Destination Wedding vs Traditional At Home Wedding: Which One is Cheaper?

Summer is in full swing and so is wedding season. It’s wedding age for me now- I’m in my mid-to-late twenties and I’ve been to two weddings this year already (my first one where it was my friend, and not a relative! So exciting!) and they were both here in Vancouver. Another friend is planning to get hitched in Hawaii for a destination wedding next year. My boyfriend and I were discussing what we would like to do in the future, and we were going back and forth between the romantic allure and cheaper destination wedding, or the idea of a traditional wedding where we can invite more of our friends and family to attend.

So I thought I would do what I like doing best here on and do a comparison between the two to help me (and you) decide which one is better for the wallet.  This means a list! Yeeeaaahh!

Destination Wedding:

A destination wedding is where the bride and groom take the wedding party and close family and friends to resort location or even Vegas, and turn it into a mini-vacation for all.  Destination Weddings have increased 400% in recent years- it is getting more and more popular.  Common destination wedding locales are usually exotic such as Mexico, Hawaii (where Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green recently got married), Las Vegas, Italy, and the Caribbean to name a few.  Destination weddings are usually thought to be cheaper (the average cost for a destination wedding is $17,000 for 100 people whereas a traditional wedding costs $25,000 for the same amount of people) and here’s why:

  • You can amalgamate your wedding and honeymoon together (just stay a few extra days! Two birds with one stone)
  • You usually just pay for yourselves as the bride and groom
  • Your guests pay for their own package (flight and hotel) to get there
  • There usually aren’t as many guests (average is around 50 guests) because most people (e.g. colleagues, acquaintances) won’t usually spend $1000+ to see you for a wedding.  Those who really love you will travel for you- you can weed out the people who would just come because they feel guilty if they don’t attend the local wedding
  • You don’t need as elaborate (read: expensive venue and decorations) reception because the location (beaches!!) speaks for itself

The costs you would need to consider for a destination wedding are:

  • Your wedding dress and suits
  • Passports if you don’t have them already; and Visas, if the destination requires it
  • Wedding Insurance (if you want) in the event of extreme weather issues or other unpredictable events (hurricanes! tropical storms! yuck!)
  • Bridesmaid and groomsmen outfits
  • Your flight and hotel package (depending on where you go, this can be cheap or expensive)
  • The reception (should be much cheaper because there are fewer guests)- you can probably strike a deal with the resort to include this in a package
  • Photographer and his or her transport costs
  • Destination Wedding Planner if you are using one to make sure you pick a good location and help you coordinate the shindig (unless it’s a hotel chain you are familiar with from Hawaii, if you pick any ol’ resort in Mexico judging from the pictures online only, you might be sorely disappointed when you arrive for your wedding)
  • Flowers- should be less costly than a traditional wedding, you probably won’t need as much- people won’t be looking at flowers when they have the majestic turquoise blue ocean in the background- trust me.

Although this list seems a bit extensive, the actual costs aren’t that much.  Usually places have packages for the bride and groom, but make sure that the hotel will give your wedding party and guests a package deal as well.  This is where negotiating comes into play.  The costs will be more for your guests, but less for you.  The average number of guests that attend a destination wedding is around 50.  This would mean it could cost well under $10,000 for a destination wedding.

Here are some good websites to help you with your destination wedding planning:

If you’re planning to have your honeymoon with your destination wedding, it might be a good idea to move to a different resort after the wedding if you want some privacy.  Most couples expect their guests to stay for a few days, but guests often turn it into a vacation and you’ll end up bumping into them often, which might not give you the feeling of honeymoon bliss.  The downside is that you won’t get gifts or cash for your wedding (nor should you be expecting any) because the cost of getting to that exotic place just for you two is already expensive enough for the guests.  A good tip to save money for both guests and you is to book your wedding during the mid-week.  You will be able to save on flight costs, hotels, photography, site fees, music etc.

Traditional At Home Wedding:

The costs associated with a Traditonal At Home Wedding are as follows:

  • Your wedding dress and suits
  • Bridesmaid and groomsmen outfits
  • The reception (this can be quite pricey depending on what’s served- can be $75 to $100 a head; or if you do open bar)
  • The venue (this can be more expensive, especially if you live in the city, and you might need to plan well in advance- some venues are booked two years in advance here in Vancouver!)
  • Decorations at the reception and venue
  • Photography
  • Flowers
  • Limo rental (if you’re not using a friend or family’s fancy car)
  • Wedding Favors

A traditional wedding can cost around $25,000 but the flipside is that you do receive gifts.  If you ask for money to be given instead of gifts, that can really help offset the cost of your wedding.  The wedding that I just attended this summer initially cost $20,000 for a wedding with 180 guests but after they tallied the gifts from friends and families (they requested money instead of gifts because they have all the toasters and glassware they need as they were living common law) they came out even!  So the wedding actually cost nothing.

