Part Two: Destination Wedding Planning Timelines [MONEY EDITION]


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Part Two: Destination Wedding Planning Timelines [MONEY EDITION]

November 9, 2018

Destination Wedding Budget – Let’s talk MONEY!!

Money, Money, Money, Money, Money, Money, Money, Money, MON-AYYY!

BEFORE We even dive in, can we tell you about something really cool that we created? Not only is their pages & pages of budget advise, tips, and a spreadsheet – there is also a link so you can download and edit your own budget form online. We trust you’ll love it as much as we do!

This post was originally published in 2019 but has been updated in 2023.

[Let me get the disclaimer out if the way first because it is always more important when there is money involved – this post, like all my posts, are geared toward couples flying from Canadian cities, with Canadian tour operators like WestJet, Sunwing, Transat and Air Canada, and getting married at an all inclusive resort in Mexico and the Caribbean. Always, always, always, especially where money I’m concerned, verify this information with your travel agent, wedding planner and the resort!]

I know you guys love when I talk about money, so I’m just going to dive right in. If you didn’t check out part one, please check it out here – I talk all about choosing a resort and travel agent you love. I really do think it’s an important first step. I actually debated making this money talk the first step, but in my experience I find that most couples don’t really know what to expect in terms of budget. So when I ask them for their budget during the consultation process, a lot of people say, “I have no idea.” Obviously, what you can afford doesn’t change, but if you have no idea what to budget for a destination wedding, it makes impossible.

Lets Talk Averages

Right now, the average destination wedding travel package out of Canada is $1,850 per person based on double occupancy. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend that much. You can spend less if you go to a budget-friendly resort during low season, and you can spend way more than that if you go to a luxury resort during high season. In general, the gap in price is smaller during low season. In low season, you might even be able to get a very nice five-star resort for closer to $1,850/person, whereas in high season it might be hard to find a five-star under $2,000 or even $2,500 for a true five-star. That just gives you an idea on what to expect for travel. This is an average out of Canada so keep in mind that out of Toronto is cheaper, and out of Winnipeg is higher. Sorry, Winnipeg.

Why is it so high? I went to Mexico for $1200 before..

I get asked this a lot so I am just going to address this right away. If you are used to booking last minute, the price of a group package probably seems high. This is for a couple reasons: 1) You are usually purchasing whatever resort is “on sale” and 2) You don’t have a specific resort in mind when you are looking. Group Pricing is a discount from “regular price” but it won’t be as competitive as a last minute price. That being said, most tour operators offer price drop guarantees for the group! Usually if the price drops MORE THAN 60 DAYS before take off, they will lower the price for the entire group. I always love when this happens!

My Own Budget Experience

Here’s a quick thought about my own personal experience. Let me just get this out of the way – I am not a “monthly budget” kind of girl. I was so stuck on a number for my guests travel budget, and I would NOT go over it. That’s how I ended up choosing the resort that I ended up getting married at. I would never say that I regret that decision because I truly loved the resort, I wrote about Sandos Caracol Eco Resort here and truly do love it, although I do wish I had been educated on what just a little bit more would get me. Again, I’m still not sure if I would have changed my mind, but it would have been nice to compare. I love to do my research!

destination wedding information online - bride on beach

Information Online

I talked a little bit about this in part one, but I think education is so important, especially nowadays. Some travel agents, and I’m not knocking them, truly believe that they know what’s best (and they do) but what I’m finding is if I don’t provide my couples enough information, they just look for it online. Facebook groups are the worst! I know they can be helpful and I will probably right a whole post about it someday, but all I am going to say is: don’t believe everything you read on Facebook. Personally, I try my best to educate my clients because it’s something that I truly felt like I was missing out of my destination wedding planning experience. Some people just want to go to an expert and trust everything they say, and that’s fine, too. In fact, I wish I was a little bit more like that, because truly travel agents really do know what they’re talking about.

