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The Complete Guide to Having a Destination Wedding on a Budget

The Complete Guide to Having a Destination Wedding on a Budget

Having a destination wedding is becoming one of the most popular ways to marry your significant other. In fact, amongst Millenials 1 in every 4 weddings are destination weddings. A common misconception that comes with destination weddings is that they are expensive. And under a lot of circumstances that is true, but there are some things you can do to have a destination wedding on a budget.

Background

Who am I to be advising on destination weddings? Well, I am a person who is having a destination wedding. Specifically, in October 2022 my fiancee and I will be having a destination wedding. It took us quite a while to plan from July 2020 until about November 2020 (a long time for a destination wedding). But through that process, we learned a bunch of helpful tips and tricks to be able to do a destination wedding on a budget.

From location to the wedding itself there are spots where you can save money. If you do it right, and through the right resort, etc. There are even ways you can get your trip completely paid for! Starting from the easiest, and going to the most complex, here is the easy guide to how to have a destination wedding on a budget:

Location

When it comes to having a destination wedding on a budget one of the easiest ways to save money is to pick an affordable destination. But it isn’t that simple. For the location, you have two options, “Local” destination, and “Tropical” destination are what I’m going to refer to them as.

Las Vegas Sign - Local Destination wedding

“Local” Destination

When I say local destination, this basically means any destination wedding where you aren’t staying in a resort but staying in a hotel. What first comes to mind when thinking of this category is Las Vegas. While it is certainly still a destination wedding you will still have to pay for food, drinks, etc. when you get there. In this style of a destination wedding, you’ll also use your room as more of hotel-style accommodation, rather than a resort. So you’ll sleep in it every night and occasionally go into it to get out of the heat, but it won’t necessarily be a home base.

Planning for this style of destination

When planning for a local style destination wedding there are a couple of things to keep in mind and several places where you can save money:

Flights – Flights to these destinations are typically more diverse and worth shopping around on to save a bunch of money. It may also be worth looking if you can spend miles to get to your destination to avoid spending money altogether.

Hotel – Similar to flights when looking for local destination weddings hotels are usually abundant and love to compete on price with one another. Look around and shop them against each other, especially if they are close to one another.

Venue – Typically with local destination weddings you will have to book a separate venue for the wedding. While some hotels may offer this it might be worth looking around to see if you can find a third-party venue within walking distance of your hotel of choice. Even if it is slightly further away you can likely take the price back to your hotel or preferred venue and see if they will match it.

Beach wedding - Tropical Destination Wedding

“Tropical” Destination

What I am referring to as a tropical destination is a destination wedding in a resort-style hotel. So in these situations, it is usually all-inclusive, self-contained, and the resort is the focus of the destination. When looking for an example, I think of tropical Caribbean islands like the Dominican Republic or Jamaica. Typically you’ll spend most, if not all of your time on the resort. you’ll likely have a beach wedding or similar, and everything for the wedding will likely be on the resort itself.

Planning for this style of destination

Planning for a tropical destination wedding is both simpler and more complicated than planning for a local destination wedding. Really there are only two things to take into account.

Location – A tropical wedding in Hawaii is going to be significantly more expensive than a tropical wedding in the Caribbean. Hands down. But it will also have a lot more North American amenities, speak English as a primary language, etc. So balancing price with the destination is a great way to balance your wedding budget

From our research some of the most expensive tropical destinations are: Hawaii, Antigua, and Fiji. Some of the cheapest are: Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic

Amenities – The amenities at a resort when planning a tropical destination can be a make or break. And they’re all specialized. Some have water parks for kids, some are adults only. Finding the right mix of amenities is key when you’re going to be spending most of your time there.

When looking for amenities also remember your guests. Even if you don’t have kids coming with you, your siblings might. So it wouldn’t be the best idea to go the adult-only route.

