Destination Wedding Etiquette: Who Pays for What?

Destination weddings are non-traditional, so who pays for what? Do guests pay more than they usually would, or do you pay more than you usually would for a regular wedding?

The expenses can be divided into two broad categories: regular wedding expenses like bridesmaid’s dresses or the rehearsal dinner, and destination-wedding-specific expenses like flights/travel and hotel rooms. You’re expected to pay for all the normal things like your wedding-day wear and rings, while guests are expected to pay towards their flight and hotel stay.

Our guide below details point-by-point exactly what guests pay for and exactly what the hosts pay for at a destination wedding. We’ve also provided some tips for how to help guests that may struggle to afford a fancy destination wedding, so that all of your friends and family can attend.

Do Guests Pay for Flights to Destination Weddings?

It’s generally held that the guests pay for their flights to the destination wedding, and then home afterwards. The reason for this is that if you’re having a large wedding, it would be next to impossible for you to pay for everybody’s travel. You might be having a hundred or more guests at your wedding, so there’s likely no way you could pay for all of them.

While almost all destination weddings follow this rule, this may not be something that your potential guests are familiar with. You should therefore make it clear long before you expect their RSVP that they would be paying their own way here. Save the dates and RSVPs are sent earlier for destination weddings than for regular weddings, so that guests have more time to book days off work, but also to save up. So, make it clear at this point what they will and won’t have to pay for.

Do Guests Pay for Hotel Rooms at Destination Weddings?

The exact same applies to your guests’ hotel rooms. It’s likely that you’ll be staying at a nice hotel, and you’ll also likely be staying for a week or more. As such, guests typically pay for their hotel rooms too.
Again, your guests might not be expecting this to be the case. When you tell them they’ll be paying for their stay, try to frame it in a positive light: it’s a holiday, probably to somewhere fun and hot, so that shouldn’t be hard!
If possible, you could also block-book hotel rooms at a range of local hotels of different price points. By booking 10 or more rooms, you can usually secure a discount on the room rate (sometimes up to 50%). That way, you can help make the rooms more affordable for your guests, even if you can’t pay for them outright. This could help guests that don’t have very large budgets.

Do Guests Pay for Food & Drinks at Destination Weddings?

As with any normal wedding, the bride and groom are expected to pay for their guests’ food. This applies to all big events that you’ve organised for the weekend: the rehearsal dinner, the wedding breakfast, reception buffet, and so on. It’s also customary to hold some kind of welcome event and farewell party, which you’ll have to pay for.

However, guests will pay for their own food and drink during downtimes - their breakfasts, lunches and dinners on days where there are no wedding-related events. Bear in mind that some resort destinations have funny rules regarding bringing in your own food, and the cost of food can be higher than you might expect, so do your research before you book.

As for drinks, it really depends on what you can afford. Many couples like to offer their guests a welcome drink and provide bottles of wine on the tables during the wedding itself. Alternatively, you could provide each guest with one or two wedding drink tokens – that way, you can pay for the first couple of rounds, but guests pay for any further drinks.

Do Guests Pay for Activities on Destination Weddings?

The answer depends on what kind of activities you’re planning. If you’re planning an activity that involves every guest, or every member of the wedding party, they may expect you to pay for it. But resorts have lots of activities that run each day, and your guests might want to partake in them—scuba diving, for example, or hikes—on their own. If they do, then they can pay for them.

That being said, there’s no tradition here. You can make up your own rules and apply them, so long as you’re clear about them before your guests arrive. If you want to pay for everybody’s activities, you can, and you can expect a big bill at the end. Or, you could have guests pay for their attendance at group events - although if you do, you shouldn’t make the event mandatory. Bear in mind that all of your guests will have different budgets.

What About All The ‘Normal’ Wedding Expenses?

While your guests are expected to contribute, that doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook for wedding expenses. There are still lots of things you need to pay for, just like you would if you were holding your wedding in the U.K.

1. The rehearsal dinner: You have to pay for food and drink at any organised events, including the rehearsal dinner and any welcome party you choose to hold.
2. The wedding itself: You have to pay for the wedding ceremony, venue hire, food and entertainment at the reception.
3. Bridesmaid’s dresses: If you want the bridesmaids to wear a particular dress/outfit, you have to pay for that, as you do for any wedding. If you’re OK with them choosing their own attire (within reason), they can pay for their own dress.
4. Rings, his suit, her dress, and all the usual things: You’re expected to pay for these as you would for a non-destination wedding.

All that being said, you can divide the expenses up in any way you like. The trick is to be up-front about your expectations before you ask guests to attend. So long as they know what they’re getting themselves in for—and what they’ll have to pay for—there’s no problem.

What If My Guests Can’t Afford a Destination Wedding?

A destination wedding presents significant expenses that your guests may not be able to afford. The flights and hotel rooms alone may cost thousands of pounds, and that’s before you throw in activities and refreshments. This may mean that there are guests who can’t afford to pay their own way.
In fact, research suggests that destination weddings have a 50-80% attendance rate on average. In other words, 20-50% of the guests you invite won’t be able to make it – usually because it’s not in their budget.
If that’s the case, you do have options available.

Destination Wedding Packages

Destination wedding packages are like the all-inclusive holiday packages you can buy from travel agents. The difference is that on top of the typical all-inclusive stay (including room and board, activities and so on) you can also pay for the cost of your ceremony and reception.
This can help you and your guests save money. You can either use some of the money you save to help guests pay for their stay, or encourage guests to take advantage of all-inclusive packages at the same resort. Packages like these often allow you to spread the cost, too, so your guests aren’t lumbered with a big bill all at once.

Change Your Venue

You could also rethink your venue. That means either picking somewhere that’s closer to home, or picking a cheaper hotel.
The former isn’t such a problem. There are all sorts of places much closer than your typical Caribbean destination wedding: the south of France, the Canary Islands, Italy and many other European destinations make great choices. This will significantly reduce your guests’ expenses.

As for picking a cheaper hotel, that’s more of a compromise. You probably know someone with a horror story about cheap hotels abroad (and if you don’t, there have been no end of TV shows about them). You may also be sacrificing your access to amenities like pools, Jacuzzis, spas and fine dining, which would significantly impact your wedding experience. But will you enjoy it if your guests aren’t there?
One option is to pick a slightly cheaper venue for your wedding, before taking a honeymoon trip-within-a-trip with your partner to a more expensive place nearby. That would be the best of both worlds!

Cut the Guest List Down & Offer to Help

If even once you change your venue, guests can’t attend, you’re not out of options. But these options are going to require more compromise.
Your first potential choice is to cut down the guest list to a more manageable size. You can then offer to help pay the way of the most important guests: family members, wedding party members, and anybody you’re particularly close to. This will represent a significant cost to you, but there may be no other way to get your loved ones to your destination wedding.

Failing that, you may have to scotch the idea of heading abroad to tie the knot. It’s not unreasonable to have a destination wedding and expect people to pay to get there, but it is unrealistic to expect that everybody can. That doesn’t mean you have to have a conventional wedding, though you can still get married at a destination of sorts, on a beach on the south coast, for example, or in a beautiful woodland setting.

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