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All Inclusive vs. Non Inclusive Resorts in Cancun

Is All Inclusive Worth it?

The decision to stay at an all-inclusive (AI) resort vs. a non-inclusive hotel is a big decision when visiting the Cancun region of Mexico. Convenience, price, food quality, and other factors will influence what vacation style best suits each family. Here are six things to consider when determining which type of vacation experience is right for you!

This pool is part of the non-inclusive El Presidente Intercontinental in Cancun.

1) Price of the Resort

All-inclusive resorts can sometimes be found for a low cost on sites like Expedia for around $300 per person per night, and can range upwards of $1,000 per person/night for a family of four. The price varies by the number of people staying at the resort and the class of the resort. Most AI resorts include unlimited alcohol, unlimited food, and activities. Non-inclusive resorts are much cheaper per night (ranging from $50-$500 per night, depending on the class and location of the hotel), but will not include food, activities, or alcohol.

To compare prices, all hotel types were researched on Expedia to give a relative cost for each class of resort for the week of April 4-10, 2021. While prices will vary by time of year, this gives a relative cost differential for all-inclusive and non-inclusive options at the same time point. The cost for 4 people per night is for two adults and two children under the age of 18.

A Sample of All Inclusive Resorts (2021 prices)

All of the hotels above include non-motorized water activities, all food, alcoholic drinks, and entertainment throughout your stay. Hotel XCaret is completely inclusive, and includes admission to all of the XCaret owned parks and tours (including the namesake park, XPlor, Xenses, Xoximilco, Xavage, Xichen Deluxe, and Xel-Ha). Rooms may easily reach almost $1000 per night for this hotel, though discounts are frequently available. Some resorts charge a lot more for additional people staying at the resort, while others steeply discount kids staying with their parents.

A Sample of Non-Inclusive Hotels (2021 prices)

It is important to note that Aloft Cancun and Aventura Mexicana do not have oceanfront locations, which is why the price is lower. If booking a non-inclusive hotel, it is important to research the location if being directly on the beach is important for your vacation. Both of these hotels are within easy walking distance of public beaches or private beach clubs.

2) Are You Traveling as a Couple or as a Family?

When comparing the cost per night for two people, the all inclusive resorts may a better value than when comparing the cost per night for four people.

Cost for two people for six nights:

Cost for four people for six nights:

Staying at the Dreams Sand resort in the zona hotelera of Cancun is $696 more expensive than staying at the El Presidente Cancun, but all food and drinks are included for the extra $116 per night. When comparing the cost for four people, however, the all-inclusive loses its edge. The cost for four people is $6,078 more expensive than staying at the El Presidente, which is nearby on the beach. This is an additional cost of $1013 per night. It is difficult to eat or drink a family’s way through $1,000 per day, making the additional cost difficult to digest (pun intended).

Sometimes all-inclusive resorts will allow children to stay for free, which makes the cost of the AI easier to bear for a family. Be careful to note the age allowances on “kids stay free” promotions: many limit the ages to those under 11-12 years of age. Teenagers may be billed as adults and nullify any benefits.

If you plan to go on many daily excursions, a non-inclusive may be right for you.

3) What is Your Vacation Style?

Do you want to get out and explore various parks and tours in Mexico, or are you happy to stay on the beach to relax? For those who are going to stay in one spot and enjoy basking in the sun, an all-inclusive may make a lot of sense. There is no need to worry about additional costs for food or drinks, and there is no desire to pay for additional excursions.

Adventurous couples and families that intend to do a lot of exploration rather than staying at the hotel may be better off with a non-inclusive option. The savings in room rate will more than pay for many excursions, and you’ll have to pay for your own food and drink when away from the resort, anyway.

In a similar vein, adults who want to partake of a lot of alcoholic drinks can do so without extra charge at an all-inclusive. For those who aren’t into alcohol, or would rather limit intake for more active pursuits, a non-inclusive hotel might be the better option.

4) Food Quality

AI resorts vary widely in the quality of food available. Some limit a-la carte dining to one restaurant every four days, with a buffet for the remainder of the stay. Others have a more extensive option of restaurants and better food quality, but with a much higher price tag.

Those staying at non-inclusive resorts will need to find their own dinner options and must pay attention to location – look for a hotel with easy access to hotels (either on a bus route or within walking distance) and check reviews for food quality before your trip. The benefit of staying at a non-inclusive property is the ability to find excellent local dishes for a fraction of the price of staying at an AI resort – but you must do your research in advance.

5) Age of Children

Families with young children may really benefit from an AI in Mexico. Children under the age of 3 are generally free in any case, and the convenience of having everything at your fingertips is hard to beat. Toddlers are generally not going to go on adventurous tours or long excursions with ease, so spending a lot of time at the beach and pool make for an easy vacation.

In addition, most resorts offer kids’ clubs and teens’ clubs to keep kids entertained, giving adults some time alone. This is not always available in non-inclusive hotels and should be considered for moms and dads that need a break! The extra cost of an AI might be worth it for parents who need some down time and would like the childcare that comes free of charge at the kid’s clubs.

6) Convenience Factor

Are you someone who worries constantly every time you have to pull out a credit card? Does convenience matter more than price? Some people don’t want to have to worry about each cost adding up over the course of a vacation, and want everything paid for in advance. Choosing an all-inclusive will ensure that nearly all costs are paid for up-front, with only small items (like tips for the bartender) to consider for the rest of your trip. Worrying about converting money into the local currency is a moot point for those who won’t need any cash during their trip!

In addition, many AI resorts include transportation to their property from the airport. Flying in, finding the person associated with your resort, and getting to the right location without any hassle is a major convenience.

Staying at a non-inclusive means exploring the local area to find dinner!

For those choosing a non-inclusive option, it is important to have cash on-hand for bus fares (many take U.S. dollars) and for food and drink options. The cost is often lower for those paying in pesos, so we exchanged our money when we stayed at a non-inclusive in Mexico. Transportation to and from the hotel must also be arranged independently. This can be done via a variety of carriers and is highly recommended, as taking a taxi from the airport often results in scams. Many private carriers are available and the price (generally under $100 round-trip) is worth the safety and direct transport to your hotel.

Not Sure? Split the Difference!

Still not sure whether to go the all-inclusive route or to save some money and stay in a non-inclusive hotel? Try spending a few nights at a hotel that doesn't include food or activities, then transfer to an AI resort for the rest of your vacation. This will allow a few days of excursions and activity followed by a few days of relaxing on the beach without a care in the world.

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