Tying the knot is expensive. From the venue to invitations to caterers, the bills pile up quickly. In total, couples spend an average of $27,800. And that's all before the honeymoon, which costs $4,778, according to a 2007 industry study by the Knot Wedding Network.
For couples who honeymoon at popular vacation spots like Tahiti, the Maldives or Hawaii, it's easy to spend substantially more. By planning ahead and taking advantage of a few insider tips, however, newlyweds can cut their costs without skimping on luxury.
This is important since most couples want to unwind in a lavish but secluded setting. "They want to relax and get away from it all," says Michelle Koert, owner of event-planning company Romance Concierge Services.
Tricks for cutting the cost
Koert's clients typically spend $10,000 to $30,000 to travel to destinations like Bora Bora for a land-and-yacht tour or to Christmas Island for horseback riding on the beach. Donna Keane, director of the company Distinctive Honeymoons, says that for $1,200 to $1,500 per day, her clients spend 10 days to two weeks in destinations like Cambodia, where they enjoy a champagne breakfast at the sacred temple known as Angkor Wat.
Couples with tighter budgets need not overlook these destinations, however. To defray the cost, they can set up a honeymoon registry, through which guests can purchase gifts like a massage for two ($130 per person), a candlelit dinner on the beach ($90) or contribute toward a roundtrip ticket.
Such registries are customized for the destination, says Keane, so a couple headed to Patagonia can request gifts like a guided tour of a national park or drinks and dancing at a jazz club in Santiago. Depending on which requests are fulfilled, a registry can knock $1,000 to $2,000 off the price of a honeymoon. Though companies charge for the service, many will include the fee in the registry as well.
Getting the most for your money
Summer Krecke, deputy editor of WeddingChannel.com, says that while honeymoon registries are an excellent start to cutting costs, couples can also do more "with a little elbow grease." In other words, research the desired destination instead of passing off the task to a travel agent. While travel agents provide valuable input, Krecke recommends turning to friends, tip-trading Web sites and locals for advice.
Couples set on staying at a beachside resort should consider all-inclusive accommodations. At the Paradisus Playa Conchal in Costa Rica, for example, most activities are built into the price of the stay, including snorkeling, a catamaran excursion, beach soccer, sunset walks and a canopy tour of the rainforest. A week-long stay in a deluxe junior suite at the end of November costs roughly $3,000 per couple, excluding airfare.
Should you want to travel to hot destinations like the Maldives or the Caribbean, but can't stomach high-season prices, Krecke suggests the shoulder season. This week or two preceding and following the high season can be a great time for bargains. In both the Maldives and the Caribbean, the peak season begins roughly at mid-December and ends in mid-April.
But one of the best bargains comes for couples planning a destination wedding: a free ceremony. Hotel chains like Sandals and Palace Resorts give couples a complimentary wedding when they agree to spend their honeymoon at the hotel.
Sandals requires a seven-night stay at one of its 12 Caribbean properties and includes a basic wedding package that covers the couple and two guests. The cost for a seven-night stay is an estimated $3,500 to $5,000, not including airfare. The details are different at every resort, so couples should look into the number of guests permitted and add-on packages.
Finally, just for fun, couples should mention that they are newly married. Often, they are congratulated with a free dinner or a reduced hotel rate.
"Let people know that you're a newlywed," says Krecke, "and suddenly you'll find champagne on your table."