Destination Wedding Cost + Tips to Cut Costs

Whether you’re saying “I do” in California or the South of France, cut destination wedding costs big and small with these travel hacks.

By McCall Minnor

couple on destination wedding
Photo by Mir Salgado Photography

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So, you’re having a destination wedding! Whether you mulled over wedding locations for a while or immediately knew you wanted to get out of town, now you get to add a touch of adventure to your ceremony. As you begin wedding planning, you realize one major thing: Weddings are expensive—and destination weddings can be even more costly. Don’t panic. There are plenty of ways to plan a destination wedding on a budget and stick to it. Here’s how to cut destination wedding costs—no matter where you plan to say, “I do.”

The Average Destination Wedding Cost

It’s important to know what you’re up against. The average cost of a destination wedding is around $20,000 to 35,000. Compared to the average price of a traditional wedding (around $20,000 to 90,000), this isn’t awful—and, in some cases, equally as affordable. That said, your destination wedding cost can vary wildly thanks to many factors, including the length of your guest list. Fortunately, many factors mean a lot of room to whittle down costs wherever you can.

What influences the cost of a wedding destination?

Destination weddings aren't a one-size-fits-all expense; the price tag for your big day can vary wildly based on a variety of factors, including:

  • The travel expenses associated with your destination
  • Number of guests
  • The type of wedding venue
  • Whether you hire a destination wedding planner
  • Whether you cover costs for your wedding guests (more on this shortly)

The good news? With so many variable costs, there's a lot of room to bring down expenses.

10 Tips to Cut Destination Wedding Costs

1. Drive, don’t fly—if you can.

Quick fact: 60% percent of all destination weddings are domestic. So, if your wedding fits into that (getting married in your home country), consider driving instead of flying. This is a no-brainer if your wedding ceremony is only a few hours away. You and your partner could save hundreds—maybe more–by not flying. Even if a plane to your location ticket isn’t too expensive, you have to consider the cost of checking bags to accommodate your wardrobe and likely much more.

If your domestic destination wedding is a little further than a day’s drive and you don’t get car sick easily, consider driving. You could even rent a van and turn it into a mini road trip. You’ll spend less, have more freedom over your travel itinerary, and spend some quality time with your partner before the wedding day mania.

2. Cash in on rewards.

If you fly, don’t forget to take full advantage of any points programs for travel expenses. Look into what rewards you’ve accrued and see if you can apply those to your trip.

Additionally, if you’re a member of any Caribbean hotel chains or a rental car company, keep them in mind for lodging and transportation needs. Using a brand you’re loyal to could mean discounts on the front end or a massive influx of points after the fact—thank you, room blocks.

Also, when traveling for your dream wedding, be upfront that you’re a wedding couple. You’d be surprised how willing companies are to celebrate you, even with small discounts.

3. Keep the guest list small.

On a per-person basis, destination weddings are often more expensive than traditional ones. So, the good news is you can significantly cut your budget by inviting fewer people. For perspective, here are some of the main things you need to expense for wedding guests:

  • Airfare: If you fly and also plan to cover travel costs for your loved ones, this could quickly add up to a few hundred dollars per person.

  • Accommodations: Destination weddings almost always span more than one evening—it’s a weekend affair. This makes accommodations—like all-inclusive resorts or similar lodging—a must.

  • Transportation: From the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to wedding venues, and vice-versa, you’ll need to provide at least some transportation for your guests.

  • Activities: Some couples will pay for a portion or all of any group activities at destinations like Jamaica.

  • Meals: Rather than having one large meal and wedding cake, your guests will have around three meals daily. Often, couples will cover a few of the additional meals throughout the trip.

This is in addition to standard special day expenses, such as your venue, rings, and officiant. Even so, most destination weddings are less expensive than traditional weddings. The key? A much smaller guest list. The above can add up per person, but fewer people will attend than if you had a local ceremony. With fewer guests, you can save money while still providing an opulent experience for any number of guests.

INLINE WhatADay!Photography 1080x720 Anna&Q Photo Credit // What A Day! Photography

4. The date matters.

Booking off-season is possibly the easiest way to save money on your destination wedding. This means booking your location during a non-peak, less popular season. For example, having a Hawaii mid-summer beach wedding will cost more than going in the spring or fall time of year. Do some in-depth research on your ideal spot and consider an off-season wedding.

Also, ask yourself if your dream place is particularly trendy. If so, you’ll also run into high demand—and, therefore, high cost. Take these factors into account when deciding your location and wedding date. Thoughtful planning can dramatically affect your bottom line.

5. Choose an off day.

In that same vein, consider hosting your nuptials on a weekday. Chances are there’s a significant price difference in booking your venue for a Saturday—or popular holiday weekend—and a Monday. By pushing the date forward or back a few days, you’ll spend less on everything from your venue to your hotel room to travel.

INLINE ZakZavadaPhotography 1080x720 Krishna&Sean Photo Credit // Zak Zavada Photography

6. Actively look for deals.

All-inclusive packages, resort promotions, and group rates are all key phrases you want to keep an eye out for when planning your destination wedding. All-inclusive packages wrap everything up for you, usually at a reduced rate.

Similarly, most resorts work with local vendors and suppliers. They can also coordinate on your behalf and organize discounts, too. If you’re worried about losing your big day’s personal feel, don’t be. You can still ask for customizations and make suggestions and recommendations as you would with traditional vendors.

Don’t forget to also seek hotel promotions and group airfare rates when booking travel. Often, if you have enough people, you’ll be eligible for group pricing. You might even earn a complimentary flight or night.

7. Book a venue with built-in beauty.

You’re probably not going to Hawaii (or Rome or New York) to hold your reception in a ballroom. You chose your destination because you want to embrace the location and all it offers. Search for natural beauty—on the coast, in the mountains, on a lake, or in the desert. Let your surroundings do the talking. A cityscape can be all the backdrop you need. Plenty of destination venues require little to no added decoration and have a wedding planner, which helps you save big.

8. Embrace local vendors.

Don’t waste your precious wedding budget on shipping. Instead, hire local vendors to your home, and you’ll spend most of your money packing your decor. Understandably, you want to see what you’re going to get—and that’s easy to do at home. At the same time, meeting your vendors via video chat is just as effective.

You can also have samples from your destination shipped to you while planning. Paying to send a few pieces instead of upwards of 50 things to your destination with you will cut costs astronomically. You also avoid the possibility of something (centerpieces, florals, etc.) being ruined in transit.

9. Honeymoon at the same location.

There’s no need to book it to the airport after your reception. With a destination wedding, your honeymoon is built-in. So book your trip to include your honeymoon dates, too. You may unlock incredible wedding packages and perks (room upgrade, anyone?). You’ll also save on airfare since you won’t be getting home just to turn around and fly somewhere else. So extend your stay, earn great deals, and make more memories.

10. Get legally married locally.

Before jetting off, consider having a stress-free, local wedding. Unknown to many, getting married abroad can incur some unexpected expenses. Every destination has legalities regarding getting married, such as residency periods, paperwork, and even blood tests (Mexico, in case you were curious). A few extra days abroad to meet the residency requirement can be shockingly expensive. You save on legal fees, transportation, and additional days by obtaining your marriage license pre-trip.

Zola: The Place for Destination Wedding Planning

Getting married in your dream location doesn’t have to break the bank. Remember these tips when booking your wedding, and watch the savings add up. And don’t forget to consult Zola for your other needs. From building a wedding website to whether or not to have an open bar, Zola has just the advice you need.

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