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Picture this: You just got engaged and have your heart set on an exotic location for your big day, far away from home — but is the price to pull off your dream wedding unrealistic? The average wedding costs about $25,000, and that price can go up even further depending on location, venue, guest list and all the extras. But with smart planning, experts say a wonderful destination wedding is within reach. New TPG Contributor Julie Loffredi shows us how brides and grooms can save themselves some cake.
Choosing a destination during a shoulder season can lead to 30% or more in savings. For example, shoulder seasons in Europe are April through mid-June and September though October, while the Caribbean is known to be cheaper during the summer months; in the latter case, you just need to beware of unpredictable Mother Nature.
Consumer expert Andrea Woroch took a gamble on booking her wedding during shoulder season in the mountains, but says the move paid off because, “The weather was beautiful and guests had many opportunities to explore the mountain at a cheaper rate with hiking, fishing, biking and more.”
Also consider the cost of airline tickets, additional transportation fees and travel requirements when comparing locations. Feeling overwhelmed by details before you’ve even begun? If you have an The Platinum Card from American Express card, be aware that you have complimentary access to a Travel Insider, a personal concierge who can offer destination advice and travel itinerary assistance.
Get Venue Estimates and Negotiate
The next step is finding the right venue. Ask for estimates from as many places as possible, which will help you gain insight into the market and aid in budget evaluations. Inquire about any hidden fees, taxes or charges. (For instance, do you really want to pay an extra $2-per-plate fee for cake?)
The most popular day of the week for a wedding is also the most expensive. However, smart couples can use this to their advantage.
Consider this: Belle Mer, a posh wedding-venue hotspot in Newport, Rhode Island, reports that couples can save a whopping $10,000 just by choosing to marry on a weekday. Guests can also save money by dodging more expensive weekend hotel rates.
A non-traditional reception can also result in big savings. “Opt in for an elegant 2pm Champagne and cake reception. You’ll save big bucks by skipping the caterer, and your guests will be just as happy,” says relationship expert April Masini.
Opt for a Standing-Only Ceremony
Ditch chair rentals and decorations in favor of a standing-only ceremony on the beach or in a park.
Save on Food and Drinks
You don’t want to get slapped with a whopper of a bill at the end of the night just because someone ordered too many rounds. Yes, some guests may be bummed when they learn booze isn’t free, but settling on a cash bar is a huge way to keep a budget from tapping out. With drinks at $10 each, an open bar tab can easily surpass $1,000 for a reception with 100 people. If you want to lift spirits, consider splashing out on a Champagne toast before opening the bar till for business.
If you’d rather cut corners on your reception meal, be aware that some venues charge more for serving stations than sit-down plated dinners — so invite your guests to have a seat and dig in, then pocket the savings.
Shrink Your Guest List
A destination wedding can often be less expensive because there tends to be a shorter guest list. But for any wedding, if a guest list can be cut — even just a few B-listers — it can save you big.
Use Local Flowers
Think twice before ordering those tulips from Amsterdam. While flowers set the mood for romance, all those petals can snip away at a wedding budget. Consider using in-season flowers instead, or better yet, choosing a venue that’s already planted with a garden’s worth of blooms. For instance, in tropical locations, the surrounding landscape may be enough to set the scene.
Ditch the Band
Booking a band to perform on a Friday or Saturday night may have newlyweds singing the blues. Hiring a DJ is way less expensive.
Pass on Airbrushed Photos
Editing photos and videos is time-consuming work, so request just a few edited photos from the photographer — instead of hundreds.
Pass on a Fancy Wedding Cake
Most of the time, guests remember cake mushed into the groom’s face — not the sweet taste of buttercream. But the fancier the cake, the more bitter the bill. While on the wish list of many brides and grooms, an ornate, expensive cake wasn’t a priority at my wedding; I bought my cake from Wal-Mart (shhh!) and brought it myself to the reception facility. This sweet move saved me and my husband $2,000!
Evaluate Hotel and Resort Promotions
Remember that hotel and resort promotions can help offset wedding costs. Aside from Sandals’ offer of credits for a honeymoon when booking a wedding at any of the chain’s all-inclusive resorts, here are a few current points incentives to consider:
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Wedding Bonus
Starwood Preferred Guests can earn up to 100,000 bonus Starpoints on contracted room rental, food and beverage costs when they host a wedding at participating hotels. Couples can then apply SPG points toward free honeymoon nights at hotels and resorts in Hawaii, Paris, Bora Bora and more. Use a co-branded card like the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex or its Business version, and you’ll also earn 2 points for every dollar spent (in addition to those provided by the hotel) at your chosen SPG venue, as well as bonus elite credits for two stays and five nights annually.
Here’s a screenshot that illustrates the details of this offer:
Hyatt Gold Passport Wedding Bonus
The Hyatt Gold Passport Wedding Bonus enables you to earn up to 150,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Bonus Points for your spend on a wedding at a participating Hyatt hotel, redeemable for a minimum of two nights at any Hyatt. Here’s a screenshot of the brand’s spend-bonus-redemption chart for weddings:
Charge your Hyatt wedding spend to the Chase Hyatt Credit Card, and you’ll also earn 3 points per dollar spent at your chosen Hyatt property, two free nights at a Hyatt property when you spend $1,000 within the first three months and automatic Gold Passport Platinum elite status. Bonus: For those planning a non-American destination wedding, know that this card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Hilton HHonors Event Planner Bonus Program
When you hold an event/wedding at a Hilton HHonors property, you can earn up to 100,000 points or miles at a rate of 1 point/mile per $1 spent at the venue. Points/miles can be redeemed for either rooms at Hilton properties, flights on 50 partner airlines or events and experiences like those you’ll find on @Play, otherwise known as the Hilton HHonors Auction Platform. Here are the Event Planner Bonus Program’s policy details:
Be aware that Hilton has several co-branded credit cards that would help boost your HHonors stash if you choose to hold your wedding at a Hilton property — including two no-fee cards. The usual sign-up bonus for the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature is 40,000 points with a spend of $1,000 within the first four months, you’ll earn 6 points/$ at Hilton properties, and automatic HHonors Silver elite status. Hilton Honors Card from American Express also offers 50,000 bonus points as a sign-up bonus, but you only need to spend $750 within the first four months, and you’ll earn 7 points/$ at Hilton properties. This card also offers automatic HHonors Silver status, and you can earn Gold status when you spend $20,000 in a calendar year. To learn more about co-branded Hilton cards, see Which Hilton HHonors Credit Card is Best For You.
For a destination wedding, set a budget ahead of time and include trip expenses. Also, consult with family and friends on whether they’d be up for traveling. If everyone is ready to say “I do!” (get it?), then start prioritizing your needs/wants and concentrate on bringing costs down from there. Consider reinvesting cash-back incentives from credit cards to help pay for wedding costs.
With a budget intact, couples can feel free to focus on their big day — rather than having to lament their squashed nest egg!
Be sure to see these other wedding-related posts:
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With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.