Apr 11, 2013

Posted by in Features, Money Saving Tips, Trip Advice | 43 Comments

Find out more about

Holidays: All-inclusive versus self-catering

If you’re planning your main 2013 holiday, the chances are you’ll be looking for the best value break for your money. And a common dilemma for holidaymakers looking for the most cost-effective holiday is which board type to go for.

Some holidaymakers religiously travel on a self-catering basis in order to keep their costs to a minimum while others are all-inclusive converts – but which will actually work out cheaper for you?

Here we take a look at the pros and cons of each holiday type to help you decide…

The pros of self-catering holidays

According to research by TravelSupermarket, 29% of British holidaymakers plan to travel on a self-catering basis for their main 2013 holiday. In 2012 the figures were similar, with 32% of Brits opting for this board type. But what makes these holidays so popular with savvy spenders?

Self-catering villa

You can control your food and drink costs

Whether you want to keep healthy snacks in the cupboard for the kids, or like to have a glass of wine or two with your evening meal, travelling on a self-catering basis will allow you to buy all of your items for less in local shops, markets or supermarkets – so you can enjoy guilt-free treats. Travelling on this basis is also a great choice if someone in your group has a special dietary requirement.

You’re not restricted by a timetable

Want to eat breakfast at midday? No problem. Or perhaps the kids like to eat their main meal at 5pm but you prefer to wait until they are in bed. Self-catering accommodation offers you the flexibility to come and go as you please and to set your own holiday timetable.

This flexibility can also help you to budget as you can choose to nip back to your holiday home for lunch after a morning of exploring or make a packed lunch before you set off.

Family and friends can stay together – and keep expenses down

If you’re travelling in a large group, there are plenty of accommodation options on a self-catering basis that will allow you to all stay together and split the costs of everything from accommodation to food, drink and other holiday essentials. And, if you are in a larger group, you can all put money into a holiday kitty and take it in turns to cook and do the food shopping. Villa and cottage holidays are good options here.

You’ll have the freedom to explore in your own style

Staying self-catering often makes travellers more adventurous in getting to know their new surroundings as you don’t feel obliged to take part in activities as you might in large hotel complexes. Plus, as you control your food budget, you can make the decision about whether to eat in or out as you please.

Some cons to think about

 How good are you at budgeting?

While self-catering can work out as a cost-effective option, be honest with yourself when you choose this board type in an effort to save money. If you know you’ll never use your apartment’s kitchen because eating out is too tempting, or that having to budget for trips to the supermarket will bring you out in a cold sweat, self-catering probably isn’t for you.

Is your destination suitable for a self-catering break?

While certain destinations such as France, Spain and Portugal are well set up for self-catering holidaymakers, other such as Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Morocco and Cuba aren’t, meaning you will struggle to find a good range of inexpensive food to stock your fridge. So research your destination before you choose this option as your good intentions may actually result in your trip costing far more in both money and energy.

Find out what’s in your accommodation

Before you book your accommodation, check it has all of the appliances and equipment you want. For example, some basic apartments may not have an oven, meaning you may not be able to cook everything you want.

The pros of all-inclusive holidays

All-inclusive holidays are becoming increasingly popular with Brits and, according to research by TravelSupermarket, more than one in 10 British holidaymakers (11%) will go away on this basis for their main holiday in 2013. So why do these types of holiday appeal to money-conscious travellers?

All-inclusive hotel

You can budget before you even board the plane

As all-inclusive holidays tend to include everything from your flights and accommodation to food, drink and entertainment, you can work out what the bulk of your holiday will cost, and budget and pay for it, before you even get to the airport. All you’ll need to think about is spending money for any extras – such as excursions, souvenirs and money to spend at the airport.

You don’t need to worry about the little extras

It’s amazing how an ice cream here and a can of pop there can soon add up when you’re away for a week or two. But, if you’re on an all-inclusive holiday where snacks and drinks are included, you can treat yourself without worrying about the pennies. This can be particularly appreciated by parents as children won’t be nagging for expensive snacks.