Airplane at Sunset

Flights/Travel

As anyone would expect when planning a destination wedding, one of the largest and easiest places to save money is the flights. Are you willing to take more connecting flights? Are you willing to have an overnight layover? Can you handle being cramped on a cheaper airline? How many bags do you plan on bringing? All of these questions and tons more for your unique situation will decide who to fly with when to fly, etc. With that said, there are a couple of things to note that might save you money on your flights.

Attire

A lot of airlines will allow the bride and groom to bring their wedding attire onto the plane and store it in a closet at the front. While you should check with your local airline in most cases they let you do this for free. If they don’t they may allow it to count as your carry-on, which will also be free.

Lots of People

For destination weddings, if you bring a lot of people you will usually be able to get a discount. In the case of Air Canada (who we are flying through) by bringing as many people to our wedding as we are both my fiancee and I get a first-class upgrade, for no extra cost. That is IN ADDITION to our flight already being free for bringing so many people. Airlines love when you fill their planes, and they have no problem showing it. If you aren’t currently being offered any discounts or upgrades by your airline, definitely ask. You never know.

Layovers

I live in Western Canada, so almost every flight I take has a layover, but depending on where you live it may be worth adding one. Layovers are a great way to save yourself money. To begin, the flights involving layovers are usually significantly cheaper. It allows you to get out and stretch your legs but also lets you fill up your water bottle, eat some of the snacks that you brought from home (yes, airlines let you bring food from home as long as it’s sealed), take the kids to the bathroom, and overall make the experience slightly more bearable, while saving money.

Tropical Resort

Hotels/Resorts

Similar to flights hotels/resorts are a balancing act. Do you need a kid-friendly resort? what are the biggest aspects you need in a resort? How many people are you bringing? What style of food do you like? How many amenities do you want? And a thousand more small questions that every single person will answer differently. But there are several spots where you can save money when booking a resort.

Use the Hotels Resources

Oftentimes for weddings, people have an assortment of behind-the-scenes crew. From makeup artists to hairstylists, photographers, videographers. the list is endless. But for destination weddings, as long as you are not extremely particular you can a ton of these services for free. Usually included with the basic wedding package at any resort are a stylist and photographer. They may have options that cost more, such as doing makeup in addition, or getting more photos at the end, live streaming the event, etc. but for a simple, basic package the resort will typically provide these individuals for you. Saving you money in the long-term by not having to bring your own.

Free Upgrades

Like a lot of things on this list, simply by having a wedding, you will likely get discounts. If you have a couple of hotels that you are between, consider asking about upgrades, or complementary services that they will offer. In some cases, you may even be able to get your room for free. For many hotels in the Dominican Republic in particular, for every 15 guests you bring (not rooms, guests) you will get one guest for free. They do this to help you bring a photographer, stylist, whoever you may choose to use it on. But if you aren’t bringing any of these people you can easily use it on yourself to get a free stay.

Plan Ahead

Book Ahead

Book ahead is one of the most cliche and true statements about a vacation of any kind. Whether it is simply a family getaway or a destination wedding, the farther ahead you can book the better. For destination weddings in particular, because they are group bookings, travel companies are a lot more accommodating. The typical destination wedding is booked approximately 18 months before, but you can start planning your trip as early as 2 years in advance.

By planning so far in advance not only are you able to wait and shop around for the best deals but you’re also able to negotiate better. Hotels and resorts WANT to be booked years in advance. Airlines WANT to have a ton of people on their flights as soon as they can. By booking far in advance you can take advantage of that fact, negotiate the best deal with the best airline and resort and save possibly thousands of dollars.

As a bonus, booking so far ahead you are also allowing your guests to save tons of time. While you may know the costs and have worked everything out to be as cheap as possible, your guests haven’t. When you first invite them to your wedding, it will be the first time that they learn the price and learn the cost. Booking ahead will mean more people can come and will give them an idea of the cost associated with it.

