8 ways to cut honeymoon costs

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It doesn’t make much sense to weigh every dollar invested in your wedding if you’re going to spend like a sailor on the honeymoon. But with the wedding-related stress behind you, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to indulge your every whim, leaving you and your new spouse with a big fat credit card bill on your homecoming.

The average newly married couple spends $5,111 on their honeymoon trip, according to a Conde Nast Bridal Infobank survey. Favorite destinations include Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico, with more distant destinations such as Tahiti and Europe gaining in popularity, says Janet Hyman, regional vice president of Frosch Travel Duet in Deerfield, Ill.

Hyman stresses that it’s important for the couple to really think about what kind of trip they want before planning it.

“Figure out what activities you both enjoy and build those into the honeymoon,” she says. “It’s hard to plan a trip with lots of different types of activities.”

Like most events in life, careful planning will help you stretch your dollars to accommodate what you and your spouse most want to do on your honeymoon while avoiding the extra charges that can quickly suck up your cash. Start with an idea of how much you want to spend, because without a budget or some type of spending limit, costs can escalate quickly.

When planning your honeymoon, consider these cost-saving tips:

1. Book way ahead.The farther you plan in advance, the better deal you’ll get. Whether you purchase an all-in-one resort or cruise package or painstakingly put the pieces together yourself on the Internet, the earlier you start working, the better.

Booking early means a year or close to it; by even six months ahead of your trip, most of the deals evaporate. “The travel landscape has really shifted. A couple of years ago you could get a lot of bargains, but since last year, things have picked up and the planes and hotels are getting crowded,” says Alan Fields, co-author of “Bridal Bargains.”

Don’t count on cutting costs by using frequent-flier miles. The frequent-flier market has gotten so tight, Fields says, that you have to figure on booking a year in advance to get anything, even an upgrade to first class.

“I know that United, for example, opens their flights for booking at 2 a.m. 330 days in advance, so if you want a hope of using your miles, especially on a prime destination, it’s not a bad idea to stay up until 2 a.m. to try to book it.”

2. Or wait until the last minute.If you are flexible in your travel plans and can live with some uncertainty, there’s a lot to be said for booking travel at the last minute — say two weeks before the wedding. “These days, the cheapest travel is to be had either 10 to 11 months in advance or at the last minute,” says Fields. “Sign up for airline newsletters that advertise last-minute bargain fares and packages or visit travel Web sites for these types of deals.”

3. Decoupling your honeymoon from your wedding.Since most weddings are in the summer and planned without a lot of thought for saving money on the post-wedding trip, you may have to fork out a lot more dough to get where you want to go. “Consider taking a post-wedding weekend trip, then doing the longer trip in the off-season, when rates are lower,” says Leah Ingram, author of “The Complete Guide for the Anxious Bride.”

This idea of decoupling the honeymoon from the wedding may be particularly attractive to career-driven couples who might have a hard time taking time off from a busy office for the wedding as well as an extended honeymoon. “You don’t even have to wait that long,” Fields says. “If you get married in June, you can do the trip in September and save significantly, especially on popular destinations.”

4. Ask for freebies and barter for services.Everyone loves newlyweds, so take advantage of this nearly universal sentimentality by asking for discounts or freebies, suggests Ingram. If you tell your waiter that you’re on your honeymoon, you may get a free dessert or bottle of wine. Ask the desk clerk at the hotel where you’re staying for any free upgrades, as well.

Take this a step farther by thinking about what services you and your fiancee can offer that you can use to barter with a resort or hotel for a discount. “When I was planning my honeymoon, I was doing event photography,” Ingram says. “I contacted the resort where we had booked our stay and asked if they needed any photography services. I was able to negotiate a 25 percent discount off our room rate in exchange for doing some photography.”

5. Scout deals out in advance.If you’re set on an adventurous honeymoon, check out official tourism Web sites and travel guides for discount-minded travelers in advance, Fields recommends. Most tour companies have Web sites these days and many offer coupons, especially if you’re willing to commit to taking a tour on a less popular day such as Wednesday.

“Just remember, you can overschedule your honeymoon by packing in too many activities,” Fields says. “You really don’t have to do something every day. Extra tours and trips like snorkeling really add costs to your honeymoon, so be selective about the tours and special activities that you do commit to.”

6. Plan a destination wedding.Destination weddings, where couples invite their guests to their wedding at their honeymoon destination, are gaining in popularity. The travel industry is just waking up to the concept of destination weddings, Fields says, and there are some great deals to be had.

For example, you could add a wedding to a honeymoon in Aruba for an additional cost of $500 to $1,000, far below the cost of a traditional full-blown wedding, he says. Since it’s likely that far fewer guests will travel that far to attend the wedding, your costs for food, drink and other expenses will fall dramatically. Airlines are offering group discounts for parties of 10 to 15 or more traveling to destination weddings.

7. Consider a package or all-inclusive.If you’ve got enough on your hands planning the wedding, take advantage of package or all-inclusive trips. Many resorts offer packages that not only include meals, but also popular activities such as wind surfing or scuba diving.

Just make sure that you really want to take advantage of these opportunities, otherwise you’ll be paying for things that you won’t use, Ingram advises. Also, if you’re the type who gets bored eating dinner at the same place every night, you may end up paying for meals both at the resort and at off-resort restaurants, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

You can book such trips yourself on the Internet or through a travel agent. Ingram notes that when you use a travel agent you have a safety net if something goes wrong because they can help you out if you have a problem. Whichever route you choose, consider buying travel insurance in case your resort is flattened by a hurricane the day before you’re scheduled to arrive.

8. Cut back on the length of your trip.Couples who budget too tightly may be disappointed at the quality of their hotel, Hyman says. She recommends cutting down on the length of a trip, say from 10 days to seven days, and upgrading to a better hotel, rather than risk spending one of the most important trips of your life in a flea-bag.

Want even more money-saving tips? Consider these 10 ways to save on your wedding.