What I would rather you do (than hop online for all the answers) is that we (or the travel agent you are working with) have an open conversation about money, about questions that you have about the resort or destinations that I’m suggesting, and then we can find the best options for you. There’s so much mixed information online. Worse, often times people will remember hearing about something but they won’t remember the source, and this has led to so many miscommunications, and I just don’t want that for anyone.

The Timeline

Of course, this whole series is about timelines, so I’m going to start by talking about the timeline of when you have to spend your hard-earned cash. Here is a quick recap before a dive deep. These are the big expenses, keep scrolling for the surprise expenses and a few other little things you want to make sure are included in your Destination Wedding Budget.

  1. You Hire a Wedding Planner and/or Travel Agent: they may require a deposit or fee.
  2. You decide whether or not to go on the pre-wedding trip (terms and conditions apply).
  3. Once you decide on a resort and travel package, you need to place both of those deposits. On AVERAGE, the travel deposit is $250 per person – so $500 for you and your fiancé. This is in Canadian dollars! The resort deposit is a bigger range but generally falls between $300USD – $1000USD. This secures they save the date and your wedding venue of choice (if the resort offers more than one option).
  4. Other Big Deposits: Your Photographer and Dress
  5. Your Final Payment for Travel
  6. Collect Your Incentive
  7. Your Final Payment at the Resort
destination wedding centrepiece

Step 1: The Travel Agent You Hire

The very first time you might need to part with cash is when you choose your travel agent or wedding planner. More and more travel agents are starting to require a plan-to-go fee or a deposit for their time. Please make sure to clarify with your travel agent whether or not this amount will get applied to your final payment or not. Neither is good or bad. I don’t blame travel agents for wanting to charge a fee for their time.

As of right now I don’t, but that is because I honestly feel like I attract a clientele that likes to educate themselves before they ever reach out. Most couple are reaching out to me after they have already done a lot of research themselves. I usually don’t feel like they’re shopping around on travel agents when they reach out to me. I always feel like they’ve already done a lot of research and they’ve decided on me before they even say hello.

Travel agents work on commission though, so it can be frustrating to have couples reach out to several different travel agents just for the sake of trying to get the best price. We all get the same price.

Step 1.1: The Wedding Planner You Hire

Depending on where you’re getting married and how complex you want the wedding plans to be, you may choose to hire a local wedding planner on top of the on-site coordinator included in your wedding package. I offer different packages, depending on the level of service you are looking for. It is not even really the “level of service” either, because I am going to give you my best no matter what. Most of the time people choose my free package because they’ve decided that they want to take on the responsibility and control of dealing directly with the on-site wedding coordinator. Or, they have hired a local wedding planner because they want to keep the travel plans and wedding plans separately – no hard feelings here 🙂 I work well with other wedding planners 🙂

I don’t want you to be scared to do this either, because the on-site wedding coordinators are good, especially if we’re booking at one of the resorts that I’ve recommended. They also do this all day every day, so they are well-versed in what you want and they want to make you happy. They are highly motivated, and they’re good at what they do. That’s why they have this job. Trust me, nobody in the wedding business is doing it for any reason other than the fact that they love it.

*Everyone’s wedding planner is different so I am not including a final payment time for this step. If you are working with me in a package other than my FREE option, the final payment will be due at final payment time for the travel*

airplane window

Step 2: Are You Going On a Pre-Wedding Trip?

Generally, resorts have promotions where they’ll offer you a discounted rate to come check out the resort for a couple days. It doesn’t always make sense from Canada because it tends to be two-day trips, but you definitely can look into that with your travel agent, and I would be happy to help if you’re working with me. Sometimes when you look at your wedding venues online, it can be hard to envision it. But in person, you will almost certainly be wowed. This is why they give you the discount – they know seeing is believing!

One thing to note: Because too many people have taken advantage of these promotions, it usually is that you pay full price for the two nights, and then you get a discount toward the wedding package when you save the date. This is just to make sure that you’re serious about choosing their venue. The reason resorts offer this is because they believe in their resort and their product. They know you’re going to book once you see it. If you’ve stayed at any resort before, you probably already know once you’re there, you love it. Before you get there, you might go crazy reading reviews, but once you get there, all is well.

