/ Travel & Leisure

All-inclusive or DIY holidays: which do you prefer?


Three in ten holidaymakers heading abroad this year will be opting for an all-inclusive package, but are they really getting a better deal than if they’d organised it themselves?

When it comes to holidays, I’m firmly in the DIY camp. I’ll decide on my destination, pick up a guidebook, ask for recommendations from people who’ve been and start planning a loose itinerary.

I’ll then research accommodation options (usually B&B or self-catering), book direct or through a booking site and keep my fingers crossed that it lives up to expectations when I get there. More often than not, it does – as do the eateries and excursions I’ve been recommended.

Of course, I can see the appeal of all-inclusive holidays, where all your drinks and meals are included – especially if you’re travelling with a young family or all you want to do is catch a few rays on a sun lounger followed by a few sundowners.

But having been on two such holidays in the past, I know I prefer the freedom that comes with not being tied to a hotel or resort so I can get out and explore.

Culture shock

Neither of my all-inclusive experiences was terrible. My first was in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh – a perfectly nice hotel with a lovely pool and clean rooms. It was just let down by the buffet food on offer, which led to us getting taxis into town so we could eat something other than chicken kebabs and hummus. We also ended up with a massive bar bill as the package didn’t include wine.

My second was on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, which boasted a plethora of eateries and bars, three pools and a spa, and even laid on daily activities. It just didn’t offer any of the culture we were hoping to experience, so we ended up spending more on escaping the hotel confines.

Now, I’m wondering if I’d get a cheaper deal if I cast aside my prejudices and went for all-inclusive over putting together my own trip.

All-inclusive advantages

Well, it seems that would depend on my destination. In the Caribbean, where there is a long-established all-inclusive tradition, choosing a package over DIY would be a no-brainer.

I’d also be better off going with an all-inclusive package in Spain, especially Majorca, where a packaged deal works out more than £200 cheaper than going it alone.

But it isn’t the case everywhere – recent analysis by Post Office Travel Money found that in nine out of ten popular European destinations, holidaymakers who opt for B&B and eat out end up spending less than those in all-inclusive resorts.

In a poll of 2,081 UK adults, 82% said they paid out extra for meals, drinks and other items in their all-inclusive hotel, at an average cost of £139.31 each. Even more spent money on meals, snacks and drinks away from their hotel.

The research also found that the biggest savings to be had this summer are in Turkey, where an all-inclusive week in Marmaris for a family of four costs £1,208 more than going B&B and eating out in local restaurants.

Guess there will be quite a few others in my DIY camp this year, then.

What’s your holiday preference? All-inclusive or DIY?


I have never been on an all-inclusive holiday. I enjoy meeting up with friends on holiday and have done for nearly 40 years. When I was working I sometimes stayed for a holiday when I had to go abroad in connection with my work, just paying for the additional time spent in hotels. I find it a lot less hassle to stay in the UK.

I went on my first ever all-inclusive holiday last year. We booked to go to Greece but the accommodation was getting a lot of bad reviews online and so we cancelled and found a great all-inclusive deal so we booked it.

The convenience of not having to worry about spending money was great, but I did find after a few days I was bored of the food and ended up eating out a lot.

Wavechange I agree with your point about staying in the UK, it is a lot less hassle. I’ve recently come to enjoy weekends away in the UK (which I used to hate the idea of)!

One of the reasons I prefer staying in the UK is that I am an asthmatic and although it’s normally well controlled there is always the possibility of an urgent trip to hospital, which is probably easier to deal with in the UK. We could do with three day weekends, Alex. 🙂

I looked into going all inclusive when planned a cheap get away with my adult son. It’s important to read the small print and find out exactly what’s included. My son doesn’t touch alcohol and I’m an infrequent drinker and neither of us are particularly partial to sugary carbonated drinks, especially home brands.
I was disappointed to find that the majority of holidays did not include tea or coffee in their packages but not surprised. What did shock me tho was that water was not included. I understand we are trying to move away from plastic bottles but what’s the alternative – sugar or alcohol. Also I noted some resorts required you to wear a wrist band. Whilst. This might not have bothered most, it would me.
We opted for B&B eventually and had a great time. Having said that, my daughter and her family ( one primary, one teen) felt their all inclusive break was great value financially and relieved them of the constant hassle of “Mum can I have a drink” all holiday, even if it did mean for two weeks the children were running on sugar and E numbers!
Horses for courses I say

We’ve gone all-inclusive for the past two years, and are just about to do it again. There are three of us, and each year I’ve compared the all-inclusive rate to the cost of going self-catering, and it hasn’t been that much more expensive to be all-inclusive.

