How do I save money on a destination wedding?
For some folks, the perfect wedding is at a hometown venue surrounded by everybody they know and love. Nephews and nieces run underfoot, favorite relatives pay for a dollar dance, and a red-faced single catches the bouquet.
Other folks long for a destination wedding with a select group of their closest and best-beloved surrounded by an exotic landscape. Wind-swept beaches, rugged mountains, or a bustling cityscape form the backdrop of a memory you all share for the rest of your lives.
That might sound too expensive, but destination weddings typically have fewer guests. That alone can cut costs by thousands of dollars. And to keep the price from creeping higher, these tips can cut the final cost even further — for both you and your guests.
Ways to Save Money on a Destination Wedding
No one wants to spend a small fortune on their wedding day. And when it comes to destination weddings, the same is true of your wedding guests. These cost-saving tips let you reduce your destination wedding cost for yourselves and your guests before anyone even steps foot on the tarmac.
1. Do the Legal Stuff at Home
Getting married abroad or even in another state requires cutting red tape getting married in your hometown doesn’t. At the least, it adds a few extra fees to your tab. At the worst, it means navigating bureaucracy in a language you don’t speak.
That could mean spending extra days to get your wedding license abroad. And depending on your destination, the process can include being extorted for bribes by local officials. And every country’s laws about wedding licenses differ, sometimes extremely so.
Take Mexico, for example. Getting a marriage license there requires proof of your identity (passport and birth certificate), proof you’re in the country legally, and sometimes religious documentation.
Plus, you have to get all documentation translated into Spanish and notarized by the Mexican consulate in your home country to avoid any time-consuming confusion or reverification after you arrive. Then, you have to arrive early to do medical tests.
It’s much easier and less expensive to legally tie the knot at home before or after your wedding and do the public ceremony at your destination. That might make your big day feel a little less big, but it saves money and hassle.
If you just can’t stand the idea that you’ll be legally married on a different day than your wedding date, do your homework. Ensure you know exactly what you need and by when to avoid any day-ruining delays.
And start early. Rush fees can triple or quadruple the costs of any documents, so get those squared away well in advance.
2. Choose a Low-Cost-of-Living Destination
The cost of living in Mexico or the Caribbean is a fraction of the cost of the same living standard in New York.
The differences are less stark in places people usually pick for destination weddings. But the cost-of-living reduction usually translates into lower costs for other goods and services, including those for weddings.
So you can save a ton of cash upfront by picking the right place to tie the knot. And you don’t need a massive spreadsheet to calculate it. The Big Mac Index, the price of a Big Mac in one city compared to the price in your hometown, is a surprisingly strong indicator during your early planning stages.
To find the cost of a Big Mac, search the Internet for “cost of Big Mac in [city or country name].” Or use a site like Expatistan, where you can compare the costs of a Big Mac value meal (or similar) along with other cost-of-living details.
For example, according to the site, a value meal in Fort Worth, Texas, costs $8, while it costs under $3 in Mumbai, India. Or if you’re interested in staying stateside, the same meal is only $6 in beautiful Roanoke, Virginia.
Use it to build your initial list of possibilities, then research rates for local wedding services to help inform your final decision. You can use the information you gather to make your dream wedding possible at a fraction of what you would pay at home.
3. Book Off-Season
Research the on and off seasons for your destination.
For example, plane tickets to Paris in the fall and winter can be several hundred dollars less expensive than those for the summer peak season. A Bangkok trip in December or the summer can be as much as $300 more than the same flight in the fall. Other travel rates, such as hotels, will be similarly lower in the off-season.
The timing of on and off seasons varies according to the hemisphere, local climate, and any local events that draw lots of tourists. Figuring it out for any given location can take some work but potentially save you and your wedding guests thousands of dollars.
If you want a colorful, memorable wedding at a low cost, many smaller, out-of-the-way cities and towns host an annual festival that draws regional attention but hasn’t hit the international scene. Holding your wedding near such a festival lets you save on travel while still having plenty to do.
4. Get Less Expensive Airfare
Airfare is one of the most significant expenses for any kind of serious travel, including travel to a destination wedding.
