Are Destination Weddings Really a Cheaper Alternative?

Hello Gorgeous,

Aside from the romantic allure, destination weddings are often marketed in the wedding industry as a cost-effective alternative to marrying on home turf.

By the time the year is out, I will have been to not one, but two destination weddings, so I wanted to explore this a little more from the other side of the coin.

It definitely is more affordable for couples to have a destination wedding. The average wedding in the US is around $31,213 and that doesn’t include the honeymoon! Sandals Wedding Moons

Face Value

Bandele Zuberi Photography_Wedding_Italy_Amalfi_Coast_Rose_Ian_Nigeria_001Photography: Bandele Zuberi

For couples, destination weddings at face value are definitely cheaper, some companies such as Sandals even offer couples a free wedding with some packages. So yes they are for couples, but if you look a little deeper for guests, definitely not. The amount to attend a destination wedding can be debt inducing.

Now before I go on, I must add a little caveat – of course as a guest, it is 100% up to you whether or not you choose to make the investment or not. Both destination weddings this year have been an honour (one coming up in a couple of weeks! Yippee!) Both weddings have offered Mr Nu Bride and I pivotal roles, him best man all the way in sunny Barbados and the second, big brother Nu Bride’s wedding in Europe. How could we not go?! 🙂 But when we first said ‘yes’ we knew very little about the true cost of attending.

Guests can enjoy a holiday stemmed off of a destination wedding while enjoying a group rate discount. Less than booking separate. Sandals Wedding Moons

Nikso GogasPhotography: Nikos Gogas

Destination weddings are often toted as a cheaper alternative to getting married in your home country, but it’s a big ask of guests who probably have things they would rather spend that money on. Chantal Mallett

The Average Cost of Attending a UK Wedding

08.06.2014 © BLAKE EZRA PHOTOGRAPHY LTD Images from the beautiful Wedding of Danielle and Joseph, held at Lauderdale Road Synagogue, followed by evening at The Grosvenor House hotel, London. On the 6th July 2014. © Blake Ezra Photography LTD 2014Photography: Blake Ezra |London wedding

In 2013 The Daily Mail reported that the average amount a UK guest spent on a wedding on home turf, was a huge £440. That was two years ago, in the middle of a recession…. This more recent survey from Nationwide shows a slight decrease to £377, still a generous amount.  Another survey from American Express  reports that the cost guests fork out to attend, also puts pressure on couples to provide their guests with extra amenities to make it all worthwhile. I wonder if that pressure is magnified for couples who choose to marry abroad?

We were very conscious of friends and families purse strings when we chose to marry abroad. We have family in NYC and London and decided to have a twin location wedding.  So we had 20 NYC guests in their home town and 60 UK guests in London. No one travelled other than us. We figured two locations gave us the opportunity to share our day with everyone we loved without them needing to shell out. Plus our Grand parents don’t travel well and it was important for us to have them there. Denise

On doing research for this post, destination weddings really do have mixed reviews. Some feel that guests should seize the opportunity and use it as an excuse to go on holiday.  Others feel that couples who choose to marry abroad at the expense of their guests, as being selfish.

I was approached innocently by someone recently who was shocked to hear that each of the destination weddings we are attending this year are at our own expense. There was clearly an expectation that if couples wish for you to attend their wedding abroad, that they should foot the bill. Ouch!

I think most people are happy to attend a destination wedding in the summer as it gives an excuse to go on holiday! Heart A Flutter Bridal

The True Cost of Attending a Destination Wedding

Nikos Gogas Photography: Nikos Gogas

So I decided to tally up the cost of attending one of the destination weddings we’ve attended this year in the Caribbean. For standard wedding related travel costs for two people, it rounded up to approx £2.8k to attend. Bare in mind, this did not include our accommodation, gifts, wedding outfits or pre hen/ stag celebrations). If you take this as a basic amount for travel expenses and multiply this cost by the amount of guests in attendance (50 in total: 25 pairs)….. Drum roll….Even I was shocked. It came to a whopping £70,000!!! That’s over seven times the cost of attending on home turf. 