You won’t have to carry lots of currency around with you

Within your hotel you probably won’t need any cash – unless you’d like to tip your waiter or upgrade to an expensive bottle of wine – so travelling all-inclusive is great for those who only want to take minimal amounts of cash away with them.

Destinations you may never have considered may now be in your budget

If you shop around, it can be possible to visit exotic destinations such as Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic for less than £1,000 per person on an all-inclusive basis.

Some cons to think about

Check what’s included before you book

While many hotels offer brilliant all-inclusive packages which include everything you need, some have limitations which may catch you out if you haven’t budgeted for them. So, before you book, find out exactly what your accommodation is offering, looking out for items you class as an essential such as bottled water, wine, branded soft drinks, snacks and activities. And, be aware that your meals may be served buffet style.

Is all-inclusive really for you?

Whether you love to eat out in local restaurants to get a taste of traditional flavours or don’t like to spend much time in your resort when you are away, think carefully about whether an all-inclusive break would suit your needs. If you think you’d end up eating out more than once or twice or plan to spend your holiday exploring your destination top to bottom, this type of break probably isn’t for you – as you’ll effectively end up paying for everything twice.

Is your accommodation suited to you?

Holidays can be a great time for you and the kids to meet groups of like-minded people, so if this is important to you, spend some time researching your choice of accommodation before you book. Read everything from descriptions on the hotel’s website, travel agent synopses and customer feedback on user review sites to get a clearer idea on what the hotel will be like. And, while you are doing this, look out for any other factors that are important to you such as how varied the food is and how good the night-time entertainment is.

How to decide

Now you’ve read through the pros and cons of both accommodation types, you’ve probably got a clearer idea on which type of holiday is for you. But, if not, a good way to decide based on budget is to compare the price of each holiday type and then add a realistic daily cost for food, drink and transport to your self-catering option. If this still works out cheaper than all-inclusive, you know you’ve found a deal.

And, don’t forget to factor location into your choice. For example, will you feel stuck in an all-inclusive hotel miles away from the action of the main resort? Or perhaps you’ll end up resenting the rural villa you’ve set your heart on as petrol and public transport costs will eat into your budget?

Do you only travel all-inclusive or is self-catering always your preference? Leave a comment below and let us know.

  1. Irene Lochhead says:

    PREFER THE FREEDOM OF SELF CATERING PLUS TE EXTRA SPACE AND APARTMENT/VILLA GIVES. WHY BE RESTRICTED TO A BEDROOM WITH INVARIABLY NO DECENT CHAIRS WHEN YOU CAN HAVE COMFORTABLE LOUNGE SEPARATE BEDROOM KITCHEN ETC FOR LESS THAN YOU PAY FOR A HOTEL ROOM.

    • NEVER book All Inclusive.

      1). All Inclusive is destroying the economy of the countries now subjected to the Hotels All Inclusive deals.Tourists do not leave their Hotel, and become prisoners of the Hotel–for fear of missing food and drink -!”That They Have Paid For”.
      2). They take very little spending money–Because they have paid for everything.They do not go to the bars and restaurants. They do not shop. Self employed business are going bankrupt at the rate of 5 per. week. Staff become redundant. Suppliers roll over–no business. People lose contracts and pay. They do not get benefit in the Winter–no completed 6 Month contract. People are now unemployed on starvation diets, and the crime rate is escalating. Especially theft, to get money to eat.
      3).The Hotel food is the cheapest that can be bought.International buffet- is just edible. The drink is inferior. It is not the spirits in the labelled bottles. But decanted inferior spirits etc. Drink related illness is rife, on the poor quality beverages.
      4). Many tourists will not return to these very poor quality all inclusive Hotels.
      5).Drinks are usually stopped serving at 10.00PM each night.
      6). Tourists do not explore their areas or Islands–in case they miss what they have paid for in an All Inclusive Hotel.
      7). Plus many more problems etc.–associated with -ALL INCLUSIVE!.

