Destination Weddings: 8 Awkward Money Questions, Answered

By Sophie Friedman · April 22, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Destination Weddings: 8 Awkward Money Questions, Answered

Receiving a destination wedding invite typically prompts one of two responses: excitement or low-key panic. After all, the couple getting married aren’t the only ones who may be apprehensive about the cost.

Destination weddings are undoubtedly more expensive for guests than local weddings. And the cost of travel is usually the deciding factor in who comes versus who stays home and watches it all on Insta.

Before you RSVP to a destination wedding invitation, you’ll probably have some practical money questions. We have answers, as well as guidance on how to politely get the clarity you need to budget appropriately.

1. Who Pays for What in Destination Weddings?

Generally speaking, when it comes to destination weddings, guests are responsible for paying for their own transportation, accommodations, and meals that won’t be covered by the wedding party. If the wedding venue is not at the hotel where everyone is staying, transportation is often provided.

At a minimum, you’ll be paying for your own travel, whether that’s booking a flight or renting a car. For a larger wedding, it’s likely the couple have booked a destination wedding package. This might include dinner the night before the wedding, plus the ceremony and reception of course, and maybe a brunch or lunch the next day. And for more intimate destination weddings, especially far-flung ones, it’s not unusual for the couple to host guests for multiple meals apart from the reception.

Most couples will make it very clear on their wedding website what they’re covering for their destination wedding and what guests are expected to pay for. If the schedule, for example, says Thursday night welcome cocktails, Friday night beach dinner, Saturday reception, and Sunday brunch, you know those meals are covered.

Average Cost of a Destination Wedding for Guests

A survey by The Knot found the average cost of being a wedding guest was $460. The amount fluctuates based on wedding location, type, and date (say, casual beach nuptials nearby vs. black tie across the country during peak summer travel).

For a non-destination wedding requiring no transportation or accommodation, The Knot found the average cost to be $270. Driving out of town brings you to $660; flying bumps that to an average of $1,270. The Knot survey also includes the average cost of a wedding gift — $160 — but this will be lower for a destination wedding (more on that below).

Who Pays for Bridesmaid Dresses? (and Shoes and Makeup and Hair)

With destination weddings, who pays for bridesmaid dresses, shoes, makeup, and hair really depends on the couple. Bridesmaids and groomsmen are usually responsible for their own outfits and shoes. Some destination wedding packages include hair and makeup, and the couple may pay for this or tell you in advance how much it’ll cost. Some destination wedding resorts even have services on-site.

If you are asked to be in a wedding party and truly cannot afford the outfits and accessories, talk to the couple: Tell them you love their destination wedding ideas and want to celebrate with them, and see how you can work things out.

Recommended: The Cost of Being in a Wedding Party

How to Save Money On A Destination Wedding

When considering how to save money on hotels, start with recommendations on the wedding site. Many destination wedding packages include discounted rooms for guests. You can then compare the rates secured by the couple to nearby hotels and vacation rentals. (Keep in mind that if you stay too far from the wedding hotel(s), where shuttles may be available, you’ll have added transportation costs.)

Splitting a hotel room certainly saves money. Depending on the size of your group, sharing a suite may make more sense. The best destination wedding resorts often have suite and/or family-room options, and these may have a lower cost-per-person than booking separate rooms. (Whether you want to share a bathroom with your parents is up to you.)

Most destination wedding invitations go out far in advance so guests can make plans. Use this to your advantage; book now, pay later travel allows you to lock in good deals when you find them, and pay for them after a few months of saving. But always read the fine print and make sure you’re paying low or no interest, or this option could end up costing you more than paying up front.

Likewise, if you’re committed to the wedding and you see a good price on flights, book them. Already-low flight prices are unlikely to drop further.

Another way that destination wedding guests can save money is by using credit card cash back rewards to offset the cost of flights and hotel rooms. Consider which is more useful to you, credit card miles vs. cash back.

If you travel a lot, miles can be the better value — assuming you actually use them. But if you’d rather not track miles, you might prefer a cash-back card.

Many travel and/or airline cards have an added benefit — built-in travel insurance. Be sure to review carefully how your credit card travel insurance works.

As you book flights and accommodations for a destination wedding, try a spending tracker app to keep track of costs.

What If I Find a Better Deal Than the Group Price?

Though it’s not that common, some destination wedding packages include a group price, usually for an all-inclusive resort. In general, the couple will tell guests this is an option and, if you want in, you sign up and pay a deposit.

If you find a better deal than the group price, you can certainly organize your own accommodations. Just be sure to let the couple know you won’t be participating in the package.

Do I Have to Give a Big Gift Too?

Many destination wedding invitations will say something like, “Your presence is our present,” making it clear that guests’ attendance is the gift. After all, many couples know destination wedding costs can be high, and many are concerned about how their families can afford to travel.

A heartfelt card is always well-received. Mail it to the couple so you and they have one less thing to carry. If the invitation doesn’t explicitly say no gifts, and you can afford one along with the other destination wedding expenses, you can give a lower-cost gift than you normally would.

What If My Kids Are Not Invited?

Some couples may want an adults-only celebration, which can be difficult for parents who want to attend but don’t have extended overnight childcare at home.

Depending on how old your kids are and how long you’ll be away, you may be able to arrange sleepovers with their friends or ask a relative or family friend to come stay one or two nights. This is of course much easier with older, more self-sufficient children.

If your destination wedding invitation says no kids and you’re determined to go, you can still bring them to the destination and attend the wedding events on your own. Many destination wedding packages include childcare. If they don’t, the best destination wedding resorts can certainly find babysitters or have them on staff.

Can I Ask for a Plus One?

Budget is the most common reason to be invited to a destination wedding without a plus one. But you can gently and politely ask to bring a guest, citing the plus one’s relationship to you (maybe you have a new partner) and, if you feel comfortable, the benefit of having someone to share costs. At worst, the couple will say no, and from there you can decide how to RSVP.

What If I Want to Go But Can’t Afford It?

First consider whether you want to go to a destination wedding but can’t afford it, period, or you just can’t afford it at the moment you receive the invitation. If the latter, you may be able to save up for the trip, especially as destination wedding invitations are usually sent far in advance. Also consider whether you have time to earn credit card rewards, if you can minimize costs by sharing a hotel room (there are surely other guests concerned about costs), and the possibility of staying somewhere less expensive than the wedding hotel.

If you truly cannot afford the wedding, or don’t feel comfortable financially, don’t go. Do not go into debt to go to a wedding. The couple invited you because they want you to share in their special day, but not at the expense of your finances. You can RSVP no and then explain to your friends that you’re thrilled for them and honored to be invited but that a destination wedding isn’t in the financial cards right now.

True friends will be far happier to receive a heartfelt note than to have you suffer financially on account of their wedding.

Recommended: How to Balance the Urge to Travel and the Need to Save

The Takeaway

Destination weddings can be a wonderful chance for couples and their family and friends to celebrate together in a fun place, but they can also be more expensive for guests than local weddings. Before saying yes to a destination wedding invitation, try asking a few money questions of either the couple or potential wedding guests, so that you have a better idea of the associated expenses. Once you know relatively fixed costs like travel, accommodations, gifts, etc, you’ll know how much you need to save.

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Photo credit: iStock/andreswd

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