The other good thing about traditional weddings is that more people can come to your wedding.  If you would like to have a chance to celebrate your union with your colleagues, your boss, your friends, your extended family, a traditional wedding at home can be a great chance for everyone to get together and have fun (especially if there is an open bar lol).

There’s a great article on detailing 8 Ways to Reduce the Average Cost of a Wedding.

Punch Debt In the Face (a really funny frugality blog) had his fiance guest post on ways she and Punch Debt saved money with their traditional wedding- her ideas were great!

So in conclusion, a destination wedding is usually cheaper because there are a fewer number of guests. On the other hand, there could be a possibility that the traditional at home wedding is cheaper if you opt for monetary gifts (as un-traditional as this may sound). In the end, it is up to you and your husband or bride-to-be to decide where you want to spend your money.

Related: 10 Financial Tips For Newlyweds

On a side note, I can’t believe it’s “wedding age” already! In my early twenties, I used to watch TLC’s A Wedding Story all the time and analyze and tear over the wedding details.. and now that it is possibly coming up for me in the near future, I’m not sure I want all the hoopla associated with a wedding…I certainly don’t want to spend $25,000 on a wedding, that’s for sure.  That’s enough for a car, or a downpayment (though not in Vancouver)!  Though the idea of asking for monetary gifts instead is quite appealing.  That could hedge you against the possibility if you live in British Columbia like me, a 40% possibility might I add, that the marriage ends in divorce before the age of thirty.

Readers who are engaged or married or even the single folks who read “Bride to Be” magazine every month… which would you prefer to do? Destination Wedding or Traditional Wedding?  Married folks, how much did your wedding cost, and were you within budget?  Please share!


Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

49 Responses to Destination Wedding vs Traditional At Home Wedding: Which One is Cheaper?

  1. We got married in Costa Rica on the beach where we also spent our honeymoon. Upon our return we had a catered reception (with a jazz band) at our house for 50 friends and family. Total cost: less than $7,000. We have such fond memories of our intimate and very special wedding day.

    • @Money Obedience- ooh Costa Rica? That sounds really nice, I’m sure it must have been cheaper than Mexico too! Happy to hear you had good memories AND saved money!

      • Wow!!! This article really inspired me and I finally made my decision on a destination wedding!! So excited. @moneyobedience I would love to discuss with you on how you planned your wedding under 7,000 my wedding budget is around there !

  2. Hi. I don’t think people choose a destination wedding just because it can be cheaper than a traditional one. For many it is a chance to hold their wedding in an exotic location totally different from normal settings and with those family and friends who are closest to them. Several of the brides at our private villa were also marrying for the second time so the guest list was already smaller and more intimate and the setting gave the respective families an ideal opportunity to get to know each other in a relaxed and informal way.

  3. We talk about our wedding a lot for a couple who isn’t even engaged. We’ve thrown around a lot of ideas but almost always come back to a destination wedding because we simply have too many friends/family we would feel we need to invite (the bridge/groom equivalent of feeling like you have to attend if it’s local). Making it a destination wedding cuts the guest list for us and cuts out most of the stress of planning, which I like. I also like the idea of a non-traditional wedding because as much as I like the romantic idea of weddings and browsing wedding magazines, I kind of hate weddings!

    • @Adrian- I agree that there are multiple reasons that a couple may choose a destination wedding rather than a traditional one. I think one of the reasons it can be alluring is because of the lower cost. Good point about couples getting married for the second time- that is another reason why one would want to have a smaller wedding in an exotic location.

      @Jenn- Me too! (Well we’ve been starting to do that). Yeah, I staring at wedding magazines kind of makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth. I would prefer the stress free aspect of a destination wedding too. Less eyes on you! =)

  4. Hey Y&T – are you tying the knot?

    My Megan Fox look alike wife and I got married earlier this year in Jamaica. It was great, right on the sea. Our day was perfect. On the money-side, definitely cheaper than inviting 200 people…and much, much more intimate. Also, no drama worrying about all the guests, we simply enjoyed our day with the people close to us. It was actually a 3-in-1 trip; 1) vacation, 2) wedding, and 3) honeymoon.