Price Comparison

Price Check/Match

Price checking is an aspect of planning that shouldn’t just apply to destination weddings, but every aspect of life. But in a destination wedding setting, it is one of the easiest ways you can save yourself tons of money. Typically when you book a destination wedding through a company it will come with a price match guarantee. This means that if you find the same package through someone else, or if your package gets cheaper through the same company you’ll be able to contact them and they will price match the package.

For most vacations, you can begin looking at prices (including flights) approximately 330 days from the LAST day of your trip. If you check even once a week, or across different devices, you will eventually see a cheaper package. Simply call whoever your wedding specialist is (or whoever you booked through if you booked everything yourself), and tell them about the deal. As long as the promotion matches exactly you will save yourself, and your guests a ton of money! So check often, it could really help you have a destination wedding on a budget.

Save on the Wedding Itself

When having a destination wedding the wedding and reception are some of the cheapest aspects of the entire trip. The more expensive aspect is the travel, the resort, and everything else associated with that. With that said, there are a couple of key areas you could save money when it comes to your wedding/reception.

Wedding Package

Every resort you go to will have a wide variety of different wedding packages to pick from. Typically it goes by the number of guests, location, how fancy you want it, etc. But in amongst all of these options, you will likely find a free option. For the free option, you will have to give up a couple of things. Namely:

Location – When you pick the free option you will likely be forced into a particular location at the resort. While this sometimes is the location you want (beach, gazebo, etc.) it is often the cheapest or least desirable place.

Number of Guests – When having a free wedding they will often limit the number of guests you can have. Either at the ceremony itself or the reception. While this is usually a higher number (in our case its 60 people), if you plan to invite more than the maximum it is important to know

Style – There are three different styles of wedding ceremonies offered during a destination wedding. Symbolic, religious, and official. If you opt for the free wedding option you will have to have a symbolic wedding. Either of the other options will cost money and a lot of it at that.

Hair/Makeup

Hair and makeup are an important part of any wedding for the bride. Because of that, it can also be one of the most expensive items of a wedding. Especially when it comes to destination weddings, you can’t hire your local stylist or bring in someone to do it at a lower price. But for destination weddings, it is possible to get it done for cheap, if not free.

Resort – A lot of resorts will offer complimentary hair and makeup as a part of their wedding packages, including the free package. This will require you to trust the resort person in charge of it and to have an idea of what you want beforehand. But this is by far the easiest way to have your hair and makeup done.

Invite Someone you Know – This works more if you’re friends with your stylist or person you had in mind. I am not saying to invite them and then expect to do your hair and makeup for free, but it might be worth asking. A lot of people have been wanting a reason to take a vacation and may offer to do your hair and makeup for you for a fair price even just coming as a guest. If you don’t think you can trust the resort people, or your resort doesn’t offer hair and makeup it may be worth considering this option as a way to have a destination wedding on a budget.

Location at the resort

Every resort will have multiple locations that they set aside for a wedding. Typically there is a free venue (at a tropical resort this is usually the beach), and then more expensive locations. The more expensive locations usually offer some extra form of amenity. Whether it is that they are inside, that they are paved, or a combination of these things. Save yourself some money and go for the free location.

Reception

One of the most fun and usually most expensive parts of a destination wedding is the reception. This is where resorts make their money as there is an upcharge for absolutely everything. Want a private reception? Upcharge. Want different food? Upcharge. Want a buffet for your guests? Huge upcharge. Because of this, it is one of the most difficult or uncomfortable spots to save money and have a destination wedding on a budget.

There usually is a free option for a destination wedding reception but you will be giving up a lot of choices, so you have to be okay with that. When taking the free reception you are likely to have little to no privacy, eating in the middle of a regular restaurant, no choice of colours, and no choice in food. Typically you and your wedding guests will all be seated together, but in some cases, or where there are small venues you may even have to eat separately. You also won’t get any of the typical reception stuff, like a dance floor, DJ, etc. and instead will have to simply rely on what is already at the resort for that.