One of the reasons I love working with couples and guests that have never even traveled to all-inclusives because even though they can be a little bit nervous at first, I just feel 100% confident that they are going to have their lives changed. They are going to love it. Think about it, when you read a trip advisor review, the 3-4 star ratings are always from people who have stayed at MANY resorts before. Always!

Step 3: Save your Date at the Resort and Secure Your Travel Contract

After you go on your pre-wedding trip or after you decide on a resort in general, you are going to need to secure a travel contract. This usually requires a deposit of $250 per person for you and your fiance ($500 total). This gets paid directly to the tour operator, whether you booked your group package with Sunway, Transat, Air Canada, or WestJet.

At the same time, you also need to place your deposit with the resort. Your travel agent will probably help you with this. This deposit to save the date can range anywhere between $300 USD to $1,000 USD depending on the resort. What this deposit does is basically guarantees that they save your venue for your wedding date. So if you want to get married on the beach and have the reception at the rooftop, there won’t be another wedding there at that time.

Although this is becoming less and less, some resorts still do only offer one wedding per day. If your resort does, this would save all the locations for your wedding day, which is pretty amazing. Sometimes, not too often, but occasionally you might get to the resort and realize that you would prefer another venue. You can usually switch as long as the other venue is not booked, but, of course, it depends on the resort and we can never guarantee this.

Step 4: The “Other” Deposits

After you have placed your resort and travel deposit, the next big expenses are going to be your photographer and your dress. Both are going to require their own deposit, and your dress may or may not be required to be paid for in full.

Both your photographer and your dress – you are not going to want to procrastinate. I wrote all about my own wedding dress experience here if you’re interested, but basically wedding dresses can take up to 12 months to order, and don’t forget to factor in time for alterations. Please do not procrastinate this too long.

The same goes for photographers, especially if you have someone specific in mind. Many photographers do book up to two years in advance, so if you have a specific date already or if you already know what photographer you want before you save the date, double check that they’re available. If you’re going to use the resort photographer, most resort photographers are bigger companies, so you can reserve your spot closer to the date, because they will likely have somebody available. But if you do have someone specific you want in mind or you just want to have lots of options, the sooner, the better. I wrote a whole post on choosing a photographer here so I won’t expand too much now.

*I am not going to include a step for the final payment of these two because everyone’s situation will be different*


Step 5: Your Final Payment for Travel

After all the deposits are out of the way, the next biggest expense will be the final travel payment. Hopefully there is a bit of a gap between your deposits and this! Your final payment for travel is typically due between 60 to 90 days before you take off. If you booked under an EBB, otherwise known as a early booking bonus, they may require you to pay your trip off sooner or offer an additional incentive to pay it off sooner.

Basically, if you have a early booking bonus applied, you might have your final payment due five months before takeoff, but if you are really stuck and need to extend it, they might let you. If you need to extend the final payment time until the 60-90 days before take off (usually not past this!), you’ll lose the early-booking bonus, so you will pay a little bit more for your trip to pay your final payment closer to the date. You can ask your travel agent about options if you think you might need the extra time.

If you have booked one of my packages, your payment for the wedding planning services will be due at this time as well! 

Step 6: Collect Your Incentive

Okay, this is a bit of an accidental tease because for this, I can’t really talk about too much here. I would love for you to reach out, especially if we’re working together (well, if we’re working together, you probably already know about this) but if you’re thinking about working with me, I’m happy to go into more detail. The reason I can’t talk about this is because every travel agent and company does this a little bit differently.

Basically, there is almost always an incentive to book your group. Most of the couples I work with end up getting a refund to help them with wedding expenses, helping pay for guests travel or their own travel, whatever they want. You may also see promotions like “bride and groom go free”. This all ends up being basically the same promotion packaged in different ways. It’s a little more complicated and each group is different, which is why I’m just going to talk about it very vaguely here, but basically what I’m going to say is that you may receive a refund between four to six weeks before the wedding. I don’t want to be vague, but I also don’t want to get myself in trouble here. Feel free to contact me and ask me anything. I’m an open book.