I’ve always researched what is included to make sure that there aren’t any disappointing surprises when we get there. For example, is water, tea, and coffee part of the package? And TripAdvisor has been a great resource when it comes to checking out what the food variety is like to make sure we won’t be on a two week kebab diet!

We have enjoyed the convenience of being all-inclusive. We don’t have to worry about having to head off somewhere for lunch and dinner, and we haven’t had to deal with meal-touts, crowds, or dealing with poor quality food or service. (Problems we’ve had on previous holidays.)

Maybe we’ve been lucky, as for the last two years we have used the same travel company. It’s going to be interesting to see if we have the same experience this year.

All inclusive can save money but catering is not always reliable and the huge dining areas can be fairly uncivilised (Noise and kids) – self catering and eating out has a lot to offer but may not fit every budget.

Keith says:
2 June 2018

I have recently been researching holidays in Europe for my daughter and her partner. As I always use the DIY system for my own holidays, using online booking sites e.g. Booking.com, Trivago etc. I was amazed to find package holidays in four star accommodation were nearly always considerably cheaper than booking the hotel and flight separately.
The downside is flight times are not the best and hotel choice is limited, plus you are treated as just another package holiday punter by the hotel.
As Alex has commented, all inclusive sounds good but you soon become bored with the food offered and it ties you to the hotel, so bed an breakfast included is the most I would book before leaving home.

It really depends on what sort of holiday you are going to have and where it will be. We have been to Italy a few times and went B&B because All inclusive (AI) was more expensive than B&B plus our own choices of eateries and places to visit. On the other hand, we are planning a cruise next year. AI will cost less than B&B plus meals and drinks – after estimating the amount we are likely to spend on food and drink. Admittedly, we had to estimate the cost of food and drinks using experience of previous holidays but it still looked cheaper to go AI. The main thing to bear in mind is what is included in AI. On the cruise we have booked bottled water is not included unless we upgrade at high cost. However, there will be water fountains around every deck and water is freely available in the restaurants where AI meals are available. On one particular holiday we went on previously AI was not available and the additional cost amounted to around £1,000. On another one we spent £800 while AI was available for £200. Admittedly, AI can be a bit restrictive in terms of choice of eatery and what drinks are included in the package but if you are willing to forego Bombay Saphire and single malt it can be OK.

A few years ago we went on all-inclusive holidays to Cyprus, Italy and the Canary Islands. We had already been on several cruises so were used to having all our meals in one location [but different on-board restaurants]. Staying all-inclusive in fairly good hotels we felt that the food offer and variety were as good as on a cruise liner and superior to many of the local eating places. In fact, one consequence of the growth of all-inclusive is a decline in the quality of local restaurants, especially in the smaller resorts that have large numbers of big hotels. The barkers outside the local bars and cafes look dejected as they see shoals of all-inclusive holidaymakers walk past with their wristbands on show.

Imagine how you would feel if crowds of people visited your town/village and spent no money locally, preferring their all inclusive which may well be run by an international company with profits going elsewhere. Local people may be forced to work in that establishment, regardless of the level of wages or whether they get tips, or move away from home to work. So next time you walk past that ‘barker’ think about why they might look dejected.

Yes, Beth, we were fully appreciative of that but by the time we started having all-inclusive holidays the damage to the local restaurant trade had already been done and the available amenities did not appeal. We subsequently preferred holidays in town centre hotels [rather than on the coast] where dining in was prohibitively expensive meaning that there was a plentiful variety of affordable local restaurants within a reasonable distance.

June GERRARD says:
3 June 2018

I dont really do beach holidays, I live on the west coast of Cumbria, and as I am retired dont see the pont of going on holiday to relax as I can do that any day. I go on holiday to see places, off to Sri Lanka this year, just come back from a tour of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. I do go on organised holidays, as it means I can tour without driving, and everything is taken care of. A good company like Explore while ensuring that every one is looked after,none the less encourage individual exploration.

We’ve been on one AI to Antigua, where there was very little choice, food quality was ok, but got boring after three days.
I would never choose this type of holiday, as experiencing different cuisines, flavours, cultures, people and architecture are key (to us) for travel enjoyment. Searching for that little restaurant off the beaten track is great fun, and gives back to the local economy, something AI doesn’t achieve.
However if people are happy to eat the same old ‘international food’, lie on a sunbed round a pool all day that’s fine, it leaves more space for us to explore.