How to Spot a Bad Resort Deal
Are you inundated with travel deals? Sale! Sale! Sale! Jet off to the sunny shores of Cancun and stay in a Luxury All-Inclusive for six nights for $500 a person, including flights! Time to pack your bikini and head to the airport, right? Maybe or maybe not. Ads like this are pretty ubiquitous (SAT word, I get bonus blog points, haha). Multiple companies run similar promotions all the time, but you need to answer a couple of questions before you pull out the bikini:
1. What, why, and where?
2. Does it match your idea of luxury?
3. What does their all-inclusive package include?
4. What aren't they telling you in the ad?
I get clients that send me quotes from the Cheap Caribbean or Booking.com, asking if they are good deals. Sometimes yes, but more often, the answer is no. Incredible resorts rarely have to put effort into putting bodies in beds during the summer. But they might offer sales in the slower travel months. So you can run into some fabulous deals (I have taken advantage of some of them, and I wouldn't say I like all-inclusive resorts much). But it would help if you carefully vetted the ad and resort. Let's go through the questions so that you can see the process I use to determine whether or not to present a deal to clients. I am determined to help you understand how to spot a lousy resort deal.
What, Why, And Where?
This question is the easiest to understand. You already know that these promos exist to fill beds, so you need to ask yourself: who needs to fill beds right now? Avoid any promos that are trying to fill beds during the summer and winter months! Don't look any further. If a "Luxury Resort" can't fill beds during the two biggest Caribbean travel seasons, then it is crap. You will never see a great resort drastically reduce prices during high season; they don't need to because people will pay full price to go there. The only exception to this rule is brand new resorts. They often lower prices because they don't have loyal clients and reviews. For the first year, a new hotel can sell rooms for about 30-50% less. Usually, I won't go to a resort in its first year because even good hotels need time to iron out the wrinkles. But these are great deals if you aren't picky. During the off-season, you can find great deals, but realize that many of these are due to it being Hurricane Season. If you travel anywhere in the Caribbean during Hurricane Season, get travel insurance to protect your investment.
Many promos won't name the resort you will be staying at until you arrive. They say, "Stay at one of our six 4-star resorts." If you see this in an ad: run, just run. I guarantee you will not be staying in their best resort.
Real-Life Example: I had a couple in May who called me because their friends found an ad for the Jewel Resorts in Jamaica. They wanted to know if I could match it. I could not (and I would not if I could have), but I did book them into the Jewel Paradise Cove (and the best resort in the Jewel Brand) and Oceanfront Room with Butler for only $250 more than their friends paid for their deal. Their friends stayed at Jewel Dunn's River while the resort was under construction. They didn't have air conditioning in Jamaica in June, no a/c! The other two couples ended up buying day passes to go to Paradise Cove to stay with my clients almost every day of their trip. Passes were $75 per person per day. The day passes cost more than upgrading to the better resort would have cost them. VET YOUR DEALS!!! If you don't have the energy to do so, send it to me, and give you honest feedback.
Does It Match Your Idea of Luxury?
Luxury is a very vague word, and it means different things to different people. I expect a luxury resort will offer: yacht, helicopter or limo transfers, beach and room butlers, porters to carry my bags, upgraded mini-bar, free rooms service 24 hours a day, plenty of chairs and umbrellas at the pools, plenty of Bali beds at the beach, maid service at least twice a day, early check-in and late checkout standard, a variety of cuisines and a la carte restaurants, Michelin Rated Restaurants, drivers if the resort is enormous, efficiently take care of complaints and more. (I'm not picky myself, but I am very particular about where I send clients) But you can see I have incredibly high standards for "Luxury." The truth is any resort can and will use the word. And many people don't know the difference. If you don't travel a lot and have never stayed in a 4-star resort, you might not realize how much better a 5-star resort can be. It would help if you took recommendations from friends with a grain of salt. Their standards might not be up to yours. Go to an expert that can give you specifics.
Here is my Rule of Thumb: it is better to get the worst room at a great resort than it is to get the best room at an OK hotel. Why? Because everything else will be better.
What Does Their All-Inclusive Package Include?
Not all all-inclusive are created equal. People think that you will pay nothing more when you go to an all-inclusive, but that isn't always true. For instance, the Centara Grand Maldives includes not only all your food and drink but also spa treatments and all your off-site excursions. Centara is the exception, not the rule. It would be best if you read the specifics of any resort that you are considering. All-inclusive packages vary widely. Most luxury and premium resorts will include all restaurants, premium drinks, non-motorized water sports, daily classes, and evening entertainment. Not included would be spa, salon, SCUBA, and off-resort excursions. 5-star resorts will start at a higher price point, but their packages are much more inclusive than three and 4-star resorts.
In general, a three and 4-star resort will cost about $500-750 less at booking than a 5-star resort for a week. How do bargain basement resorts make money? The answer is beverages, specifically alcohol and soda. Premium and luxury resorts will include premium and imported sodas and alcohol in their base package. Bargain basement resort DO NOT! Their packages tend to say things like "endless supplies of domestic drinks, including alcohol!" Woohoo? Nope, the most important word there is "domestic." Say you get an excellent deal for Jamaica for $500 per person. Plan on drinking lots of Jamaican soda and alcohol. Order a coke or a bud light. You will see it on your bill at check out. People tend to over imbibe on vacation, and they forget the specifics of their package. It's not unheard of to have bar tabs of $1000. Paying a little more upfront would save you a bunch of money later.
A luxury or premium resort will have better dining options, multiple a la carte restaurants offering various cuisines. Many times they have Michelin rated chefs and restaurants. You can try as many as you want.
Not the case with bargain-basement resorts. While they may have a good number of restaurants and cuisines, the quality is often lacking. They will also limit the number of a la carte restaurants from which you can choose. Many have rules that you can only go to a sit-down restaurant 2 or 3 times a week. The rest of the time, you have to eat at the buffet. Do you feel like eating chicken fingers every night?
What Aren't They Telling You in the Ad?
No ad ever speaks to the level of service you will receive at the resort. But service is the absolutely where resorts will cheap out! At bargain-basement resorts, they generally have one employee to 5-6 guests. In comparison, luxury resorts will have one employee to 1-1.5 guests, and premium resorts have one employee to 2 guests. You will find LONG lines starting from check-in and all through check out. On my last all-inclusive trip, I was met at drop off by my concierge with a cool towel and mimosas. He walked me around the resort to point out all the things I would want to check out. When we arrived at my room, my butler had unpaced and hung up my clothes. You will receive a map and basic directions at a bargain-basement resort and will have to haul your bags there by yourself. Which sounds better to you?
No, one wants to pay more than a vacation is worth. But you can find a place that is a perfect fit for you with patience. If you like a deal, do your due diligence and vet it carefully before booking. Don't worry if it has a time limit. Deals come and go quickly, so when one ends, another will take its place. Sales are great but don't mistake price and value! Make sure that you can spot a lousy resort deal.