Step 7: Your Final Payment at the Resort

The last major expense is the final resort payment, and this usually happens when you arrive at the resort. Typically when you arrive at the resort, you will set up a meeting with the on-site wedding coordinator if you haven’t already. This meeting usually lasts about two hours, and it covers everything. It finalizes all the wedding plans, and you typically make your final payment at this time. It is amazing how much gets done in those two hours, trust me.

That being said, more and more resorts are requiring partial payments throughout the destination wedding planning timeline. Some resorts require full payment one month in advance as well. Please make sure you know the policy at your specific resort!

bridal bouquet and extra decor

Other Expenses To Add To Your Destination Wedding Budget

Other Parties! You might want to put money aside for an engagement party if you plan on having one. For your bachelor/bachelorette party, typically, if you are having a local bachelor/bachelorette party, your bridal party will pay for it. If you’re having a destination party, typically brides and grooms have to contribute to these as they are more expensive. You may also want to have a big party when you get back – an AHR or At Home Reception – to party with people who can’t attend. This is another expense you may want to budget it – although I talk more about At Home Receptions in Part Three.

You also may want to budget in welcome bags, favors, décor, money to bring down the extra décor (extra baggage) or to ship it ahead of time. For the most part, I am not really sure if you save money bringing everything down with you but if personalization is important or you have a specific look in mind, it may be your only option.

Group Excursions

So if you’re looking for a group excursion, depending on the type of excursion, you can expect to pay about $50 to $150 US per person. One of my favorite group excursions is a sunset catamaran. It makes for a perfect farewell dinner or welcome cocktails. It’s a really unique experience, so if this is something that you’re looking for, it can be really special. Definitely don’t feel obligated to book a group excursion but if it is something you can budget for, you won’t regret it.

When you have a destination wedding, I just truly believe that you should take care of your guests and show them how grateful you are. Whether that means booking a group excursion or simply sending a thank you card. I never want anyone to spend more money than they want, or than they have. I know a lot of brides and grooms are choosing a destination wedding to save money, so I never want to push them outside of their comfort zone. As a destination bride I remember all the costs adding up and it was a bit stressful. I think that’s probably true for any wedding!

Outside Vendor Fees

Let’s talk outside vendor fees now. They are literally the bane of my existence. An outside vendor fee is typically $300USD to $1000USD per outside vendor. So if you’re planning on bringing an outside photographer, outside DJ or outside make-up artist onto the resort, you can expect to pay this fee. One fee per vendor. The only way to get around this fee is to have the vendor stay at the resort with you (usually for a minimum of three or more nights) depending on the resort. I talk more about outside vendor fees in my photography post here.

wedding budget

Setting Your Wedding Budget

Wow! If you have made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. This is easily my longest post ever but I have a lot to say! And yes, we are JUST NOW getting to setting the actual budget (educate first, decide second). Earlier, I talked about the average travel budget being $1850CAD. I now want to move on and say the average wedding planning expense is $10,000 (including travel).

That $10,000 needs to include the wedding package, any extras, photography, the dress, and the travel and any more. So this might seem like a lot or it might seem like a little to you. Keep in mind destination weddings are cheaper than local weddings, but they are still weddings, and so costs can. end up adding up, unfortunately. I wish it were free, too.

The Truth about Free Wedding Packages

Because I know you might see them advertised, let me just say – they are very seldom free. Usually, a free package includes a ceremony (a simple arch, no décor, 10 chairs for up to 10 people, and the reception involves dinner at a restaurant that’s already included in your resort experience). Usually, if you start with a free package, you will end up spending so much money on extras that it is not worth it, unless you have a very small guest list and really, really don’t want anything extra. Most people will end up going with one of the other packages that they offer.

