Bridal paranoia: the suspicion, lurking in the minds of many engaged women, that every time a vendor hears the word "wedding," he jacks up his price. We decided to investigate by comparing wedding and non-wedding prices for a variety of services. Turns out that in many cases there are legitimate reasons for a bride being charged more than a "civilian." Other times, not so much. What's real and what's a rip-off? Read on.
Photography: An Engagement Portrait Engagement photo shoots don't always cost more than regular photo sessions, but when they do, the reasons can be legit: They often run longer, involve out-of-studio locations, and require more shots and post-production editing. Taking a photo of a couple is also more complicated than taking a photo of just one person.
Tip: Get your engagement portrait and wedding shot by the same person—photographers often offer package rates.
Spa Day: Manicures, Pedicures, and Facials for Four If you order spa services à la carte, prices don't usually change when a wedding is involved. Some spas have a group surcharge, however, that includes a booking fee and gratuities for the aestheticians. Others offer the option of paying more to rent out the entire salon, so that you can play your own music, bring in food and drinks, and be as raucous as you want.
Tip: Stick to simple treatments; a basic facial is often half the price of a specialty one (oxygen, caviar, aromatherapy).
Flowers: Centerpieces Most florists don't add a wedding surcharge, but the average reception centerpiece still costs more than one meant for a corporate dinner. Why? Because brides tend to ask for specific flowers—which incur shipping charges—rather than what's in season locally.
Tip: Research what will be blooming locally at the time of your wedding, and use that as your starting point.
Hair: A Wedding Updo Most salons charge more for a wedding updo than for a special-occasion style, and the main reason is time: What with headpieces, veils, and flowers, bridal looks tend to be more complicated than those for other dressy events, and every extra hour your stylist spends with you is an hour away from her other clients. The pressure to make you look perfect also adds to the price. If you're willing to take the chance, you could book a regular updo for your wedding—but don't expect your stylist to set aside additional time for you.
Tip: If you book a stylist to come to you, you'll likely pay her full day rate, plus travel expenses. Save money by going to her salon instead.
Music: A Disc Jockey Most DJs charge more for weddings than they do for birthday parties or dances because of the amount of work involved: In addition to accommodating your specific musical taste, a DJ must coordinate with photographers and catering staff to make sure the night runs smoothly, as he emcees events from the introductions to the bouquet toss.
Tip: Make sure that the DJ you're considering doesn't charge for items that other DJs include, like wireless mics.
Limousines: A 10-person Stretch There are more variables in limousine pricing than there are flavors of wedding cakes: Rates depend on the location, time of day and year, day of the week, number of hours, and type of car. In general, limousines for weddings do cost more than for prom night and come with extras like white carpets, Just Married signs, and bottles of champagne.
Tip: It's hard to book a limo for a wedding at a non-wedding rate—but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to negotiate.
Travel: the Honeymoon Hotel Say "honeymoon" when you're booking a room, and the reservations clerk may ask if you'd like to buy a package plan. Look carefully at what's included because no two are alike: One might include useful extras like daily breakfast and a rental car; another might offer perks you may not want, like a bottle of (mediocre) champagne and a bed covered in rose petals. Packages are generally pricier than if you'd booked each service separately, but good deals exist, so do the math before booking by comparing the à la carte costs to the package rate.
Tip: If you're a stressed-out bride, buying a package with services you need may be worth the price. Otherwise, bring your own rose petals.