Pssst…That £70,000 figure is obviously not including any wedding ceremony and reception fees the couple will have paid to host guests or pre and post wedding activities.

When you consider the average cost of a UK wedding, is currently around £23K, then are destination weddings really cheaper? Well, clearly not at all.

Now I am not suggesting that couples pay for all of their guests expenses to attend a destination wedding, but when you look a little deeper the guest travel expenses blow that average cost of a wedding out of the water!

The cost of weddings is always considered from the perspective of the couple, but just how much does it cost the guests and where do they see the need to spend money to ensure they are the very best wedding guest….The Daily Mail

Italian-Wedding-Ravello-Gianni-di-Natale-Photographer-www.nubride.com_3732.jpgPhotography:Gianni Di Natale | Ravello Wedding

I covered the guest dilemma of attending multiple destination weddings in one year, when a reader contacted me completely stressed out about feeling obligated to attend them all and was overwhelmed by the prospect of spiralling into debt as a key member of the bridal party.

In an age where society encourages us to desire and want more, if we opt to hop on a plane to wed, are we putting our guests into an awkward and compromising financial position?

These new trends of requesting meal payment from guests, making expensive demands on wedding party members and extending the celebration beyond the wedding day, are making wedding dreams come true for the couple, but putting a serious strain on many friendships. Huffington Post

My experience this year has come to realise that destination weddings may be more cost-effective for the couple, but definitely not for guests.

Manage Expectations

Italian-Wedding-Ravello-Gianni-di-Natale-Photographer-www.nubride.com_3688.jpgPhotography:Gianni Di Natale | Ravello Wedding

Couples –  before you send out your invites, give guests as much notice as possible via a save the date or even an email.

Provide accurate information about the expected costs involved with attending, from travel costs to the cost of living whilst there and if you are asking them to play an important role in their day, what other expenses will this incur? Are they expected to buy their own wedding day outfits etc?

I spent more time stressing about our guests than the actual wedding… Because so many people took time off and spent money I was very conscious about people having a great time. This is why I wanted to do the extra little bits like the goodie bags, picking people up from the airport, taking people on days out and about.. Etc. I wanted it to also be a great holiday for the guests and for them to feel it was worth the time and money they put into it. Emma, recent destination wedding bride

Make sure you consider how you host your guests, especially if they are travelling long haul, destination weddings should require more attention to detail, organising meet and greets, educating about any cultures / etiquettes or language barriers can all help to reduce the anxiety or travelling to unknown territory.

Guests: Before you commit – do a tally of predicted costs and work out if you can budget accordingly.

Also consider the time you will have to dedicate to attend. Can you invest in the ‘time’ off work.

Wedding Party: If you have been asked to play a key role, work out if you can afford to attend first and also decide if you want to attend and take on that role.

There is no point saying yes to attend a destination wedding and then forking out hundreds or thousands of pounds to attend, only to feel aggrieved and begrudge the couple for putting you in financial hardship. Sometimes, as much as you want to attend, saying no whilst disappointing, is ok too.

To Conclude

Bandele Zuberi Photography_Wedding_Italy_Amalfi_Coast_Rose_Ian_Nigeria_026

Photography: Bandele Zuberi

Ultimately it’s the guests choice to decide to incur the expense of a destination wedding or not. I also think it’s unreasonable to expect a couple to pay for their guests travel expenses, but I do think couples should be mindful of the costs their guests may incur when thinking of marrying abroad and to allow ample time for guests to plan and more importantly, to save.

It’s worth asking, are we misinforming couples and their guests by marketing destination weddings as a cheaper alternative?



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6 Responses to “Are Destination Weddings Really a Cheaper Alternative?”

  1. Nells
    August 17, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this!
    I am getting married in Jamaica (where I am from) next year July. H2B’s family (English) ;as well as some of my own, have never been to Jamaica before. We figured it would be a nice holiday for guests if we gave them enough notice. I sent out save the dates back in March and told our guests to start looking at flights from now.

