The Destination Wedding Pitch: The Hidden Costs of a Free Wedding

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destination free weddingAs a lifelong mother of the bride, I am constantly scanning multiple wedding industry newsfeeds for info.  As such, I read an article the other day that focused on the seedy underbelly of the destination wedding industry; specifically, all-inclusive resorts and hotels that offer free wedding ceremonies if you book a 1-week stay with them.  The problem is that the “wedding ceremony” they offer is typically second-rate, and hence you’re not really getting what is being promised.  To quote from the article, “when it comes to the so-called free wedding, there is no such thing.”  In this case, from the resort’s perspective, free weddings are essentially a loss-leader whereby the resort will make up the cost for this in ways that are not obvious to the consumer.

A typical free wedding at a destination resort consists of a master of ceremony, wedding cake, floral arrangement, and a champagne toast for the happy couple and a small handful of guests.  And since all-inclusive resorts by definition have their own restaurants, the costs incurred by the resort are easily absorbed.  Plus, your guests will also be forced to spend, so the resort will often make additional revenue from the wedding guests’ bookings and other expenditures.

This is somewhat ironic because many couples believe that a destination wedding is substantially cheaper than a traditional wedding.  While the typical cost of a destination wedding is roughly 15% less than a traditional wedding on average ($3,000), I wouldn’t exactly call this a substantial difference.  Plus, your guests will spend WAY more – to the tune of $1,500 – $2,000 – on a destination wedding compared to a traditional wedding.  Thus, you must ask yourself if this is fair to your guests.

Now, granted, some resorts are better than others in terms of their willingness and ability to negotiate, so it certainly pays to shop around.  But my overall point on this post is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Yes you will save a marginal amount of cash on a destination wedding, you won’t need to worry about the planning details, and you will get to enjoy a week in paradise.  But on the downside, unless you have deep pockets, you will be limited regarding the number of guests you can invite, and those guests that do make the cut will need to spend an arm and a leg for the privilege of participating in your big day.  As you can see, this is clearly a decision that must be made with care and intelligence.

For more information on this, click to check out the full article from the NY Times.  The article goes into a lot more detail regarding the costs and idiosyncrasies associated with the so-called free wedding.   And in the article, several couples also explain their particular experiences with these so-called free weddings, which is quite interesting.  So, if you’re thinking about going down this road, definitely read the NYT article, and make sure it’s the right decision for you.  It’s not right or wrong, but some careful thought – regarding your own needs as well as the needs of your guests – is definitely warranted.  Good luck!

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