When all-inclusive resorts were introduced in the 1950s by Club Med, they were revolutionary. Originally designed for budget-conscious travelers, the big idea was that you could get away to a beach and be guaranteed a roof over a bed, something to quench your thirst and three squares a day without having to whip out your wallet. The resorts were less about quality as they were about accessibility — the fact that they existed was enough.

Nowadays, you can still find value-focused, all-inclusive resorts, but the inclusions that changed the game 70 years ago no longer even meet the bare minimum.

spinner image Sandals Resort overlooks a beach in Jamaica

​Sandals Montego Bay resort in Jamaica was the company’s first all-inclusive resort.

Sandals Resorts

“When Sandals Resorts opened Sandals Montego Bay … in 1981, unlimited food and drinks, airport transfers and on-site activities such as water sports and evening entertainment were base inclusions,” says Maggie Rivera, 52, chief communications and strategy officer for the brand.

Sandals’ dominance ushered in the era of luxury for all-inclusives. Tight competition in high concentration on desirable beachfronts, predominantly in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, has raised the bar since.

You’ll pay more for these upgrades at an all-inclusive resort

More amenities and opportunities for upgrades can translate into more ways to spend money, by nickels, dimes … and surprise. Pilar Delgado, 74, discovered this when she visited Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for her first all-inclusive experience. When looking at her bill upon checkout, she realized “everything was covered … except the Irish coffees that I was having at night.” Delgado can’t remember the exact price, “but they were more than $10 in American money.” She learned the hard way that availability doesn’t always translate to inclusion.

“All” is often subjective, warns Tom Varghese, 53, owner of prestige agency inclusive-resort-upcharges.html,”,’You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.’);return false;” data-displayoverlay=”displayOverlay” title=”Travel Tom”>Travel Tom. “Some claim they are all-inclusive, but they really are not. For example, when you arrive, they will tell you that the buffet is included, but if you want to eat at an a la carte restaurant, there is a surcharge. To me, this is not [all-inclusive].”

Generally, room upgrades, spa treatments, excursions, green fees, golf cart rentals, motorized water sports and wine by the bottle incur additional costs. Some resorts have surcharges for room service, a la carte dinners, workshops, childcare or late checkout. Premium entertainment, such as a guest performer or dinner show, falls into a gray area.

Don’t fear: There are ways around the upcharges. Consider these five tactics to make the most of your experience.

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