Holidaymakers share their experiences, and experts tell you how to get the good and avoid the bad.
All-inclusive holidays are becoming more popular again, as time-poor brits look to stretch their pounds as far as they’ll go abroad. But apart from the obvious benefits – that almost everything, bar perhaps travel insurance, is organised for you – what’s driving this trend?
According to ABTA, the summer overseas package holiday market was up by 8% year on year in 2017.
‘While my twenty-something-self was dying inside, my thirty-something-parent-self embraced them like a miracle sent from heaven,’ says Bristol-based journalist and mum of two, Emma Howarth.
Joanne Lewsley, editor of BabyCentre UK (@babycentreuk), explains why parents love a package holiday: ‘They make life so much easier when you already have so much to organise before you leave.’
Clara Wiggo from Cheltenham loves all-inclusive holidays so much she even got married on one. And she’s kept going since, including a recent trip to The Ravenala Attitude.
‘We took the girls to Mauritius. They loved being able to go and get their own drinks and food, and most of the water sports were free – a really easy, do-nothing type of holiday.’
But, she says, it’s worth checking travel dates: ‘We went back to the same place a year later but hadn't checked the dates of European holidays. Because of that, it was a lot busier.’
‘Always check whether your dates coincide with any European school holidays as these periods are particularly busy,’ suggests communications and luxury travel specialist Sue Heady (@HEADYcomms).
‘You should still get good weather and fewer crowds, and holidays in these months are often under half the price of peak season,’ she reveals
If you are stuck with school holidays though, don’t wait for last minute deals.
‘They do not exist during peak season or school holidays. Occasionally, however, we see package holiday providers offer considerable discounts early and late in the season if you can be flexible about the destination,’ says Niamh.
Shianna Jones, a writer from London, booked a break to Corfu last September through a large tour operator.
‘I couldn’t believe I’d found something that looked so posh, for so cheap.’
Her experience didn’t match her expectations.
‘We had the same awful meals every day and all the drinks were watered down. The hotel was nothing like the photos: it was really run down and by day three we were sick of the hotel, the food and each other. I felt like I was in prison.’
‘Social media is an underrated tool for determining if a hotel lives up to its claims,’ says HolidayPirates’ social media manager Floraidh Clement (@FloraidhCC). ‘Search for the hotel on Twitter, where people typically don’t hold back. I also search the hotel location on Instagram to see what snaps have been uploaded and whether they look similar to the website.’
On writer Rosie Mullender’s holiday, all-inclusive visitors were singled out as second-rate guests.
‘The hotel in Kos did half-board, and those of us with AI wristbands were ignored by staff who were pushed to get money out of paying guests rather than looking after us,’ she reveals. ‘It was impossible to get a drink and the food was terrible.’
Lee Deben of Deban Travel, (@DebenTravel), a winner of Travel Trade Gazette’s top travel agencies in the UK, recommends: ‘To avoid the dreaded wristband, book a hotel that only offers all-inclusive and not one that also allows other meal options.’
You can’t always do something about other guests, and ‘there will always be an element of ‘you get what you pay for’ – but the holiday must always live up to the description made by the tour operator,’ says ABTA spokesman Sean Tipton (@ABTAtravel).
‘If holidaymakers feel that their holiday is not what they paid for, they should complain straight away to their holiday rep who will attempt to rectify the situation. They can also claim compensation on return to the UK. If their tour operator is an ABTA Member they can use ABTA's arbitration scheme if they have been unable to achieve a successful resolution.’
On balance, it’s good to know that, for many, the experience is usually a runaway success.
‘I’ve just returned from Soul & Surf in Sri Lanka,’ says mum and writer Helen Jane Campbell. ‘All food, soft drinks, yoga, surfing, massage and cooking classes were included. It made me a lot more willing to participate in a lot of activities than if I'd been racking up a bill all holiday.’
Meanwhile, Amy De-Keyzer’s experience with Virgin Holidays shows it can pay to take the odd risk.
‘We went all-inclusive for the first time for our honeymoon in Mexico two summers ago. We booked a resort that was not even finished when we paid our deposit – and it totally paid off! The hotel, grounds, food and service were amazing and, because we booked off-plan, we got it for a great price.’
Kelly Ellis says she used to do all-inclusive ‘when child-free and burnt out by work’, but since having a small person, she says they ‘make life easy if a little boring’.
That’s where different all-inclusive options may appeal, says Sky TV regular cruise reporter Lynn Houghton (@roaming_scribe), by tempting more adventurous holiday planners to build on their all-inclusive experiences.
‘A millenial might discover cruising when looking for a hen night or weekend, then try a seven-night Caribbean cruise, and eventually invest in an adventure cruise exploring the Arctic.’
Don’t settle for a low-grade package tour, complete with lukewarm buffets and watered-down cocktails. With a little research, everyone from fun-loving families to adrenaline seekers can find the perfect package trip for them.