You can keep airfare prices down by choosing the right destination. That may mean opting for a closer or a more popular and well-serviced spot than something far-flung and exotic.
Once you’ve chosen your location, your departure and arrival airports can make a surprising difference. Often, flying into a nearby airport or departing from the next city down the highway saves you more money than the train or bus ride in between.
Once you have your guest list set and your RSVPs confirmed, buy bulk tickets for your wedding and have guests pay you back if you’re not covering that cost. This option isn’t helpful for most casual travelers, but the size of your guest list might make it worthwhile.
Another critical factor is the timing of your booking. Ticket prices soar two weeks before the departure date, but that’s just the beginning.
CheapAir.com’s Annual Airfare Study consistently finds that the best window for ticket prices tends to run between around 21 and 100 days (about three and a half months) before the day of your flight. In 2021, the prime pricing window was between 21 and 95 days, with the lowest prices around the 60-day mark.
The exact best dates vary by location, so do some research to determine the best possible time to book. Also note that while that’s the sweet spot in terms of price, the later you wait, the more you risk being unable to get the flights you need.
Booking your tickets via a browser’s incognito window (aka private browsing) can also shave money off your flight. Otherwise, various trackers inform the booking site you’ve shown an interest in the location and are thus likely willing to pay more to go there.
Finally, leverage any airline miles or travel credit card rewards you can toward your airfare. That includes buying miles outright via the periodic offers many frequent flyer plans put out.
5. Scout Transportation
Once you and your wedding guests have arrived, you all need to get from place to place. Depending on how elaborate your plans are, transportation can be a significant cost.
First, research and pencil out the costs of every way you need to get people from Point A to Point B. Include every transportation type you need, from typical to extravagant: taxis, rental cars, charter buses, train rides, horse-driven carriages, jet skis, and even parachutes.
It helps to walk through your itinerary to identify all the times and ways people need to move from place to place during your wedding. Include more than just planned excursions. Your guests will likely do some sightseeing on their own too. So have a plan for that too.
With a complete list of transportation needs, find ways to reduce costs. Available ways to save may vary by location, but some common savings tactics include:
- Charter Vehicles for Group Excursions. Taking separate taxis or rideshares to group activities can get expensive. You may be able to save by chartering a bus or large van for everyone.
- Public Transportation Passes. If you plan to rely heavily on public transportation, check the local transportation authority’s website for the cost of weekly passes. They can save you over the cost of paying for each trip individually.
- Bulk Car Rentals. If your destination is within driving distance or you’ll be there for more than a few days, contact rental car companies about bulk car rentals. Just avoid extra charges for exceeding mileage limits or driving outside a specific area.
If you discover a transportation need you hadn’t planned for when you arrive, talk to the hotel concierge or wedding planner. They often have access to special pricing you couldn’t get on your own.
6. Find Budget-Friendly Accommodations
Almost every lodging venue in the world offers a discount if you book a significant number of rooms as a block, and those few that don’t advertise it usually do for those who ask. You don’t pay for the rooms upfront. The hotel reserves them for your guests and offers them a special rate.
Booking room blocks isn’t without risk. If you ask them to reserve more rooms than guests end up booking, many venues charge you for the unsold rooms. Only reserve rooms for reliable guests who’ve RSVPed.
You can also look into peer-to-peer vacation rentals on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. For a small enough party, you could rent a large, well-appointed house and host the entire event on-site, saving on the cost of venues.
You can even rent mansions and villas that sleep up to 20 people (sometimes more) for as little as the cost of a motel per person.
For more information on saving on accommodations, see our article on how to find cheap lodging anywhere.
7. Look for Packages
Buying in bulk has long been a reliable way to cut per-unit costs. Similarly, travel packages that include your flight, lodging, and rental car often make for a less expensive vacation.
When you’re planning a destination wedding, the opportunities go well beyond that because you’re booking for a larger-than-average party. Leverage the size of your party to negotiate for everything you need.
Reduced prices aren’t the only way to save money on wedding packages. If a vendor can’t go down on price, ask for freebies and perks. A hotel might not further reduce the cost of rooms for your guests but could upgrade your room for the stay.
