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It never ceases to amaze me when my clients ask me if they're responsible for paying for travel and accommodations for the entire wedding party, and sometimes some of the guests, just because they're having a destination wedding. The answer is a resounding NO.
If you live in Miami and attend a wedding as a guest or bridesmaid in Chicago, the bride and groom aren't expected to pick up your airfare or hotel expenses. Nobody ever pays for out-of-town guests as a matter of tradition or etiquette. Choosing to have a destination wedding does not change the rules. It simply levels the playing field for your guests. Everybody has to travel and everybody has expenses.
You are actually probably doing far more for your guests at a destination wedding than most brides and grooms do for wedding guests at home. Traditionally, only the wedding party, family, and out-of-town guests are invited to the rehearsal dinner. At a destination wedding, everybody is from out of town, and everybody is invited to attend everything (with the exception, perhaps, of something like a bridesmaids' luncheon).
Most destination wedding couples have some kind of welcome event where they feed or water their guests (or both). Most have some sort of rehearsal dinner event, although it might be a beach party or picnic depending on the destination, instead of a traditional formal sit-down affair. And then of course, there's the wedding reception where your guests will be fed and fed and fed, and finish up with cake and other sweets. Lots of destination brides and grooms opt to host a farewell brunch the morning after the big event to thank everybody one more time.
There's nothing wrong with helping pay for a few specific friends or wedding party members who you know couldn't afford to make the trip without some help. But this should be done very discretely and you shouldn't tell anyone else that you and your fiancé have decided to do it. Others might feel put out you didn't think they were entitled to assistance, and the receiver of your help could be embarrassed.
Use serious judgment about who to pay for before you make any offers like that. You could easily spend as much money on guests' travel and accommodations as you spend on the entire wedding. Just because somebody can't afford to travel to your destination wedding — for whatever reason — doesn't make it your obligation or responsibility to pick up the tab. Only do so when the person you're helping is someone you absolutely, positively have to have at your wedding.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a full-service traditional and destination wedding planning company and Do-It-Yourself wedding planning consulting service for DIY brides and grooms based in the Washington, DC area. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show "Wedding Island," about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques. Sandy's book "How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional," will be released on March 1st, but is available online for pre-orders now where books are sold.