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How much should you gift give at a destination wedding? What is the etiquette? If you were a bridesmaid? If you were a guest and your accommodation is paid for?

I am heading to a destination wedding in a few weeks and thought it would be appropriate to discuss the topic of gift giving at destination weddings, and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Previously, I wrote an article comparing the cost of destination weddings to traditional “at home” weddings, and I discussed which type of wedding might be cheaper.  Well, thought I would take on the guests’ perspective this time since I am a guest at a destination wedding (WILL BE TWICE this year! OMG).

No doubt about it, attending destination weddings are friggin’ expensive.

It is traditional thought to give a gift or money (in a card, how classy!) to cover the bride and groom’s expenses.  For example, if it was a traditional local wedding, you would give a gift on the registry or give a monetary gift to cover the cost of your ‘portion’ at the reception and the delicious food you will eat, and a little more.

But for destination weddings where you will likely travel across the world to attend, what do you do?

I think that if the bride and groom are paying for your accommodation in any way, you should still provide a gift that will perhaps attempt to cover the cost of the accommodation.

If you are attending a destination wedding and you have to pay for the rooms yourself, you should still provide a gift, even if it’s small.

I know that you are probably already spending $1000 on the plane ticket and accommodation, but if you spend just an extra $50 for a gift, the bride and groom will appreciate it.  The bride and groom are probably stressed out as it is about paying for their exorbitant wedding and they could probably use a little help.  In addition, if you show up WITHOUT a gift and everyone else DOES, you will likely end up looking cheap.  The idea is to look frugal, yet classy.  Hopefully those two are not mutually exclusive LOL.

Now I need a little help from you

I’d love to hear your thoughts/ feedback on how much of a gift I should give to the two weddings I have coming up in the next year.

First Scenario: BF’s sister

The first, it is my boyfriend’s sister and I am not a bridesmaid (I don’t think she has any bridesmaids).  The wedding will be VERY small (like may fifteen people or less) and I gave money for the flight to Hawaii (woohoo! Hawaii!) but she is paying for the accommodation.  I’m not sure how much the accommodation will cost, but it sounds like it is a two bedroom suite in a hotel and I’ll be staying with my boyfriend’s parents and sisters.

How much do you think I should give in this case?  They don’t need any household items because they already live together, so I was going to give some money instead.

Here are my costs so far:

$500 for the airplane ticket

$5.50 for that new tax for Canadians heading into the US (hey guys, I thought we were friends??)  but I might not have to pay it if it doesn’t go into effect yet, LOL.

Second Scenario: Bridesmaid

She is my one of my really good friends and I was invited to be a bridesmaid for her wedding in Thailand.  I will be one of five bridesmaids.  She is paying for my room at this private villa where the wedding will be held (oh god, I have no idea how much that will cost).  This wedding sounds extravagant and it is going to be the party of the century (well, my century, I suppose).  There will be fireworks, there will be partying, and it will be epic.  Hopefully not Hangover 2 Epic (no fingers chopped off, thank you very much).

How much should I give in this case?  She seems to be doing well for herself and I don’t think money is much of an issue for her.  This will be the very first time I will be a bridesmaid and I’m pretty darned excited!  She already lives with her boyfriend and does not need any household goods.

Here are my costs so far for this trip:

$650 I used up my RBC Avion points so I could get a discounted flight to Thailand (it would normally cost me $1300)

Readers, what do you think? Have you attended a destination wedding recently?  If so, did you give a little somethin’ somethin’ as a gift as well?  Girls, any bridesmaid tips for me?

Article comments

Rachel says:

I just attended a wedding in which we had to travel and incurred expenses but it was my choice. I chose to attend and of course I gave a gift. If money is such an issue to some, simply don’t attend and send a gift to them. It was not inconvenient to ask for time off because again it was my choice to be there and I enjoyed having a holiday and spending the couple’s special day with them.

Sharon says:

I have my cousin’s wedding in which I’m a bridesmaid. The only thing she paid for is the dress, and it was $100. It’s at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, costing $500/night for myself, my husband, and my daughter. Airfare is almost $2000 as well. Between when she scheduled the rehearsal dinner and wedding, we have to stay 4 nights. In addition to all this we’re expected to participate in her bachelorette party, a spa day in NYC, dinner and a night out, and then a hotel also NYC. This wedding is costing a small fortune. What do I do for a gift? I understand my family is part of the expense, but I can’t go without them. My daughter WON’T have it. I’m already bailing on the spa day. I just don’t have the $. I’d never had agreed to this if I knew the details despite her being my MOH. She completely flaked and left me to get ready solo on my big day, but that’s a whole other novel. I’d love to skip the gift, but I know I can’t. What do I do for this gift? Any help is so so very appreciated.