    • Christine says:

      There are some nice lounges in All Inclusive hotels. You don’t have to sit in your room. I have been in some lovely hotels with superb accomodation

  2. We have always been self-catering on our hols, as we find we do not always want to dress up and go out after a long day marching around. A part of a good holiday for us is also to buy local produce and use it for our meals. Often we eat out at lunchtime, so evening meals can be light and simple. When we had our children with us, we often stayed at big campsites in a rented tent or mobile home. The best combination was a big campsite near or on a beach or river, with activities for the kids, both on the campsite and in the local area.

    • So how do you even know wether AI is not better,they also use local produce in all of there mealsand often they have no problem making up a picnic or packed lunch for your excursions..!!

  3. Robert Long says:

    I hate the whole idea of All-Inclusive holidays,in my experience the bars and restaurants in proximity to the a/i properties are forced to close down due to having no custom, the result is people stay in their complex for the duration of their holiday, there is no point in them venturing out as everywhere is closed !

    • I have been on both s/c and A/I and most recently an A/I holiday and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a spacious room with comfortable seating and enjoyed read in a lovely public lounge. There were several bars and restuarants open locally so there seemed to be no major local impact. On days out we were provided with a more than adequate packed lunch so no extra cost incurred unless we chose to eat out of the complex. A/I is my 1st choice for a relaxing, pampered n cost effective holiday.

  4. Mbb323 says:

    I agree with previous comments. Self-catering means enjoying spacious accommodation, freedom to eat when you wish to, shopping from local markets and cooking if you want to, but also eating out at different local restaurants. Being tied to timetables and routine at work all year round, I enjoy the freedom that self-catering provides.

    • Christine says:

      Self catering means cooking an washing up. I like to go on holiday to be looked after and have a rest, not carry on working the same as at home. To me self-catering is not a holiday.

  5. My friend and I are 2 ladies in the 70′s and both vegetarian/vegans. We invariably find that Hotel and restaurants do not really cater for us. We can eat salads and fruit but the protein ie meat replacement element is lacking unless we are happy to eat cheese and eggs all the time which we are not. The exception is cruising where the food we need is usually available and the buffets have vegetarian options if not vegan. There are special vegetarian holidays but these tend to be expensive and we have not tried any of these yet. As has been mentioned by others, it is nice to be able to try different eating places rather than always eating at the hotel. I have booked for long stay holidays with meals included and one in particular for 6 weeks would not co-operate even though the food was available but everything came with meat mixed in with it. So if one is fussy about what to eat it is better to self-cater. We also take plenty of vegetarian protein specialities foods from home so need not worry about lacking protein.

  6. ps I do not drink alcohol only a little apple juice so all inclusive might be a waste.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t drink either but drank an awful lot of mango and coconut juice in the African heat x

  7. barbara campbell says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with comments on self catering. It is not the most cheap choice but put alongside that is the flexibility of eating and the amount of extra room We have just come back from Cyprus for 3 weeks in a two bedroom house with two bathrooms and a cloakroom on a small complex with gym on site and not only did it not cost us all included as much as a hotel it also meant our son could come and stay with us and also two friends without it costing them as much and us no more. In fact they helped with the cost of petrol and food so worked well. Yes try self catering if you have never done it before and you will probably never want a hotel again.

  8. Peter Lodge says:

    It depends. If I travel long haul outside Europe or a city break in Europe, I travel B&B, and buy from the local economy.

    For a European beach holiday though it’s All Inclusive every time. Restaurants are far more expensive than in the past and the price of drinks can make my eyes water. Also I like to have plenty or water, soft drinks and coffees during the day. At a rough guess, I’d say that eating and drinking outside for me would cost double premium of AI over the basic room cost. I’ve also found that in the better quality establishments, very few people go OTT on their drinking.

  9. Wally says:

    Comments so far are from those that have a preconceived idea of Ai .