    My advice to others considering this would be to take at least two weeks off work and have fun. Yes, you need to plan (pick a good quality, experienced resort and people you trust), but enjoy it for what it is. You’re get married for you, not your family. :)

    • @Financial Cents- Nope, not tying the knot, just THINKING about tying the knot (in a few years). Wow- you have a Megan Fox look-alike wife? Congrats on the recent wedding! Jamaica- that sounds nice. How many people were at your wedding? Sounds like there’s more pro-destination wedders than pro-traditional wedders. Good point re: you get married for you, not your family. That’s really hard to remember, I think, especially when you have a reception of 200 people and a lot of the guests are your parents friends etc. Thanks for sharing!

  5. When I was planning my wedding I initially was looking into destination weddings. I found out the package deals at the all-inclusive resorts in the carribean weren’t for me. (I didn’t want to risk an uninvited audience) To get everything I wanted it would have cost the same if not more than it would at home!
    We ended up getting married in the same province but out of town. I did a lot of diy projects to cut down the costs.

    • @Taylor- What do you mean by uninvited audience? =) Are you referring to other guests staying at the all inclusive resort not part of your wedding? Getting married in the same province but out of town is a good compromise- I just went to Kelowna last weekend and BOY is it gorgeous. I wouldn’t mind getting married there- it’s like a mini-destination wedding. Just 4 hours away from Vancouver.

  6. @Y&T – I got lucky with my wife :) I’m no Brian Austin Texas whatever his name is….

    We had 18 people at our wedding including the happy couple, close friends and immediate family.

    I think the important thing to remember, you’re getting married for you; you always have the option with whom you want to share your experience with.

  7. Hi Y&T:

    Just a heads-up for your eventual wedding day: I know certain cultures give money at weddings instead of dishes or towels, but be aware that ASKING for money is just tacky.


    • @meadow- Thanks for commenting. I should have mentioned that my friend who did have a wedding that got pretty much paid off was from a culture that gave money at weddings rather than dishes or towels. =) Thanks for pointing that out!

    • @Financial Samurai- Did you do a destination wedding? =) Hmm sounds more and more enticing for PRO destination wedding!

  8. We married at home for less than 5000$. We enlisted family to help with everything and did a lot ourselves. We invited 300 and had about 100 show up (many were family from away). We received over 2000$ in cash, which covered our expenses since members of the family had chipped in for the majority of the wedding costs as their gifts.

    • @Melanie Reformed Spender- (Like the name by the way!) Wow, that is great! You spent only $3000 on your wedding in total- not bad at all! I think that’s what a wedding should be- people shouldn’t go into serious debt because of one day. I think I would probably get married in my boyfriend’s back yard too to cut down on the costs. Thanks for sharing Melanie!

  9. My wedding budget was $2000 but ended up being $3000. However, after the cash gifts we actually spent under $100. We had around 100 people at our wedding. It was my second marriage, and his second marriage… to each other!

    • @Mrs. Accountability- Thanks for sharing! Your wedding budget was quite low too (esp. after the cash gifts). That’s like $1 a person!! You can’t even get a McDonalds Cheeseburger for that price lol.

    • @Financial Samurai- Wow, you fail to disappoint me. Chose a destination wedding, but made it a family property so it was even cheaper than a traditional wedding (or free). Sounds like the best of both worlds, really!

    • @Financial Samurai- I’m too young! Not ready! commitmentphobe! =) Just another year or two. Don’t want to steal the thunder of all my friends who are going to get married first. Still want to travel a bit more (bf doesn’t like my style of traveling). =P

  10. Really disliked this line: “Those who really love you will travel for you- you can weed out the people who would just come because they feel guilty if they don’t attend the local wedding.” Unless you’re offering to foot the bill, I don’t think it’s fair to expect good friends to pay $1000+ to attend your wedding. Several of my friends have chosen destination weddings and were then hurt when close friends chose not to come for financial reasons. A few handled it gracefully, but it’s hurt several friendships in my circle.

    • @Dawn- Thanks for letting me know about that statement I made. That did sound quite harsh. I agree with you, a lot of my friends were unable to attend another friend’s destination wedding due to financial reasons too, and it can cause undue stress when your good friends aren’t able to make it to your wedding.

    • I have no idea how old this is, but I’m going to reply anyway. I think it’s quite reasonable, actually, to ask your close friends and family to spend $1000+ on a destination wedding. First off, your wedding will be ONE day. The rest will be (or at least CAN be) their own personal vacation. And if there’s significant amount of notice, say 1 year, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put aside $80-$100 a month to go towards the destination wedding. Plus, that’s a lot of time to inform your employer and see if you’ll be able to take those vacation days.

