Monday, April 27, 2015

How to save money on vacation: Why not to pay for an all-inclusive

Read about how a timeshare presentation worked for us, how we only spent $121 for food and drinks with leftovers for an entire week, and why not to pay for an all inclusive.

If you want to cut to the chase scroll to the bottom for the list of reasons not to pay for all inclusive and a list of tips for traveling to a resort.

We were recently privileged to take a family vacation to Los Cabos using our timeshare for spring break.  We were surprised when we started planning for the trip last summer that we were able to find a topical location available during the busy season using our timeshare. We didn’t care where we went as long as it was warm and we could find cheap flights. One challenge we didn’t expect was most resorts were mandatory all inclusive, but our timeshare did not cover the cost, so we would have to pay an additional fee. We found a resort that was optional all inclusive and we booked!

Fast forward 9 months we were getting really excited for our trip which was only two weeks away until we received a voicemail from RCI (our timeshare company) informing us that the resort became mandatory all inclusive and so we were now expected to pay $80/night per person for the all inclusive fees! We were not happy because we purposely choose an optional all inclusive resort and we couldn’t believe they called us 2 weeks before hand and expected us to pay the fees.

We tried contacting RCI and they said it was out of their control that the resort changed to mandatory and we would have to contact them directly. Well contacting a resort in Mexico is not the easiest thing to do. John found out we could call them using Google Hangout and it would cost 1 cent per minute but our account needed a minimum balance of $10. So we spent $10 to call Mexico just to find out that the resort changed back to optional. We were relieved, but still irritated that RCI wasn’t going to help us.

Being frugal like we are we cannot imagine paying $80/night per person for all inclusive food and drink. We know we would not be able to eat and drink $160 worth of food and drink even if we drank all day and stuffed ourselves. Now, some people will argue with us and say that you can spend that kind of money but they are calculating how much the resort charges you, not how much it actually costs. For example, they will argue that drinks are $5/each and meals easily cost $20 then if you eat three meals ($60) and drink four drinks ($20) you hit the $80 per day and you don’t have worry about it and you can eat and drink whenever and whatever you want. 

Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of all inclusive. Mostly because I love food (actually, I have to confess I am slightly addicted to food) and it is always better when you don't have to prepare it! I mean come on, what doesn’t sound appealing about eating and drinking whatever and whenever you want and not worrying about paying for it? But you are paying for it, $80 a day in our case and we were not prepared that pay that kind of money. So our plan: pack a lunch for the flight there, buy groceries and eat in our room two meals a day and eat out our third meal.

Our plan for not spending money on food at the airport worked out perfectly. We had fried egg sandwiches and fresh pineapple (made the night before) for breakfast in the car on our way to the airport and then we ate oranges, tuna avocado sandwiches, and trail mix for lunch while in our layover.

When we exited the airport the shuttle service we already had lined up had sent us a map and directions to avoid the overwhelming hustlers, but somehow we went to the wrong guy wearing an orange shirt and found ourselves agreeing to hear a timeshare presentation Monday morning. We walked away shaking our heads because we knew we just got talked into something but we couldn’t pass up the deal: all you can eat Mexican breakfast, transportation to and from the presentation, tickets to a whale watching cruise, and a bottle of tequila for a 90 minute presentation. So we decided to sacrifice 90 minutes!

By the time we arrived in Los Cabos that night we were getting hungry but since we had been up since 3am and with the time change our bodies thought it was 8pm we decided to splurge and get room service so we could stay in and left our son go to sleep. We weren’t that hungry and the prices seemed steep, so we decided to share a club sandwich and fries. Well we called room service and no one answered. So we called again and still no one answered! We started to unpack and then call and left a message. Getting more and more tired we showered and gave up and went to bed hungry.

The following morning we made a pleasant discovery. We went to the fitness center to work out and we discovered they had a bowl of fruit free for the taking. It worked out perfectly because we hadn't eaten since lunch the day before and we didn't have any of our packed food left. So our new plan for breakfast: each take two pieces of fruit after working out each morning. 

After our free breakfast we went into town for the day and explored the city, walked the pier, and went to Easter Sunday Mass.

By the time Mass was over I was starving so we settled on having the $7 lunch special we walked past on the way to mass. The special included a drink and they had chips and salsa to start. We walked away spending only $20 after a generous tip. After walking in the 90 degree weather back to the pier we shared a self serve yogurt, $4.

We took the city bus (slightly sketchy) for $1/person each way to Walmart and bought $43 of groceries. This even included beer for John that he took down to the pool instead of buying it from the resort. So if you include our bus fare we spent $47 on groceries making our total spending so far = $71.