However, similar to a lot of items on this list there are free options when it comes to your reception. So take advantage of these to help you have your wedding as low cost as possible.

Family on Beach

Bring Lots of People

One of the easiest ways to save money when it comes to destination weddings is to bring as many people as you possibly can. when you bring lots of people the resorts are far more likely to give you free stuff, upgrade your experience, or even give perks to your guests. The more people you bring the more likely you are to receive a lot of these benefits.

With that said, you will still not have as many guests as you would for a typical wedding. And you will be asking all of your guests to pay for the trip out of pocket, so it will be helpful to be more deliberate on who you invite. When you’re deciding who to invite and to invite as many people as possible consider a couple of things:

Relation

Obviously, if you or your significant other or you come from a large family you will invite a lot of people. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and all of their significant others. Typically inviting these people will happen for every wedding, regardless of destination. However, unlike a typical local wedding, you may consider not inviting more distant relatives like cousins, great-aunts, etc.

Wedding Party

Obviously, you will invite everyone you want to be a part of your wedding party. But consider how large of wedding party you want. While it isn’t true for everyone, typically destination wedding couples have smaller wedding parties comprised of close friends or family. Inviting that person you barely talk to or scraping to try and get as big of a wedding party as possible may not be the best idea for a destination wedding.

Things to note

Things to Keep in Mind About Destination Weddings

Don’t ask for Gifts

This isn’t to say you won’t get gifts. Some people will come to your wedding, that no matter how many times you tell them not to bring a gift, will bring you a gift. But with a destination wedding especially I would consider telling your guest to not bring a gift. These people are already spending likely thousands of dollars to come to spend your special day with you. That is an expense they wouldn’t have to pay if you had a more local wedding. And for a lot of people, it is a big deal to spend that much money. So take the burden and feeling of obligation off of people and encourage not bringing gifts. Your guests will appreciate it, and your conscience will thank you.

You WILL have Planning When You Arrive

Destination weddings may seem fantastic because you just plan your trip at the beginning, pay for your trip, show up, and everything is handled for you. And while that is MOSTLY true just know that you will have planning to do the day you arrive. As soon as you get to the resort and get settled you will have to meet with the resort’s wedding coordinator and go over everything. this means confirming everything from the location to the colours, the how the reception will work. All of it is set up for you and the resort deals with a lot of the planning, but be prepared to get planning during your first day at the resort.

Offer Multiple Durations for People to Pick From

This is especially true if you are doing a longer trip, like 2 or 3 weeks. For a variety of reasons, there will be guests that will come to your wedding that won’t be able to stay for the entire time. Whether it is money, or simply not being able to take that amount of time off work, there will be people unable to commit. So help them out and give them a couple of different options for staying. Offer a couple of packages. Try offering a one-week, or 10-day package for guests to pick from. Of course, we would love for everyone to join us for the entire time, but sometimes it simply isn’t possible.

By offering shorter packages to your guests, or booking yourself for a week longer than everyone else you also give yourself an awesome honeymoon. Rather than waiting a year or so to have your honeymoon simply have it after everyone leaves the resort and it is just you and your significant other after. You won’t have to pay for flights twice and some resorts may even comp your stay.

Work With Your Resort

When planning the wedding portion of the destination wedding the resort, and the people at it are your best friend. They want to work with you and want to make your day exactly how you picture it in your mind. So work with them. Tell them what you want, so they can make it happen. As long as you stay polite, and give them plenty of time to plan and make it happen resorts will do everything that they can to make your special day perfect if you give them the chance.

Research. Research. And Research.

Destination weddings are a researcher’s dream. Spend as much time as you can researching every single aspect of the wedding you have planned. Everything from the resort you’re staying at, to the individual who the resort assigns for the day of your wedding. You may even find yourself researching small things like which flights offer the best layovers, excursions you can take, romantic places to go for your honeymoon, and everything in between. So research often and research a lot. Wedding destinations are perfect for it, and the more you research the better your trip and wedding will be.