      I’m seriously considering a destination wedding, but I’m just afraid that I’m more traditional that I like to think I am and will regret not having my wedding at home. Fiancé and I are going to a destination wedding in a week (we managed to put away enough money and get the time off work with 6 months notice, by the way and we’re both in the military) so we’re going to see what it’s like, and base our decision on this experience.

      • Have you made a decision yet on whether a destination wedding is for you? My significant other is also in the military and I will graduate with a lot of student debt. A destination wedding does sound ideal to keep the wedding cost/size down but I too wonder if I’d regret it since I never considered it before our partificular circumstances.

        Thanks in advance :)

  11. I’ve always considered being invited to a destination wedding a kind of ‘oblication’ — not a vacation because I didn’t pick where to go or when, but an obligation to go and spend money on travel etc that maybe I can’t swing, especially if I have a wife and children.

    • @Geoff- I 100% agree. It’s obligation to use up your vacation time, money…etc. I’m not a big fan either… but guess we gotta suck it up and do it for our loved ones!

  12. Nowadays, we need to be practical especially that most of the good’s price are getting higher and higher. Well, I go for the cheaper one and for me I think it would be the destination wedding. There are a lot of places in the US that are convenient to stay and party ready, where you won’t spend thousands of dollars. Plan your wedding one year ahead so that you can calculate the approximate amount that you will be spending.

  13. “My boyfriend and I were discussing what we would like to do in the future, and we were going back and forth between the romantic allure and cheaper destination wedding, or the idea of a traditional wedding where we can invite more of our friends and family to attend.”

    My suggestion is that you’d better choose the traditional wedding. A wedding is your way of announcing to the whole world that you are getting marriedto the one you love. You can invite all your friends, family members, and other people that are close to both of you. It means you want to share your most memorable day to these special people.

    Lilia Schroer

    • @Lila Schroer- Thanks for sharing your opinion Lilia- I have been thinking about it and I do like the idea of a traditional wedding- I want my friends and family to be able to come and I don’t want to burden them with the cost of attending my wedding. I am currently going to BF’s sisters wedding and it’s going to cost me $900 probably AND I’ll have to give her a gift (I think it would be rude not to since she probably expects some sort of gift).

  14. I can not decide whether to have a destination wedding or a traditional wedding. My family is split…which makes it even harder. I want to have our honeymoon on a beach with beautiful water. But I think its odd to go somewhere else for a wedding and then go to a beach for the honeymoon. Should hit 2 birds with 1 stone! Part of me wants to go away! I think it would be alot of fun…just afraid some of the people I want to be there, won’t come. Part of me says, just do a traditional wedding…I just don’t want to spend alot of money. We are going to be married whether we spend 3,000 or 10,000. Part of my family is not making this easy with who shall walk me down the isle. That doesn’t help either. I also, have a feeling that he and I are going to have to pay for the majority of our wedding. He has been married before, I have not. I want to get this planned so I can tell people, this is when and where we are getting married. It shouldn’t be this stressful. Just to many choices/decisions. Someone please help. Im open for suggestions.

    • @All About Him- Sorry to hear you’re having trouble- a wedding can be so stressful even though its supposed to be the “day of your life”. You just need to do what you think is right for both of you. One way you can decrease the cost of an at home wedding is to ask for $ as gifts instead of actual gifts you wont’ use. It’s not really considered tacky anymore and this can really cut the cost. The beach for the honeymoon is a great idea- a lot of people do that, you just want to make sure you get time to spend outside.

      As a person who has been to one destination wedding and is frantically trying to go to the second one in February, I must say I think I prefer at home weddings!! Destination weddings are stressful!!

      • I just recently attended a wedding where the gift registry was very nicely worded. They said “Seeing as we are a later in life married-to-be couple (they are in their late 20’s and early 30’s) we have many of the items we already need to have a nice start as a married couple. We would appreciate monetary gifts or gift cards to help offset the next few years as we begin to build our new home, and start a family…” It was not tacky and after talking to the couple they received enough to cover the cost of the wedding and then some.