The next morning, Monday, we went to the lobby to get a taxi to go to the timeshare presentation we had signed up at the airport but we knew something was up because the attendant left and walked in the other direction. A concierge approached us and warn us not to go. He said he would match the deal we were offered if we didn’t go the other resort and we went to their presentation instead. It made sense for us because we didn’t have to leave our resort and we would still get breakfast, whale watching, and a bottle of tequila after sacrificing 90 minutes of our time. And the best part was they didn’t have any openings for the presentation for Monday so he gave us breakfast for that day and Tuesday. So Monday and Tuesday we got FREE all you can eat Mexican breakfast and we snacked on our groceries for the rest of the day.

Now I have to admit that I was jealous of those with all inclusive when we were being sitting by the pool and the people around us were being served hand and foot with french fries, nachos, beer, cocktails, ice cream, you name it! But we were pleasantly surprised that sometimes the waiters came around with free samples that we could have. And we took advantage of the entertainment opportunities offered including the guacamole/salsa making class, martini making class, cocktail making class, and ceviche cooking class (aka FREE FOOD).

Wednesday and Thursday night we had boat tours scheduled which included all you can eat and drink so we snacked on our groceries and fruit we got from the gym on those days. To continue tracking how much we spent on food we will use half the cost of our tickets for the tours. So the first tour was FREE because we listened to the presentation and we paid $43/person for the second tour so let’s say we paid $43 for the food and drink.

To explain Friday we have to go back to the night we arrived. Remember how I said we ordered room service and it never showed. Well, we went to the front desk and explained what had happened and guess what they compensated us with?!? A free night of all inclusive! Which meant we could eat and drink anything we wanted from 6pm-1am. (Way better than the $15 club sandwich and fries we were supposed to get!) So we choose to use it Friday night as our last hurrah.

So we had Friday night planned perfectly. At 6pm we got our wristbands and went for drinks and appetizers at the outdoor fireplace by the ocean, dinner at the fancy restaurant with a salad and dessert bar, martinis at the Martini bar, dessert at the Cafe, and we finished the night with drinks at the fireplace again. Oh, I forgot to mention we got some sandwiches and coffee to go that we took back to our room and saved for the next day for the airport.

So back to the point why you shouldn’t pay for all inclusive… we spent a grand total $121 for food and drink for 8 days including the spur of the moment soft pretzel purchase I made in O’Hare Airport because we landed minutes before everything but Starbucks closed. I don’t feel too bad paying $7 for two pretzels since he threw in FREE pretzel bites since we were his last customers and it was our last chance to eat anything before we slept overnight in the airport...with a 1 year old! (which for who are wondering, turned out fine because my wonderful husband Googled “the best place to sleep in O’Hare Airport” and found us some couches that we pushed together to sleep on.

If we would have paid for all inclusive we would have paid $80/person for seven days totally= $1,120. Trust me, I can eat a lot but I could never eat or drink enough food to make that worth it. So, even though I was jealous when the waiters walked by with ice cream and french fries while people sat by the pool, it still wouldn’t be worth it (to me at least). We also have to admit that get enjoyment from trying to be frugal but we understand it is not for everyone.

Again, back to the point why you shouldn’t pay for all inclusives
  1. You will never eat or drink enough to make it worth it.
  2. It is better to go grocery shopping for two meals each day and then pay for dinner and even food by the pool and you will still be in the green.
  3. Then you don’t “waste” food you would be getting already at the resort if you go on an excursion that includes food or if you go into town for a meal.
  4. You don’t need the calories (or at least we don’t) :)

Tips for traveling to a resort
  1. Go to a timeshare presentation BUT realize that it will take an entire morning and a lot of persistence on your part to finally get out of there (be warned that some can be VERY pushy and even rude). We had the best luck getting an “offer” at the airport because then our resort matched it. Before our resort knew we already had an offer they were going to only give us 50% off excursions, weak! Then when they found out what we were going to get to see a different resort they matched it and we were able to stay at our own resort. We also think it better to see a presentation at the resort you are staying at because they are more likely to let you leave because they don’t want to piss you off if you are staying with them for the rest of the week. Final tip, take a baby! We got out of our presentation an hour before other people because he was getting fussy! So we didn’t even have argue our way out of there. Score! We recommend attending only one because then you only take one morning of your time and if you have a bad experience it is only one morning and you still have the rest of your vacation to enjoy.
  2. Think ahead and pack a lunch for the airport. Just remember that by the time your plane lands in a new country you need to have eaten any fruit, vegetables, or meat or customs will stop you.
  3. Attend some of the free entertainment opportunities they offer: I don’t think I need to explain this= FREE and they can be a lot of fun.

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1 comment:

  1. I am hoping same best effort from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing skills has inspired me.
    Whale Watching in Cabo