Kyle says:

$500 per night?! Wow… not cheap! Sharon, as hard as it is, I would simply be honest and say “I just can’t afford it”. How long is there until the wedding? Unless it’s less than a month away, I think the least stressful option (admittedly, there are no really “easy” options) is to simply say you can’t afford the trip for all of the reasons you just described. You can get your friend a very nice gift for a fraction of the cost if it helps ease the burden. If you’re worried about money the entire time you’re there you won’t have a good time and you might end up really harming your friendship in the process. I’m sure the bride will be disappointed and maybe slightly upset at first, but she has so much to do and think about – by the time she gets back from the vacation/wedding I’m sure you’ll be forgiven. If you tell her that you have to put your family’s financial health first, and she hasn’t let things go after a couple of awkward months – is she really best friend material?

Amanda says:

When my soon to be husband I started to plan for our wedding we realized very quickly a local wedding for under $10,000 was going to be a challenge. We then choose a destination wedding to Mexico as it would accommodate our family members that lived from Nova Scotia to as far as BC.

With this decision we asked for no gifts from our guests. Reasons are:
1. Everyone is paying for themselves
2.Your given so much luggage weight, so should someone have bought you something, you may have to pay extra for going over your weight
3. There may be a chance once going through customs that without a receipt you may have to pay duty or not get that item upon leaving the airport. Which would have been a waste.

So all in all, to us our families attending is a gift in itself 🙂

Young says:

@Amanda- We asked for no gifts too (destination wedding) and a majority of our guests still gave a monetary gift! 🙁

K says:

I guess I was taken by surprise when I had to buy a ticket and pay for a hotel. While they did offer to pick me up from the airport (they are 3 hours drive), I realize they will have an insane amount of things to do before the wedding, so I said not to worry, and I’d rather have access to a car anyway.

I am type of person that plans things in advance. For example, when I acquired about a hotel (in an attempt to see if the second half of the offer was still on), my friend said not to worry, but then months later I was told to book a hotel. I guess wish it was not left to last moment, especially because I would spread out the expense. Plus if I knew I had to pay all myself from the very beginning, I would consult my husband if he is ok with me to be spending so much money (it is a bit for us, as we live in an expensive city), before committing to being a bridesmaid. Now it is all done and I’m committed no matter what and I’ll just forget all and move on. I thought of discussing this with my friend, but decided to take the high road, as I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship. I don’t know if she realized that her husband offered to pay for all at the beginning.

I don’t feel comfortable with showing up without a gift (though that was my first instinct, when I got mad 🙂 ), and I don’t think it is appropriate to give anything small in my case. So I guess I’ll just get the gift, and just do what needs to be done and move on 🙂 Definitely a lesson learned!

So if any bride-to-be reads this comment and they have similar setup, please be clear from the very beginning with your friends.

Kate says:

I am a bridesmaid at a friends wedding. She is not a very-very close friend, but we have very warm feelings towards each other and been good friends for almost 10 years. I’m going to her wedding in the States. Initially groom-to-be said they’d pay for my travel arrangements and my friend said not to worry about accommodation – they’ll figure something out. When the time came down to all, I had to buy my own ticket (which wasn’t cheap out of Canada) and I have to pay for my own accommodation in a small town for a few nights, which basically means no “specials”. As well as car rental/gas/etc. They did order my bridesmaid dress and paid for it. I am a married mom of two, soon to be three, and understandably spending over 1K for me to travel to a wedding is a bit different than if I was single (we could have put it towards a family activity or paid for a trip of our own or even bought some baby stuff), so what is the rule for that? To be quite honest I cannot afford a nice gift after all this, but want to give something good. I don’t want to be cheap, but it is what it is. What do you recommend? Should I buy something from the registry?

Kyle says:

That’s rough Kate. If it were me personally inviting you to my wedding (in this case, I never would have committed to paying and then backed out – but I digress) I would say you should absolutely be off the hook for any gift at all. Perhaps a small donation to a charity that is really personal to the couple (ask that the certificate not specify a dollar amount)? Some people aren’t fans of this idea, but we really liked it when a couple people “gave this” to us.

Curiousgeorge says:

What about if the bride and groom pay for my accommodations for three nights as well as some meals. What should I give?