  15. My boyfriend and I have been throwing around the idea of destination vs traditional and we’ve come up to a compromise. He feels like traditional is the way because his circle of guests quite exceeds mine (he would need to invite over 200 and I could keep mine under 100) but I like destination because my love of travel and wanting a more intimate wedding of under 50. So we have thought about doing a destination wedding and a traditional at home ceremony a few months later. We plan to send out a mixed invite. We are inviting everyone (300+ people) to the destination wedding with an advanced RSVP date but making sure that they know there will be a reception held a few months later (with a later RSVP date) that they can also attend if they choose. We know that some may come to both and that there would be a bit of an extra cost to us, and the stress of an extra reception to be thrown, however we feel that a) no gets offended or obligated to come to the ceremony b) we get to celebrate with everyone and c)we both get what we want. If I hire a planner to do one, and ask for friends and family to help with the at home reception, cost wont be to bad and I can wear two dresses!!!!

  16. Enjoyed reading your blog as well as the posts. My daughter is struggling with this decision now. She had booked a venue and they were on their way to a local city wedding. However, seems the costs keep creeping up over their $15k budget. note this is for venue, food, flowers, dress, etc…however, destination weddings are a hassle to plan. To try to decide where you will go without seeing it in person is scary. Some of the planner websites look frankly, scammy. Having it at a resort, while probably less risky, forces you to share your day with other beach goers. This can be a distraction I bet (although if you choose a later sunset ceremony that would be at a minimum). My daughter is thinking of renting a large private villa with nearby hotel for a more private wedding experience. Guests would still be charged to stay there. But now we are talking about needing to hire a professional planner to handle all of the out of town details. Being a hands on girl, I do not know about it being less stressful! But privacy is a priority for them and I imagine it can be done for less than $8000. I hope.

  17. Destination weddings. The most selfish choice you can make. We were not able to go to my brother in laws wedding. We couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars it would have cost for my kids and I to go. He wasnt happy with us but what can you do? No one has to throw themselves a wedding with a full meal. I got married 15 years ago and my dress wasn’t thousands if dollars either. The wedding industrial complex has sold you a bill of goods and the sheeple are buyinh

    • Is it still selfish if you don’t expect everyone to come Karen? For example if your brother in law had sat down with you and simply said, “Hey I understand your position, we’ll come over for supper after we get back.” Would you still have been offended? At the end of the day isn’t it the bride and groom’s day/decision?

  18. My fiancé and I are planning a destination wedding. We’ve both been to them as well. We both love the fact that only our closest friends and family will come. We love that it’ll be a vacation for our friends. We will definitely ensure costs are kept to a minimum for our guests as well and we don’t expect gifts. A friend of mine is getting married 3 months before us and is doing the traditional thing. She has complained about me doing a destination as she doesn’t want to have to spend money to come to my wedding. The way my fiancé and I see it is this: A traditional wedding in fact does cost the guest quite a bit when you add it all up. For instance, my friend, is having hers a few hours out of town so a hotel is required. So costs include: bridesmaid gown (which I might add is costing me MORE than my wedding gown), shoes, makeup and hair, bachelorette and bachelor parties, wedding shower, hotel for night of wedding, gift, transportation to and from wedding, etc. It all adds up! So, in fact, I will be spending just as much(if not more) than she will be AND she gets a vacation on a beautiful beach. We will not be upset or hurt if some people honestly can’t afford it, and we have told everyone we are inviting the same. It should be a decision up to the Bride and Groom and nobody else. If people have a problem with where you choose to wed, it’s their problem. Might sound a bit harsh, but it is your (MY) day!

    • YES!!! YES!!! Thank you so much for that vote of confidence Mandy. I feel exactly the same way and have had precisely the same experiences. We decided to buy our wedding party their relatively cheap attire as a thank you for coming, so the only costs they have (which admittedly is substantial) is the cost of the vacation itself. I figure we can do a toned down “bachelor’s party” on the resort’s dime since it’s all inclusive!

  19. Hi everyone! I’m planning a destination wedding probably in Sept 2016, any tips/advice for a girl that’s her first time planning one??
    I have a HUGE family, so my bf & I are planning to have a small, intimate wedding with a guest of 50 or under and have a a party when we come back after the wedding destination! We are thinking of Mexico! I’ve only been to Los Cabos, just wondering if there’s any other part of Mexico that’s a good place for destination wedding?!
    Please help a girl out! Thanks! :)

    • Hey Jenny, just got back from Mexico and it was fabulous. We were at the Dreams resort in Puerto Aventuras and had an unbelievable time. We loved the whole Rivera tbh, and we thought it gave our guests great value for what it cost. We were in the exact same position as you (big family) and really enjoyed the small intimate group that made it out there. Overall, we’d recommend the destination wedding experience to anyone.

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