    We understand that not everyone might not be able to come so will have a party when we get back with those who couldn’t make it and the uninvited. We are not having a gift registry as their presence at our wedding is our present.

    Destination weddings can get expensive depending on the individual’s taste but there is scope to cut costs at whatever turn. I find destination wedding packages offered by the big resorts to be really expensive once all details are added up.

    • Nu Bride
      August 20, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

      Having a destination wedding in a country others haven’t visited before is an adventure and a great holiday in a destination as beautiful as Jamaica.. Well done for giving your guests good notice! Make sure you stay tuned next week for some tips on planning ahead and helping your guests as much as possible.

  2. Chantal Mallett
    August 18, 2015 at 2:56 am #

    6 of us went to Venice for my intimate wedding & I felt we should pay for outfits, food, flights, hotels….. It’s what we wanted, so we paid.

    I realise on a larger scale that isn’t feasable but yes, there’s something to be said for tallying up what each guest might be expected to pay & asking is this too big an ask? Is a 100K spend by friends & family not too much? In hindsight many guests might say that they would rather every guest had given the happy couple a money gift that threw a great wedding at home.

    • Nu Bride
      August 20, 2015 at 11:31 pm #

      Wow you were so generous Chantal, but then I guess you were able to with a party of 6 . If we look at the money gift suggestion you make I don’t think consciously people would spend such a generous amount on a gift. Oh the psychology of money!

  3. Natasha Johnson
    August 24, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Great food for thought Nova. I think like all weddings wherever they take place you can have cheaper versions. But those who say or think that destination weddings are cheaper alternatives as a blanket rule, are misinformed, I think. From destination weddings you can probably get more value for money, but that still means you have to spend a bit of money to get that value! For me, the weather was also huge factor. We always wanted an outdoor wedding but I did not want my hair getting wet and I couldn’t trust the British weather, ha ha! We had 50 family and friends join us in Mexico, where we were living at the time, and that was incredible! Everyone we wanted there, was there!

  4. Gio Daye
    September 15, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    I think that I would like my first comment to address the view that weddings abroad are cheaper. This is not always the case, it depends on what you want from your wedding abroad. Perhaps it is better to say that couples receive more value by going abroad ( I am mainly referencing Italy here). As I UK based Italy wedding planner we receive many inquiries which reflect the points you have raised in your blog. I have to be honest some are very unrealistic when it comes to budget and the number of guests they wish to invite. Initially I use a very simple math which is to divide the budget by number of guests for a per person spend. A small budget and a high number of guests will never work, how can you show your guests you value them and appreciate them joining you when all your budget can achieve is serving them canapes? I see my role to guide and advise and if that means being blunt and saying the guest list needs to be cut then this is what I will say if the dream is a wedding abroad. I believe the foundation for a successful destination wedding is to give consideration to the guests and this needs to start at the very beginning of the planning stage. This involves picking an accessible location with different options for onward transport from the arrival airport. A choice of accommodation to suit all budgets and requirements. As romantic as a remote and rustic venue may be there will be additional costs for guests if guest transport is not included in the wedding budget. Couples that wish to have exclusive use of a venue are obliged to book accommodation for a minimum 3 day stay again if this is not possible in the wedding budget the cost of accommodation is passed on to guests (villa or small hotel weddings). Of course the wedding day is very much about the couple and fulfilling dreams, we aim to make this happen. However decisions that are not thought through carefully can impact the cost for their guests to attend. Using Save the Date to send out key information to communicate what’s involved will enable guests to make an informed decision as to whether they can attend. The early release of budget flights by the budget airlines & comparison sites for hotels and accommodation helps to manage the expense of attending a destinatin wedding (particularly Italy and Europe). Let’s not forget the idea of a destination wedding was to remove the drama of wedding planning, reducing the number of guests and cost of getting married.

    No doubt destination weddings are popular for the obvious reasons. A happy balance is possible keeping arrangements simple will keep guests happy which in turn will keep the couple happy and stress free. Getting the location and venue right, good planning and excellent communication goes along way.

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