Kyle says:

I think it truly depends on the people George. That is a very generous offer. You know what I might do if the couple had specifically not asked for money? I’d pay for the couple to enjoy some luxury. Maybe a spa, round of golf, maybe you cover their share on an excursion of some kind. Something that they will remember doing.

Pigzfly says:

While this is slightly off topic, I have a much stronger opinion on the subject than I used to! I was married in September.
I will from now on give cash, slightly in proportion to how much I have received from people in the past, how much I can afford and how close a friend I am.

One of the big reasons is that for things like registries (ie the Bay), there is a completion discount given to the couple. So, basically, if anyone buys off of your registery, you know they are paying more, which just feels wrong to me. Additionally, there are other offers available to registered couples.

That said, if you receive a gift of cash, in your thank you card tell people what you spent it on or put it toward! Tell me you spent it at the bar, bought china, saved for a downpayment, bought your kids winter clothes, blew it at the casino, filled your gas with gas, paid off part of your wedding, whatever, I just appreciate knowing.

I also second the part about writing a letter, they were much more appreciated than the million cute cards. Even $20 and a letter is really appreciated!

An exception to my new cash-only policy is cases where I can get a really good deal on something, or for my brother. Case in point, Kitchenaid stand mixers can be fantastic deals on amazon.com. So if my spouse and I are going to a non-destination wedding for the “right” people, I plan to try to purchase the stand mixers people want, for approx $225.

Destination Weddings and all Weddings – Please, do not take gifts to the wedding location! Drop them off at the house, parents, ship them, take to brunch, etc etc, but there is way too much going on to have to designate someone to load up a vehicle with gifts!

Sorry for the long post… I feel I have a lot more insight and (valid?) opinion than I used to!

Snob on a Budget says:

We live in London and were married in my home town of Philadelphia in May. My husband’s guests were from the UK. His family, parents’ friends and one of our friends gave gifts. The rest of our friends did not.
I know they spent a good deal of money coming to our wedding and do not judge them for not giving us a gift.

We are going to a wedding in the Bahamas in April of a good friend and plan to get the couple a gift.

Some of my favorite gifts from our wedding were not on our registry. Personalized bags in different sizes, including a insulated bag to take a picnic lunch, this gift also included a bottle of wine, paper plates, napkins, and Cranes note cards. I also received a very pretty serving tray at my shower and a baking tray with a basket with allows to to carry it to the table and set it down when it’s hot.

I think if you are creative you can get a nice gift without spending too much money. Shop sales, use coupons, and plan ahead.

Mikhaila says:

I like the idea of buying them an “experience” gift either at the destination or once they get home. Are you and your BF going in together on a gift for his sister, or is he doing his own thing with the family? I’m also of the belief that you should give what you can afford, and if that’s cash then put it in a card to give to them at the ceremony.

They both sound like they’re going to be fantastic weddings – hopefully you can find some time to enjoy the scenery while you’re in both places!

DH says:

We had a destination wedding in September and we honestly did not want a thing from anyone. It was a smallish wedding (50 people so few potential gifts) and we have enough ‘stuff’ collecting dust around the house as it is.

We had people asking where we were registered and we simply said that we dont want a thing – “your presence is your gift” is what we put on our invite website. Also, we didnt want to lug a bunch of things around with us in our honeymoon!

We did get a couple of gifts and a few envelops with gift cards – which was all very lovely – but we much preferred the wonderful letters that people wrote to us. We are not talking some Hallmark card but a genuine letter written with words of encouragement, inspiration and love – all very thoughtful and intended.

The money and gifts cards will come and go – the words, like our marriage, will last a lifetime.

If you still feel the need to put something in with your meaningful words, a gift card from a retailer that you know they would enjoy is much better then cash. Cash gets spent on gas or lunch, a gift card (for Mountain Equipment Coop [MEC], our personal favourite store) has more meaning as they will pick something out that they really enjoy and will seem more like a gift in the end. When we used our gift card we called our friend and thanked them for our new tent!


young says:

@DH- Awe, I like the thought of genuine letters written with words of encouragement and advice- sounds like you have some good family and friends supporting you. That’s a good idea 🙂 I already bought a Hallmark card but I am going to write something substantial in it. Great idea.

PS I love the idea of MEC gift cards too. I got a MEC gift card for my birthday earlier this year and I’m saving it up for something special! Im a huge fan of gift cards!

