All-inclusive, full board, half board and self-catering holidays explained

If you’re one of the many holidaymakers confused about the pluses and minuses of a self-catering break vs an all-inclusive option, then let us take a moment to explain the differences.

Here’s everything you need to know when comparing the different types of holiday board available – all-inclusive, full board, half-board and self-catering. There are also some helpful considerations to think about when choosing the right type of holiday for you – especially if you are new to the holiday ‘game’.

With an all-inclusive holiday, once you have paid for the cost of your holiday, the idea is that you don’t then have to pay for anything else when you go. However, there are exceptions to this so we’ll come on to these later.

Once in resort, an all-inclusive package will mean that all your drinks – soft and local-alcoholic – along with 3 meals a day (usually a buffet selection made up of hot and cold options at each meal) and snacks throughout the day, are included in the price of your holiday.

Now, as we mentioned earlier, there are sometimes exclusions to the all-inclusive package. For example, some packages include ice-cream in your all-inclusive, in others you will be charged. Additional fees will be charged to your room and you settle up when you check out – but be careful as the cost can quickly rack up! Also, there may be an a la carte restaurant in your hotel for which you will pay, again you’ll be charged on check out. A la carte dining makes a nice change from the usual ‘buffet boredom’ and offer waiter service in serene settings. Also, if you want to drink specific branded alcoholic beverages you’ll be charged, although for the most part these are rarely stocked.

Many tour operators, such as First Choice, only offer all-inclusive packages because they’re proving so popular.

An all-inclusive holiday is often favoured by families, as once a holiday is paid for there isn’t the stress of having to save for spending money. An all-inclusive negates the need to watch every penny spent in resort and worrying you’ll run out. With all-inclusive holidays you and your children can have as many drinks as you like, without breaking the bank!

Another benefit to all-inclusive breaks is that there is usually a myriad of daytime and evening entertainment for the whole family to enjoy. And often, if booked with larger operators, kids’ clubs too.

All-inclusive holidays aren’t exclusively for families. Many couples love this option too. It makes for a very relaxing holiday - meandering off for lunch when you’re peckish and enjoying some evening entertainment with, what are essentially, unlimited drinks.

If you prefer to know where you are with your money then an all-inclusive holiday may be best for you.

Full Board
With a full-board holiday you don’t need to worry about your 3 meals a day, as they are included in the price of your holiday. However, unlike all-inclusive holidays, your drinks, both soft and alcoholic, will need to be paid for. Holidaymakers who tend to opt for a full-board break are those who like to know their meals will be provided, but like to go outside of the hotel of an evening, or afternoon, to enjoy a local bar or café.

The biggest reason holidaymakers prefer a self-catering holiday is that it gives them freedom. With a self-catering holiday you are catering 100% for yourself. Whether you choose to use the cooking facilities in the kitchen area of your accommodation or eat out every night, it’s totally up to you. However, for budding cooks excited by the prospect of all those lovely fresh and ‘exotic’ ingredients, be aware that the kitchen areas are usually small, with limited equipment, so preparing your favourite elaborate dinner is unlikely.

One of the biggest draws with a self-catering breaks, is that you’re free to eat out every night of your holiday, which is what many holidaymakers like – with no washing up. This type of holiday appeals to families, especially those with smaller children, who can choose their own eating times.

You can find self-catering apartments in holiday complexes that are similar to hotels in the sense they have a pool and evening entertainment.

If you are travelling with a young family consider booking with a larger tour operator who may offer kids’ clubs within the complex, or you may find that the holiday apartments are ‘scattered’ about the resort and you will have to entertain yourself of an evening – this is especially likely to happen if you’ve booked your accommodation separately online.

Most self-catering apartments are near minimarts and a short journey away from a supermarket (which will give you more choice and be cheaper). Once you’ve booked your self-catering break, take some time to research your local food shops and supermarkets, as they may be off the beaten track but close enough to walk to.

Half Board
Another consideration, if you fancy the best of both worlds, is half board. This will entitle you to breakfast and an evening meal included in the cost of your holiday. You will, however, have to pay for all drinks and lunch if you want it. This option does give holidaymakers the choice of eating lunch in the hotel or the flexibility of going outside and finding a restaurant.

Sometimes hotels will be flexible and will occasionally allow you to swap your main evening meal for a lunchtime sitting – check at reception if you fancy a change but don’t take it for granted that they will allow this.

A half-board holiday is good for those who like to get out and about during the day – they can set themselves up for the day with a good breakfast, enjoy an excursion or sightseeing trip, or simply to spend all day at the beach, returning for an evening meal.