know what? It was. The food was excellent, the facilities were great and levels of service were outstanding. Heck, the waiters even smiled when I arrived at the breakfast buffet covered in poopy. Long story, you can read about here.

Last summer’s family holiday

In August 2017, we found the cash and time to do a European family holiday. After the success of Dubai, we asked the internet for all-inclusive last-minute options, but couldn’t find anything suitable. Thus we signed up for a half-board break in Tenerife.

Again, the resort was lovely and the service was exceptional, but this time the deal wasn’t. Despite helping ourselves to an array of ‘extra’ snacks from breakfast, we ending up spending quite a lot of cash on lunch, drinks and ice creams. These additional purchases pushed our holiday outlay above desired levels and this left us feeling like we should have planned better, booked earlier and secured an all-inclusive.

This summer’s all-inclusive family holiday

We’re going to Ibiza. We’re going to have a party. In the Mediterranean Sea. Or those are the Vengaboys lyrics I taught my son to sing, anyway. In truth, there was no party (we were in bed by 11pm every night). There was, however, a trip to Ibiza. We went last Sunday, we got back two days ago and we stayed in the all-inclusive Grand Palladium White Island Resort & Spa in Playa d’en Bossa.

Like the other family holidays we’ve been on, we loved the resort and had a great time. But like our previous family summer holiday in Tenerife, I came away feeling like I’d lost out financially by taking the wrong deal.

So where does that leave us? It leaves me counting the cost of going all-inclusive when it was over-priced and there were nice restaurants nearby. And you committing to asking the following five questions before you even think about pulling the trigger on an all-inclusive deal.

The five questions you need to ask yourself before booking an all-inclusive family holiday


1. How long are we going to go away for?

If the answer is more than seven nights, don’t go all-inclusive. No matter how many restaurants a resort has (our one in Ibiza had five including two buffets), the menus seem to shrink as the week goes on and by the time you reach night eight you’ll feel like you’re eating the same thing over and over again.

2. How much are we really going to drink?

Let’s face facts. Alcohol is the main area where you can win or lose on an all-inclusive deal. In Dubai, I got my money’s worth by having a bottle of sparkling wine every night. In Ibiza, I lost out massively by only having a couple of beers each day.

Conclusion? If you’re going to start early, indulge in poolside cocktails and then hit the sports bar for a few nightcaps and a spot of impromptu karaoke, then all-inclusive is most definitely the deal for you.

And if you’re merely going to be indulging in a spot of wine at dinner? Well, then it probably isn’t.

3. Where in the world are we going?

There are two reasons for asking this question.

First, the service, wait times and food and drink in my European all-inclusive were nowhere near as impressive as the service, wait times and food and drink in my Dubai all-inclusive. (Important note: I have a friend who has been on all-inclusive breaks in Spain and Mexico and he reckons his experience in Mexico was far better. When combined with my Ibizan case study, this suggests European all-inclusive deals are not as good value as all-inclusive deals in more exotic locations.)

Second, eating and drinking in bars and restaurants outside of the hotel is a lot more expensive in some parts of the world (e.g. Dubai) than others (e.g. Europe and America). As a result, all-inclusives tend to be better value in the former than the latter.

4. Are there any eating and drinking options near the hotel?

If there aren’t, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to be eating in the hotel each night. And if that’s the case, then booking an all-inclusive deal makes a lot of sense.

5. How much extra does all-inclusive cost per day?

The definitive way to work out whether going all-inclusive is your best option is by doing the following…

  1. Take the price of the resort’s all-inclusive deal.
  2. Minus the price of the resort’s bed & breakfast deal from this figure.
  3. Divide the number that remains by the number of nights you are staying in the resort.
  4. Divide the number that remains by the number of people going on the holiday.

This leaves you with a number that equates to the price of the food and drink every person needs to consume outside of breakfast every day in order for the all-inclusive deal to be deemed value for money.

If this figure seems low when you compare it to the cost of lunch, dinner and snacks in the hotel, then all-inclusive wins and you should book it ASAP. If it seems high, then all-inclusive loses and you should go for a different hotel or deal.

Got all that? Phew, because the washing machine is beeping and I was supposed to have dinner on the table 35 minutes ago. Hope this post helped your holiday planning and you have a great trip.

Until next time…


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