Goober says:

What you didn’t know about destination wedding….Destination weddings actual cost a fraction of organizing something local, in your neighborhood. The majority of resort hotels toss in much of the cost associated with hosting an event if you book your group rooms in their resort. Many couples pass on the expense of attending the event + hotel room costs to their guests. This is the most ecconomical way to host a wedding. Go south, a resort will organize your wedding for you.
Just show up in your best beach clothes, presto, married

young says:

@Goober- Hmm, you mean in Mexico? I can see it being like this in Mexico, maybe even in Thailand, but I don’t know about the Hawaii wedding. They are organizing everything by themselves.

Ron @ Besttravelcreditcard.us says:

Well, imo it depends alot on the type of people that are having the wedding. If the people being wed are pretty stringent and uptight then getting a $50 present may be necessary. It may be extravagant to pay all of that cash for a flight and then for a gift but the reality is that there are some people who just would be very offended without a physical gift. On the other hand, if the bride and groom are more laid back then you could probably suffice with something in the lower $20-$40 range.

young says:

@Ron- Thanks for your perspective! 🙂

I think destination weddings take the “business of weddings” to even lower heights, if that is possible. In my (minority) opinion, it is selfish of a couple to put this on their family and friends, and they deserve if no one shows up.

Now, if the couple foots the bill for all of the attendees’ expenses, I take all this back – but the reality is weddings, and especially destination weddings, just cause financial hardship and stress on all involved.

If I am invited, I politely decline and give a gift regardless.

young says:

@RossTaylorMoney- BTW I saw you in Money Sense!! Nice article 😉 and great move with your TFSA. Yeah, that’s a good point, but they are so close to me 🙂 I can’t NOT go. I do understand what you mean about causing financial hardship and stress (e.g. requesting vacation time etc.).

I personally have decided that a destination wedding is NOT for me because I don’t want to have people to come fly everywhere for me, but then again, who knows what will happen IF I get engaged LOL.

Martha says:

It sounds like a great time for both weddings.I suggest you purchase something for them that is in keeping with your own budget; don

I am total believer in cash gift and it’s what I prefer as well if/when I get married. I would hate to buy something for someone that may or may not like or may or may not find practical. When I do give gifts, I get stuff that I think serve a practical purpose. I think experience would be a gift idea as well. Since both of them are getting married outside of Canada, you could consider buying an ‘experience’ gift for them to enjoy once they return to Canada. Maybe a show, concern, sports game, wine tour, fitness challenge, cooking classes, stuff like that. There is a good selection in all different price ranges.

young says:

@That Thing Call Money- That’s a good idea too! I think the couple getting married in Hawaii would like this. I like the idea of cash gifts too. Sometimes getting toaster ovens etc. for people is kind of cheesy, unless they asked for it in a registry. Most people (well the ones I know) already live together before they got married so they don’t request “things” and instead cash is given. Which definitely helps offset the cost of the wedding.

Jewel of Toronto says:

A wedding gift is absolutely necessary but remember that it is a token of your best wishes for the couple; there is no relationship with the cost of the wedding, either to you or to the couple.

I suggest you purchase something for them that is in keeping with your own budget; don’t worry about their expectations or lifestyle.

When I got married we had people give us $200+ in cash and others bought us small kitchen items. The cash is long gone but I still remember my friends whenever I use my “wedding bowl” which probably cost about $30.

It really is the thought that counts.

young says:

@Jewel of Toronto- Awe, I really appreciate your comment and it makes a lot of sense. I guess this idea that you pay a little more than the cost of your dinner plate was from my friend who suggested I gift this specific amount based on how much the cost per head would be for the reception! LOL guess I’m getting wrong information. I’m going to really conjure up something sentimental we could give them. Maybe a nice photo frame for the couple getting married in Hawaii….I’m pretty sure she’ll appreciate that.

Jen says:

We had a destination-ish wedding (we’re local to Vancouver, were married in Tofino), and our guests, mostly from Vancouver, all had to travel and stay at least one night. They spent at least $400/couple on travel costs (room, ferry, fuel). Knowing how much they’d spend to share the day with us, we didn’t expect much in the way of gifts in addition to their travel costs. I think the average gift value was around $100, which seemed generous to me.

As for your friend’s Thai wedding, things in Thailand are ridiculously cheap compared to North America. We regularly stayed in beautiful guest-houses for $20CAD/night. The time we splurged on a 5-star hotel (the Davis Bangkok if you want to look it up) it was about $80CAD/night.

