Tuesday, July 16, 2013

AIl-Inclusive vs European Plan

If you have ever traveled outside the US, you most likely reserved a hotel that was either on an "EP" plan or an "AI" plan.  You may have noticed those symbols within your quote and never really paid attention to what they meant as far as your price was concerned.  If you like to peruse the internet and book vacations yourself, you may not even have realized which plan you were on until you arrived at your destination.

There are some resorts and hotels that now offer both an EP plan and also an AI plan.  EP simply stands for "European Plan" and AI simply stands for "All-Inclusive."  But if you were not aware of that, you may have booked a room at a hotel that offers both and think you got a steal compared to someone else who paid X amount of dollars more for the same room.  Little did you know that they were on an AI plan while you were on an EP plan.

All-inclusive resorts are very popular these days, especially when it comes to traveling to places like Cancun, Punta Cana, Jamaica etc. They have made traveling more affordable to a wider demographic. What are the pluses?  The biggest is the one I just mentioned...affordability.  When you look at the price for an all-inclusive, you know what the real cost of the trip is going to be upfront because most include your beverages, most of your food and your lodging and even some non-motorized water sports such as snorkeling, kayaks etc.  Some luxury all-inclusive resort chains also tout that your gratuities are included upfront, but that can be argued (and maybe I will in a future post).  So when a travel agent sends you a quote that includes flights, round trip transfers and an all-inclusive resort, you know you are seeing all of the costs minus any excursion that you may want to venture out on in whatever Country you visiting.

A lot of all-inclusive resorts know that, in order to be successful, they need to appeal to that broader demographic so they have kept their prices more affordable than some of the more high-end boutique and chain hotels.

Which really leads to the only negative when it comes to all-inclusives.  Regardless of how many stars are put next to the description of the resort, some will argue that the food quality is never as good as you will find at some other resort or hotel that only offers the European Plan when it comes to their food venues.  Some will also argue that the drinks are more watered down at an all-inclusive again implying that you are not getting the highest quality of beverage or food.  Or they argue that you will only get "local" (cheaper) liquors served when ordering your Mojito or Margarita etc.  There is a lot of validity to that argument.  Do resorts try to find ways of cutting costs so they can offer these all-inclusive plans and allow patrons to eat and eat and eat and drink and drink and drink while trying to turn a profit?  Sure!  Does that mean you are going to have awful food and terrible tasting beverages?  NO!

But you can't go into an all-inclusive resort and expect Ritz or Four Seasons level food and beverage.  If you go into an all-inclusive knowing you are going to be staying in a beautiful location, enjoying nice accommodations, really good food and drink and even enjoyable entertainment, then you will have a great experience and love the all-inclusive option.

But if you are a really serious connoisseur of food and wine and cocktails, then you should probably look at hotels that offer only the European Plan.  So to keep things simple...EP simply means that you are paying for your resort stay and any meals and beverages will be billed to you separately and NOT included in your resort room rate.  Your major hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Ritz Carlton etc offer EP plans when it comes to your meals and beverages.  Some chains, like Hilton as I mentioned earlier, now offer both at some Caribbean destinations where all-inclusives are the more popular option.  But as a general rule, these major chains will be EP.  Smaller boutique-style hotels tend to be EP.  You will find that some of the smaller, more upscale Caribbean destinations such as St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis etc mainly have hotels and resorts that are on the EP plan.  These resorts and destinations tend to appeal more to those where budgets are not as important as other criteria when it comes to their vacation planning process.

So I say all of this to simply educate you so you know what you are getting when you choose hotel A over hotel B and you did that solely on price.  You may not have paid attention to one being EP and not AI.  EP resorts and hotels often appear less expensive when comparing packages, but your food and beverage will add up in a hurry during your trip.  The AI option may end up being the better deal if you are one that likes drink and eat a lot while on vacation.  So look for those symbols in your quote and "know before you go."

Out of the two pictures in this post...can you tell which one is at an AI resort and which one is at an EP resort?