    Larger rooms by going S/C ………. evidence?
    Freedom to eat when you like …….Ai have all day/night restaurants

    Vegetarian very easy when at a large Ai with HUGE buffet dining.

    Tied to one restaurant….pick an Ai with more than one dining area , last year my choice had 7 places to eat.

    Bars/restaurants close , if they cant supply the requests of the holiday maker , thats market forces.

    To sum up , Ai cannot be done on the cheap, pick a large complex and you will have a great time.

  10. Deirdre says:

    Prefer to Choose who I see at every meal and day, and get to meet the locals

  11. Louise says:

    I think it depends on your situation. My fiance and I will be honeymooning in a 5 star all inclusive in Mexico. We like our food and our drink, and we can do both all day long at no extra cost. We will have 12 bars, 6 pools and 6 restaurants to choose from so won’t be restricted. However, we went 3 star all inclusive to Tunisia and it was horrible, so when going A/I it has to be 4* plus. The honeymoon is all about the luxury at a cost we have budgetted for.

    Later on in the year we will be travelling self catering as we want to enjoy the experience of being secluded, having completely our own space, cooking our own meals and not bumping in to anybody else. We will be able to take more money to spend on food and drink.

    I wouldn’t knock either though. I think both have pros and cons

  12. jjsheff says:

    AI means you are subsidising everyone else. The buffet meals will undoubtedly have meal choices that you will not eat and someone has to pay in the end. You will be a ‘captive’ customer who has paid up front…you will not be able to vote with your feet if the standard is poor…unless you want to end up paying twice

  13. Just come back from an AI in Lanzerote. Would. Normally do half board because of my husbands eating preferences, but AI was cheaper. In half board you have to pay all the extras at the end of the holiday or coffees ice creams out. We only did lunch twice and one of those days was the day of travelling home. There was water in the room, tea, coffee, alcohol etc available(don’t drink anyway on meds) and didn’t stay in the complex all the time either. But overall the holiday came out cheaper for us.

    • yes, this was true for us too. I truely believe you go on holiday for a rest and even if you have to pay an extra £20 or so, it’s still worth it! happy holidays for the future.

  14. michael says:

    My friend and I prefer self catering mainly because we like to eat at different restaurants.Sometimes we do go bed and breakfast.Last year we did try all inclusive in Djerba and hated it.Although we had booked a five star hotel,the food was very poor(we are not fussy eaters)also the drinks were obviously watered down.Why people think they are getting a better deal with all inclusive I don’t know.Sone travel companies only book this type of deal,we and quite a lot of friends avoid them like the plague.the hotel we were in was full of drunken people that only stayed in the hotel and grounds all dayto drink solidly.

    • Dont know which AI you stayed in, we have been doing AI for the past 3years now, twice a year, always choose high star rating with choice of eateries and lots of pools and have never come across loutish behaviour yet !. always get out and about during the day at least once per week, sample the local area restaurants etc. AI doesnt have to mean staying put, most good hotels will put up a picinic for you if you require one !.

  15. michael says:

    Ps,a lot of local restaurants are closing down due to all inclusive,it is very sad.

  16. debbie campbell says:

    I have tried self catering and all inclusive.I now prefer all inclusive everytime.I like the idea of having my meals already there on display and i get the chance to try a little bit of this and that to decide whether i like it or not.I drink lots of coffee and water and so like the idea i don’t have to worry about whether my money is going to run out before the end of my holiday,everything is paid for upfront.When i went self catering,i had to leave a deposit on the apartment and i spent a lot of time deciding where to eat.Then when the meal arrived,if i didn’t like it,it was money wasted.I spent more money self catering than i did all inclusive.It works for me personally.

  17. Caroline says:

    Growing up our family holidays used to always be self-catering, eating lunch and breakfast at our appartments, but eating out in the evenings. The exchange rates used to be good and meals were very affordable.