So if you’re of the mind that you need to pay for your “share” of a wedding (which I disagree with anyhow – like the previous commenter, I think you should give what you can afford) don’t get caught thinking you need to gift based on what these things would cost in North America.

young says:

@Jen- Hello fellow Vancouverite!! That is still quite generous, and what a nice gesture form all your friends and family 🙂 Tofino is such a beautiful place to get married 🙂 My friend disclosed to me how much her wedding is costing in Thailand and it’s pretty ridiculous considering its in Thailand. It costs about a bit more than the average wedding here in Canada! I think she’s going “all out” and really making it a day (or weekend) she will never forget. I appreciate the ball park range re: hotel costs, that really helps me determine my gift amount.

That is a tough situation.

Having been married and had some people not provide any gift. Even a small gift of money is appreciated.

In saying that, it depends on the couple and a destination wedding sounds exciting and expensive.

young says:

@CPF- Thanks Steve! I almost couldn’t recognize you there with your new blog LOL. Were you miffed that some people didn’t provide a gift?

I have never been to a destination wedding either but I think I would still get a gift. It doesn’t have to be big but I would feel weird not giving anything.

young says:

@Miss T- Happy to hear your input. When I was researching around/ speaking to people I know they all said that generally if you go to a destination wedding you shouldn’t give a gift, but I agree with you that it should still be done. It’s the thought that counts and I don’t want to be cheap 🙂

Wow, sounds like a great time for both weddings.
The first scenario, probably spend $50 on something small. I’m sure they don’t want to carry stuff back home. Or just send it to their house. Did they register?
2nd scenario. Awesome. Where in Thailand? I don’t know in this case, I haven’t been a bride maid either. 😀 See where the wedding is and research if there are any fun things to do there. You can buy an elephant ride, parasailing, bungy jumping, or other fun activities for them.

young says:

@retirebyforty- No, neither of them have a registry! 🙂 The Thailand wedding is in Phuket. LOL I was HOPING you could give me some tips from your bridesmaid experience! I have a feeling that my friend will be busy with other activities with Thailand. She’s such a jet setter that she has every minute in Thailand planned out. I think I’ll just stick with some money, perhaps in USD (since she will have no use for my lousy CDN dollars)

Eddie says:

Hi You!
Destination weddings are tough. I’ve never been the one to attend one, but did attend a few bachelor parites down south. We all paid our own way for 1 week all-inclusive.

When the wedding came, I still gifted cash in the enevelope. If it was me in this case, I would do it as well. Unless she is having another reception in Canada, than that is where I would give the gift.

At least start it off on the right foot, because she will be your future sister in-law. 🙂

Just my two cents.

young says:

@Eddie- I was hoping you would comment 🙂 I remember reading a post from you earlier this summer about the number of weddings you had to go to this year! 🙂 No, they’re both not having receptions in Canada. LOL WILL she be my future sister in law? Maybe I should clarify with BF LOL. Thanks, appreciate your input, Eddie 🙂

Good Cents Savings says:

Personally I think that the amount spent on the gift should be based more on the budget of the gift giver than on the cost of the wedding. I am sure that no couple would want people spending more on them than they could afford. If I am responsible for a lot of other wedding expenses (travel, showers, bachelorette parties, bridesmaid dress, etc.) I do take that into consideration and give a smaller gift.

I tend to give more to closer friends and family members, and have also taken into consideration the financial means of the couple. One summer when I attended five weddings and had to stick to a budget I spent more on the gifts for those who were just starting out and struggling a bit financially, and less to those having six figure celebrations where money was no object. Not sure what the etiquette books would say about that strategy, but it made sense to me.

As for bridesmaid tips – don’t be afraid to have finances be part of the discussion when planning showers, parties, etc. I have seen miscommunication and hurt feelings more than once over these events when there is a large discrepancy among the bridal party about how much to spend. One suggestion – divide up the duties rather than split all expenses. One bridesmaid might go all out on custom printed invites, and another might make homemade favors inexpensively, but everyone is getting to contribute without feeling obligated to spend money they don’t have.

young says:

@GCS- Good point. At first I was really leaning towards paying “for my share of the accommodation and a bit more” but I think I’m just going to give some money instead irrespective of how much it would cost. SIX FIGURE CELEBRATIONS!?!??!?! Are you kidding me? I agree with your strategy. For the wedding in Thailand, I know my friend is pretty financially set for life, so I don’t think I’ll have to pitch in too much there.

Thanks for the bridesmaid tip!! We’re making a photobook with all the memories from our younger days for her as we speak!