For many couples, the major appeal of destination weddings is financial. While the average wedding costs roughly $24,000, and possibly double that in a big city, according to the wedding-planning Web site The Knot, destination weddings can be significantly cheaper, since the guest list is often considerably smaller. The theory goes that only those who really love you will travel for you — which means a destination wedding is one way to avoid paying $75 a head to feed the coworkers and business contacts many couples feel obligated to invite to local weddings. Destination weddings also make a lot of sense for couples whose families and friends are scattered around the country (or even the globe). After all, if most of the guests are going to travel anyway, why not get married in a place that's a vacation for all?
No matter your reasons for choosing a destination wedding, one thing's for sure: This time, you can't rely solely on your mom for advice, since she probably didn't get married this way. Here are some of the special considerations involved in planning a wedding far from home.
1. Claim Your Discount
Bringing 80 guests to Puerto Rico? Don't forget to ask the hotel for discounts — for you and your guests. "Remember, the resort is very interested in having your guests' business, so they shouldn't be charging you the absolute full price of the event," says Carley Roney, The Knot's editor in chief.
Many destination spots now offer wedding packages — and business is booming for some. Do you research and get the most for your money for you and your guests.
Regardless of the size of your wedding, however, you should be sure to negotiate with vendors. If there are certain items included in a wedding package that you don't want, ask for a credit. And if a property won't drop its rates substantially, look for free upgrades for you and your guests instead. For example, at a resort you can ask to be upgraded at check in from a standard room to a suite.
2. Be Kind to Your Guests
"If you want to do a destination wedding, you have to make it affordable for the people who are coming," says JoAnn Gregoli, a New York-based wedding planner who specializes in destination weddings. So, lovely though it may be, don't pick a location that will cost a few thousand dollars for the weekend.
In addition to negotiating cheaper room rates on behalf of your guests, try to cut airline costs as well. For example, if you're inviting 10 or more, American Airlines will offer a 10% discount off published rates. (You can submit a request for a group wedding discount online, or call American's wedding-services desk at 800-545-8193.)
You also can save your guests money by telling them that their presence at your wedding is the only wedding gift you need, says TheKnot's Roney. If you're not willing to give up the registry completely, be sure to register for some inexpensive items.
3. Fair Warning
With a destination wedding, save-the-date cards are crucial. Send them off as early as possible, preferably at least eight months in advance, says Roney. "Remember, this is a destination wedding, and your guests may be planning their family vacation around it," she says. Giving them a heads-up allows them to shop for the best airfares and work the trip into the family budget.
4. Know the Legalities
If you're going international, be aware of the legal requirements, says Roney. Many places have marriage fees and residency requirements in addition to a slew of other red tape. England, for example, has a seven-day residency requirement. If you're tying the knot in Venice, Italy, you'll need certain documents translated into Italian with special seals from the secretary of state where the documents originate. Other countries, like Mexico, require you to take local chest X-rays and blood tests.
Given the added complications of destination weddings, a good wedding planner (like me) can be a godsend. After all, you might have to communicate in a foreign language and deal with people who live in a foreign culture. The best favor you can do yourself is to hire an onsite wedding planner.
The easiest way to do it: Hire a wedding planner in your area who specializes in destination weddings, and let him or her work with an onsite planner. "It's sort of like going to a doctor," says the Association of Bridal Consultants' Monaghan. "He can take all the information, all the history, all the symptoms and then call a specialist." And don't worry about having to pay two fees, says wedding planner Gregoli. The services of the local wedding planner are generally included in the overall price.
How much do wedding planners charge? Whether it's a flat fee, a per-hour fee or a combination of the two, prices vary by region. Generally speaking, the total fees account for roughly 15% to 20% of the cost of the wedding, Monaghan says. But remember: A good wedding planner can help keep other costs in check. He or she should be in a position to bargain with vendors, who are always looking to curry favor with high-volume professionals.
To find a good planner, start by asking friends and relatives for referrals. You can also check with a reputable wedding association, such as the Association of Bridal Consultants or the Association for Wedding Professionals International for destination wedding planners in your area. TheKnot.com also has a helpful database of wedding Web sites organized by region, each with a list of wedding coordinators in the area.
6. Don't Stress Out
Wedding planners say destination weddings are less stressful than traditional hometown hooplas, since many of the details are simply out of the couple's control. "It's the level of trust that matters," says Gregoli.
Attention, A-types: If you're planning an island wedding, set your watch to island time and your mind to island mentality. Vendors there are likely to be slower to respond to requests than mainland vendors might be, Gregoli warns. "Just be aware things could be delayed, and don't stress."
That said, if there's an element that's really important to you — say, the band or the photographer — you could always bring your own. For a wedding Gregoli recently organized in St. Thomas, the couple flew in a band from New York, and the extra cost didn't throw the couple over budget. "The food was cheaper [than it would have been in New York], so it all balanced out," she says. They put the band (six people in all) in an affordable motel, and since the band agreed to a lower fee than they normally charge in New York, the total cost was less than $6,000 — the New York average, Gregoli says.
7. Visit at Least Once
For a bigger wedding, at least one previsit is necessary, says Roney. So, alas, in the name of research, you just might have to take an extra trip to paradise with your honey. Tough work, but nobody said planning the perfect wedding would be easy.