    Now I am travelling with my husband, we find that all inclusive resorts offer a better deal. Eating out used to be inexpensive, but its now comparable to UK prices, so choosing a good all inclusive resort means we can relax and pay for the holiday in advance without worrying about how much money to bring.

    We still like eating at local restaurants and do leave our AI resort to find local bars and places to eat, but we feel guilty eating out too often, as you are paying for it twice. I think when we have kids, all inclusive deals will be great, as drinks and ice-creams are expensive.

    Also find that evenings at AI are much shorter as with buffet style restaurants you can be in, fed and out again within 1 hour. It much nicer to choose items from a menu and linger over meals.

  18. I have been on holiday by myself and at an all inclusive resort.

    I must say that going by yourself gives you a free-er experience whereas going all inclusive offers you a care-free sensation.

  19. I have used self catering for 10 years and find it a refreshing change to use B<B & evening meal. I have a large room TV first class bathroom clean towels etc each day the meals are self service fantastic variety eat as much as you wish if if needs be you are able to "have seconds" and walk out on to a veranda and into the pool. For mid day rolls etc you have a "Liddel". I find now if I am trying to go self catering the flight and apartment cost more than the weeks BB&EM and then you have food to get.

  20. I find that all-inclusive is great for the first 48 hours. Then the novelty of having an endless supply of ‘free’ food and drink wears off and it becomes boring. Even when there are other restaurant options, you usually can only eat there a couple of times a week. Another downside is that it’s so easy to over-eat and drink too much. You get to the stage where you can’t face yet another watered-down cocktail or international buffet.

  21. MICHAEL says:

    Renting out a villa for your holiday is a far better choice, normally private villas are located in nice areaas. Peaceful and quite.

    Our 5 bedroom house which sleeps 10 people in Orlando costs £9.50 per person a day. You could not rent a hotel room for anywhere near this price

  22. Eleanor Macdonald says:

    My husband and I are in our sixties. when the children were young we always went self catering and took a packed lunch for lunchtime. Once in the week we’d go out for high tea. it was all we could afford in those days.

    Now, we’ve had ten years experiencing cruising in many parts of the world – including all inclusive deals which were great. We don’t go cruising now as we feel we’ve “been there, done that”

    We’ve had our day too of half board and for the past three years have preferred all inclusive deals. I’m “TT” and it’s still the cheapest option for me. I can have unlimited coffees (usually 2 Euros each outside) and ice cream every day (sometimes 3 Euros outside the hotel) and have diet coke or Pepsi on tap as well as “proper” orange juice in the bar at night and not the garbage from the restaurant vending machines.

    At the Plevna hotel we stayed at in Sliema Malta last year they offered to make a packed lunch if we were going out for the day and the restaurant manager even told us to make up our own from the breakfast buffet if we preferred doing it that way. in Lanzarote this year we went to the specialist restaurants on three nights and the standard restaurant was excellent. that was the Luabay hotel, Costa Teguiise. I always check Trip advisor before I go anywhere and sort out the important points made. (I.e. I’m not interested if the hotel receptionist doesn’t smile all day long but I’d take note – and not go – if there was a problem with cleanliness or dishonesty amongst staff). The important thing is to remember – if you want 5 star Gleneagles standard – you pay for it and don’t expect it in a European three star hotel for instance. It’s just common sense.

  23. Eleanor " says:

    When the children were young we always went self catering as that was what our budget allowed.

    now we are in our sixties and much prefer all inclusive. I am “TT” and still think it is the best deal for me with unlimited coffees, ice cream, diet Pepsi and nice orange juice as well as standard bottled water which all adds up in self catering or half board.

    It’s sensible to check any hotel on trip advisor and not expect five star if your hotel of choice is three star.

  24. We have tried both options and feel probably self catering comes out tops. Some of the all inclusive options we have had have been quite poor – food and drinks. The food can be quite repetitive and drinks weak. At one hotel the drinks were served in plastic glasses which I found unacceptable. On the other hand it is nice to be able to get a coffee or ice cream whenever you want. Self catering gives the option of eating in or out and you can buy your own drinks from the supermarket which will be quality brands. Also you don’t eat and drink as much!