My Money Saving Tips

Here is a little tip when it comes to choosing a resort wedding package. If you are debating between two of the packages, choose the higher one. Here’s why: I don’t want you to spend any more than you have to, but the extras at resorts can be ridiculous. I swear it’s how they make a majority of their money. Sometimes the package seems so reasonable and then the extras are exorbitant. Please consider choosing the higher package of the two!

It doesn’t mean you have to choose the biggest package. Sometimes resorts have five different packages and you might be happy with the second or third one. That’s fine. I’m just saying if you are debating between two packages, you’re probably going to want to choose the higher package because adding the little extras that you consider must-haves onto the second package will probably end up costing you more overall. At least in my experience, this has been true almost every time.

Another little tip that may or may not work for you: Sometimes if you send the resort coordinator a photo of what you’re looking at for décor, the resort will quote you a solid price, and this price tends to be cheaper than if you ask for all of the elements individually. They give you a package rate if you’re buying multiple décor items, but of course if they don’t know that you’re going to be buying multiple décor items, it’s harder for them to give you a discount. I always recommend using photos when communicating with on-site wedding coordinators as a way of preventing any possible language barrier anyway!

semi-private wedding restaurant reception

A Private or Restaurant Reception

In my post (Part One), I talked about how most packages only include up to 25 to 30 people. You may plan on expecting more than that. To give you an idea of cost, if your package includes a restaurant reception, you can expect to pay anywhere between $25 to $50 US per person on top of what the package already includes. If you’re having a private reception, that means your reception is going to take place on the beach or on the rooftop or another venue they have, and you’re having a private dinner, private bar, private dance, etc., you can expect to pay closer to $75 to $100 US per person for guests on top of what is included in the package.

The difference between a private reception and a restaurant reception is huge, but so is the experience. I find most people want to upgrade to a private reception, which is why I want to really emphasize the cost so you’re not surprised when it comes to budgeting. If you have a restaurant reception, keep in mind your options for decor may be minimal. You will also not be able to have toasts or a dance! Typical “reception” things you might want! Or might not, again no judgement here!

If it is all inclusive. why are receptions so much money?

Great question, and I get asked this all the time. Basically, it comes down to staff and setup. So they’re paying staff, they’re paying additional servers, they’re paying additional bartenders, they’re setting up tables, chairs, décor for you, they’re setting up your own private bar. Trust me, they are doing a lot on top of your all-inclusive experience, which is why there’s a charge. I know it can feel so expensive.

Should You Keep the Party Going?

Do you want to extend your private  reception? The typical wedding package includes a wedding reception for three hours. Lots of time, three hours is hardly enough, so you may want to extend it. The cost to extend is usually $15 US per person per hour.

Let me just walk you through a wedding day really quickly to give you context. Typically, the ceremony starts at about 4:00 or 5:00. It’s cooler at that time, so it’s more appealing. Usually, there’s an hour in between the ceremony and reception. So typically the reception is going to start at 6:00 or 7:00. If your reception goes between 6:00-9:00 or 7:00-10:00, you probably are going to want to extend it to 11:00. I’m speaking from personal experience here! There is nowhere to go if you want to keep the party going because most discos open at 11:00.

Here’s a mistake that I made. I thought it would be fine to have the reception end at 10:00, because, let’s be honest, $15 per person per hour really adds up. I was trying to save money. Can’t we all just kill time between 10:00 and 11:00? I thought if people were still hungry, they could grab a bite to eat or freshen up in between – whatever!  The reality is it really killed the vibe. When we met back at the disco at 11pm, people were already kind of tired. Especially Me It’s not a decision I would make again. Again, everybody is different, but I just like to give you all the information I can.

Final Thoughts

Okay, I have covered a lot here so I just want to finish with one last thought.  Whatever budget you have, we will make the most of it! Your wedding will be beautiful. Partly because you are in love and that is a beautiful thing. And partly because, the location will be beautiful. Seriously, I don’t think I love anything more than the beach. I know there is a lot of information here, but I am really trying to help NOT overwhelm you. And really remember, I am here to help! Please feel free to contact me anytime ❤️ Head to my about page to learn more about me. Or, take a look at my services menu.

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