Some hotels emphasize luxury with more all-inclusive offerings

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For some travelers, all-inclusive resorts conjure up images of flavorless dishes served under a heat lamp in lush, vibrant destinations where guests never leave the resort. Lower tier booze flows freely (the good stuff will cost you more), as the few excesses put a damper on the journey.

That image is changing, as hotel companies expand their offerings, while redefining what all-inclusive means.

Hotels are expanding their all-inclusive brands

Many hotel companies are rapidly adding all-inclusive resorts to their portfolio. Hyatt’s H,
+3.21%
the acquisition of Apple Leisure Group in November 2021 made it one of the largest luxury all-inclusive resort portfolios in the world.

This acquisition included the luxury-focused AMR Collection, which has beachfront properties in Mexico and Central America. That means there are now over 100 new resorts for visitors (and where World of Hyatt members can redeem their points), up from around a dozen.

A few weeks before the Hyatt news, Marriott MAR,
+1.69%
had also expanded its all-inclusive footprint by adding 20 properties under a new brand called “All-Inclusive by Marriott Bonvoy”.

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Leaning towards luxury – both on and off property

With these new all-inclusive offers, hotels are emphasizing luxury. At Hyatt’s Zoetry Montego Bay Jamaica, all accommodations include an on-site concierge. Some have private pools.

“The Zoetry Wellness & Spa Resorts brand is synonymous with exceptional amenities,” said AMResorts Senior Vice President Miguel Oliveira. “There are no check-in or check-out times, unlimited premium spirits, and a 24-hour concierge.”

Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano said on a March 2021 earnings call that luxury rooms make up more than 10% of Marriott’s pipeline.

“Leisure demand has led the recovery, and we are well positioned to continue to grow our lead in resort destinations, including in the high-growth all-inclusive space,” he said. For example, among Marriott’s recent additions is the Royalton Antigua, where visitors can stay in Antigua’s only glass-floor overwater bungalows.

And while the rooms are luxurious, more and more all-inclusive resorts are encouraging getting out of the resort area.

Twin Farms in Vermont offers ski gear and fat bikes for use on its private trails. A partnership with Volvo VLVLY,
+0.11%
allows guests to explore the Vermont countryside by taking a ride in resort-provided vehicles. Nightly rates are sometimes close to $6,000.

Baja Expeditions offers a glamping experience in Mexico’s San Ignacio Lagoon. Guests stay in heated windproof tents with private bathrooms and go on daytime whale watching excursions. The four-day experience costs around $5,000 for two guests and includes a charter flight to the lagoon.

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Rewrite the all-inclusive playbook

This year offered travelers a different kind of all-inclusive experience when Walt Disney World Resort DIS,
-0.77%
opened Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. In its simplest form, it’s Disney’s “Star Wars” hotel, but it’s so much more than that.

“The Galactic Starcruiser experience is mystery dinner theater, high-production show, escape room, role-playing video game, cruise and resort stay all rolled into one,” says Beci Mahnken, founder and CEO of travel agency MEI-Travel.

Cost starts at $1,500 to $2,400 per person for two nights and valet parking. It includes activities such as lightsaber training and theme park tickets. It also includes themed dishes like bantha dumplings, a beef dish said to be made from “bantha,” a fictional mammalian beast from “Star Wars.”

Why are all-inclusive trips becoming popular?

For cost-conscious travelers, all-inclusive packages — though sometimes more expensive — can be worth it as they simplify planning and budgeting.

When pricing a la carte vacations, travelers should consider hidden costs such as mandatory gratuities and resort fees. Then they factor in minor expenses like bottled water and parking. With all-inclusive packages, these expenses tend to be—well—included.

While the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is far from a budget vacation, Mahnken says that when you compare the individually priced theme park tickets, entertainment and meals with the cost of the all-inclusive experience, then 3 $000 – although not exactly cheap – might sting less.

“Is it for everyone? No,” she said. “However, when you look at each element of the experience and what you would pay for each experience separately, the price is very good value.”

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Even still, Mahnken advises understanding what’s covered when booking. Especially among cruises, it’s common to see similar rooms and itineraries at vastly different rates, as some include gratuities, alcohol, and fine dining, while others don’t.

For some other travelers, the opulence and convenience may be worth it.

“The ability to prepay and not have any surprises or bills waiting for you at the end removes many aggravating factors from the trip,” Mahnken says. “It’s easier to budget.”

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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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