You will Receive Pushback. Make sure it is what you want.

You will inevitably receive pushback to your wedding. Especially from the guests that you invite. As soon as those invitations get sent out you will receive pushback of all shapes and sizes.From the choice of resort to the length of stay, to the airline. even the actual day of the wedding will likely receive pushback from your guests. It is not because they are bad people, or because you didn’t do your research (see above). It is because everyone plans their own vacations and trips in a certain way, and rarely are they all the same.

So when you’re planning your destination wedding make it the wedding and trip that you want. Whether that means picking a different country than you think everyone will want, or a different resort. Make the wedding yours and plan it around your wants. People will get mad, and they will push back. Regardless of your choice.

Keep the Weather Where You’re Going in Mind.

This fact is more for those wanting to do a tropical destination wedding. In North America, Canada in particular, we don’t worry about large weather patterns affecting our travel plans. If it is snowing bad we have delayed flights, and there is no such thing as too hot. But for tropical destinations, you do have to worry about and plan around the weather. The Caribbean especially is extremely susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms through certain parts of the year. And nothing ruins a wedding quite like a hurricane in the middle of it. So be aware of the weather and the weather patterns where you’re going to avoid planning for ina time that would not make your ideal wedding.

Disadvantages

Disadvantages of Destination Weddings

As great as it may sound to have a destination wedding, and as much as I have shown you can do it on a budget, there are some pretty large disadvantages to them, depending on who you are.

Not Everyone Will Come

This may seem obvious but a lot of people don’t think about it. When you have a destination wedding not everyone will come. Whether it be because they can’t afford to, they don’t have the time or simply don’t like planes. If you are the type of person who wants 500 people in attendance and to invite everyone you have ever met, a destination wedding is probably not for you. There will always be people who can’t make it, and there will likely be people who you don’t invite at all.

From our experience it is about 40% of people who you invite won’t be able to make it, but your mileage may vary.

People Will Have to Pay

Unless you plan on shelling out upwards of $100,000 (which I’m guessing you don’t, because you’ve made it this far in the article), your guests will have to pay to attend. For some people, this is a major turn-off to a destination wedding. After all, why should someone have to pay money to attend YOUR wedding? For others (obviously including myself) it doesn’t matter. It is the wedding of your dreams and as long as your partner is there it doesn’t matter. So before you whole-heartedly commit to a destination make sure you’re alright with people having to pay to be there.

People Will Complain. A lot.

People will complain because a destination wedding isn’t just a wedding, it is also a vacation. A lot. About everything from the resort/hotel you picked, to where you’re getting married, to the cost. So get ready to float a lot of questions and complaints from a lot of people. Also, prepare to be accommodating. Maybe you can plan for 3 days for some people, while others want to stay for two weeks. Be flexible and work with people after they complain. It will be a ton of stress in the short term, but you’ll thank yourself long term.

Your Comps get Paid Out After

When getting things like free rooms, flights or upgrades, these will likely be given to you via a refund. This means that you will still need to pay for the items upfront, but as you get closer to the date, or even after the date it will be refunded to you. So rather than thinking this is an easy way to spend zero dollars and get a free vacation be prepared to pay your fair share. This will likely get refunded to you shortly after, but you will still have to pay the expenses upfront and then get them given back to you at a later date.

Overall

Overall having a destination wedding on a budget is one of the most complex, yet easiest things to do. If you are willing to do the research and have a more modest wedding when you get there it can be done for almost nothing. If you manage to play your cards right, find the right hotel/resort, and invite the right amount of people you will even be able to have a destination wedding, completely free! So get started with your planning, and get started with your saving. Destination weddings are a fun way to have a wedding, vacation, and see your family all at once.

Want to have a destination wedding but you’re not sure how you’ll save enough to pay for it? Check out this article I wrote about 15 Ways to Save Money When You Have No Money.

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