All-inclusive resorts offer lodging, food, some events, and often even alcohol for a single price. If you’ve been on a cruise, you’ve experienced an all-inclusive deal.
These resorts are often less expensive than buying everything separately and can lead to serious savings if you combine it by negotiating a group rate.
But be aware that extras like spa treatments and premium activities can add up quickly. Make a list of anything the resort offers for an additional fee. If there’s anything you want that the package excludes, negotiate to see if they can add it. For example, ask if they can toss in a free massage for the happy couple or spa treatments for the wedding party.
Note that an all-inclusive wedding is usually impossible for bargain-budget prices. But it can keep a moderately priced experience from becoming unmanageable.
8. Find the Cheapest Local Venue
Getting married at the hotel or a famous local church is often the path of least resistance for a destination wedding. It’s also frequently the most expensive.
Look at other venues that host weddings. Smaller local churches, parks, community centers, peer-to-peer rental properties, and museums are good candidates in many locales.
Also consider natural locations like beaches, forest clearings, and riversides. Prices for these may be cheaper or even free, though you should check with local authorities before committing to a ceremony there.
9. Avoid Wedding Favors and Centerpieces
The general advice about cutting wedding costs by cutting frills is crucial for a destination wedding ceremony. Wedding favors and centerpieces are an unnecessary investment at home. But they mean extra expense and care when you ship or pack them for the trip.
Your guests have to pack those wedding favors to take them home. You have to arrange for the centerpieces to get home, either via guests or pricey shipping — or worse, simply discarding them. Both just add hassle and potential expense to an already expensive trip.
Cut as much physical decor as you can, relying instead on the shared experience in an exotic locale.
10. Use Local Vendors
For anything you can’t bear to cut, opt for local vendors. If you choose a destination with a low cost of living, they’ll come at a fraction of the price you’d pay at home, and you don’t need to ship them.
But don’t limit your use of local businesses to your wedding expenses. Extra luggage fees are so high these days it can be cheaper to pick up some necessities when you arrive than pack an extra bag. Toiletries, books, some clothing, and swimwear are good candidates.
Check prices for your destination before committing to that. Many countries have lower prices on most goods than the United States, but you don’t want a costly surprise.
11. Ask About a Wedding Planner
Many venues that host destination weddings have an on-staff wedding planner who helps set up your event. The wedding planning service is often free, either for all weddings at the venue or after you reach a minimum spending cap.
Although this local expert is usually very helpful, they’re not wedding planners as you typically think of them. They don’t manage your entire wedding like a planner you engage on your own.
Many details will still be up to you. They primarily handle things associated with the venue itself. Ask ahead what services they provide.
Even if they don’t provide everything, they’re still a much cheaper and more helpful alternative to a traditional planner.
First, traditional wedding planners often receive a percentage of the total wedding bill. That doesn’t motivate them to keep your costs down. Venue planners receive a salary from their employer. That motivates them to make you happy however they can (including saving you money).
Second, unlike a planner you hire stateside, this local expert knows their town. Beyond what you negotiate with the hotel, they’re familiar with the off-site activities and opportunities to make your wedding shine and have relationships that get you better prices on them.
12. Ask Guests Not to Bring Gifts
Unless your destination wedding is at the Holiday Inn two towns over, your guests will spend considerably more just getting there and booking their hotel rooms than they would typically spend on a gift. Plus, you have to pay to bring them back to the States.
Specify a “no presents, just your presence” policy on your wedding invitation. It’s a small detail that can save your guests real money and unruffle the feathers of anyone who isn’t thrilled about the prospect of paying to travel to witness your nuptials.
But inevitably, some guests will want to buy you a gift anyway. So set up at least a small registry. You can have guests send the gifts to your home address so you can open them afterward and nobody has to ship or pack them.
Alternatively, opt for a wishing-well wedding. Those who want to can provide checks, cash, or gift cards, which transport better than fine china or a microwave.
While looking for ways to save money on your destination, don’t forget the basics. Many tips that work to cut your wedding costs for a local ceremony, like negotiating everything you can, using a playlist instead of a DJ, and downsizing your wedding party, work for destination nuptials too.
Above all, remember that your goal is to create a happy memory, not spend all your money on splashy details.