  25. Sarah says:

    As a family we book both but I would say a deciding factor is where you are travelling too….often soft drinks and ice cream drive up your costs whilst all inclusive you have no concern certainly a factor in the Caribbean.
    Is all in really all in….if the orice is really too good to be true it probably is! Aelf catering in the canaries where restaurants compete for business can be cheaper option and give you the variety.

  26. We love all inclusive its a holiday we cook all year round and it nice to get up and breakfast is prepared no washing up the variety is great we only go 4 or 5 star when you work out what you pay to shop in the small local super markets you wont get the choice you in in the hotels, also if you buy beers and cold drinks even water you cant match all inclusive. Restaurants in Europe are getting more expensive and you no longer get value for money when you buy a beer in a bar ,, you are on a holiday you want to forget putting your hand in your pocket and if you go AI you pay up front and you dont have to worry about any other costs you have to choose the right hotel , there are plenty of them that offer great drinks and food selection. I will never do SC or any other board option other than AI

  27. Hilary says:

    For many years we always had self-catering holidays then four years ago tried All-Inclusive, I much prefer all-inclusive for my main holiday now. If you choose a good all inclusive they are fantastic, in our last hotel sea-bass and quail were on the menu, great to try new things. We changed when exchange rates were not good and found that with self catering we were spending just as much and having to do some food preparation. We have always had good sized rooms with extra seating (not that I spend much time in the room anyway). So All-Inclusive again this year.

  28. Andrea says:

    Self catering has worked well for us whether travelling as a couple or as a group with a kitty. It offers us the flexibility of eating out in different locations balanced with nice home cooked meals using local products. I have had some really wierd hotel food abroad usually left out buffet style and open to contamination from flies and/or other guests. I would not want to be stuck with that all holiday. Its nice to get out and about and not tied to a resort all the time because of your meals.

  29. Ian from kent says:

    Hi there i have done all inclusive , self catering , but the one that comes out on top for me is half board , please yourself wheather you eat in or not also you dont fill tied to the hotel / complex but thats down to doing your homework into your destination / resort
    Happy Holidays

  30. Dorsetbumkin says:

    We have elected to go all inclusive over the past few years simply because the £ is worthless abroad, so everything you go to buy is just so expensive. This is not just in Europe but places such as Australia where I stayed with my daughter, so everything had to be purchased. My goodness I went through money like water and had at one time to transfer more money as I ran out. It is quite frightening, so my holiday in Europe in three weeks time is definitely all inclusive.

  31. Just come back from first AI experience in the Med. Conclusion: excellent! Food pretty much as good as local tavernas, plenty of choice incl fresh fruit and veg. Not the same atmosphere, but a fraction of the price. Lovely to have cold drinks whenever needed without racking up the euros. We ate and drank out when it suited us, and still saved money overall, plus really relaxed. It was also nice to be a bit more sociable when we wanted to be.

    I understand that this won’t suit people with particular dietary needs, but then from my observation nor will most Mediterranean eateries.

    I’ll look for AI from now on, being careful to choose only good value resorts with some outside local facilities – best of both worlds

  32. Thanks for the tips. It is important for people to look at both sides of their travel budget before booking their vacation. I also believe that packages differ from place to place so it pays to check out the packages thoroughly prior to confirming any booking.

  33. Joan Williams says:

    We don’t like spending money on hotels, as I don’t see that they offer value for money when it comes to catering for children. We went to visit a friends holiday cottage and they had hired in a couple of cooks to do all the catering during your holiday. Seemed like a good compromise to me.
    This is them – http://www.wandering-kitchen.co.uk

  34. Great post!! I suggest All-inclusive is a better idea to choose; in case you are going for a short term stay.

  35. hi there,
    allinclusive is good in if on a budget and you manage to pluck a deal all holidays are 10 or 14nights ive been on at thosr prices.
    colin mitchell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>