The secrets to getting the most bang for your honeymoon buck are to shop around and plan ahead. Keep in mind that you can avoid paying full price about 99% of the time -- even some early-booking discounts apply to peak times. Here are 25 money-saving tips to help you plan the romantic vacation of your discount dreams.
1. Set Your Priorities
First decide what your goals are for the trip and exactly what you can and can't live without. Let's say you have $1,000 for the honeymoon. If pampering is first on your list, book a long weekend in the suite of a nearby spa resort. If getting away from it all is most important, use that same amount of money to take a week-long camping trip complete with gourmet eats and treats.
2. Work With A Travel Agent
For one-stop, stress-free trip planning, a travel agent can't be beat. They can save you money with air/hotel or fly/drive/hotel packages (thanks to their high business volume), they have the skinny on last-minute or ongoing sales, and can offer the wisdom gained from years of travel experience. For savings at sea, call an agency that specializes in booking cruises. And be sure to let the travel agent know your priorities so he knows exactly what to cut and keep from your itinerary.
3. Consider A Honeymoon Registry
Here's how it works: Some travel agencies and tour operators offer a registry service by which they collect, track, and apply contributions from your wedding guests toward your honeymoon expenses. Some services, such as www.honeyluna.com, even allow guests to "sponsor" specific activities such as a sunset cruise, scuba trip, spa treatment, or meal at a romantic restaurant.
4. Choose An Off-Season Locale
Assuming your departure date is fixed (i.e., you're taking a honeymoon immediately after your wedding), choose a destination or cruise itinerary whose off- or shoulder-season (the period right before and after high season) coincides with your travel dates for drastic price breaks and less crowds.
Best of all: Off-season is not synonymous with bad weather. For example, many islands in the Caribbean have ideal temperatures year-round, but rates skyrocket from January to April due to high demand from winter-weary East Coast travelers. In other locales, off-season means searing heat or bitter cold, and many hotels and activities may shut down completely until more hospitable weather returns.
5. Choose Cheaper Locales
Many variables can make a destination a dynamite deal, including a weak local currency (Mexico and Canada, for instance) or heavy tourist traffic (Jamaica and Puerto Rico). Other surprises such as weather disasters (tsunamis in the Pacific, hurricane damage in the Caribbean, earthquakes in Turkey) cannot be planned in advance but have the same cost-cutting effect.
6. Stay Close To Home
In general, the shorter the flight, the cheaper the airfare. This is one reason why West Coasters head south to Mexico and East Coasters flock to the Caribbean. Another idea: Save the airfare and use the extra money to upgrade to a nicer hotel and room at a resort within driving distance.
7. Book Early
This guarantees that all the inexpensive rooms won't be sold out. On cruises, which announce their itineraries 10 to 14 months in advance, it also means savings of up to 55%. On the flip side, if a ship is under booked, you may snag a last-minute deal up to eight weeks before sailing (although you may have a limited choice of cabins).
8. Shop The Sales
According to Consumer Reports Travel Letter, the best (read: cheapest) times to buy airline tickets are October through December and January through March. When booking, think like a vacationer and stay over at least one Saturday night: Airfares tend to take a dive when business travel is low, i.e., over the weekend.
9. Read The Paper
Not only should you scan for travel deals for flights originating in your hometown -- especially popular in a major airline's hub city -- but swoop in on the fine print. Too many disclaimers spell trouble. Look for ads that deal with major airlines (not charter flights) and familiar hotel chains. Comparison shop and trust your gut.
10. Consider Alternative Airports
As in, sacrifice convenience for savings: Try flying in to or out of a smaller or farther airport at one or both ends of your trip to reduce your airfare. For example, Big Apple honeymooners may save money by flying into Long Island's Islip Airport instead of New York's La Guardia. (Call your hotel to make sure the round-trip cost of a taxi or car service from the farther airport won't wipe out your savings!)
11. Consider Alternate Modes of Travel
Instead of flying a major airline, check out no-frills, low-fare carriers or consider the scenic window views of a train, bus, or car. If driving, break up the longer travel time -- and enhance the journey -- by planning some sightseeing pit stops along the way.
12. Cash In Your Frequent Flier Miles
That credit card you've been abusing to pay for your wedding is now ready to be milked for airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and upgrades. (In fact, seat upgrades have a better "exchange rate" than ticket purchases and are invaluable splurges on marathon flights.) Ask about partnerships, allow plenty of time for membership rewards or points to be transferred, and remember that blackout dates may curtail your plans.
13. Purchase An Air Pass
Many foreign airlines (including those that service Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Australia, and the South Pacific) sell tickets that allow you to city- or country-hop within a specific region within a limited time frame for far less than had you arranged each leg of the trip separately.
14. Book Online
Some hotels and airlines offer Internet-booking discounts or bonuses such as frequent flyer miles. For a roundup of deals, visit www.webflyer.com. Not picky about where you stay? Go to www.priceline.com and name your price. Each bid is free but remember these two caveats: You can specify the city, area of the city, dates, and level of quality (one to four stars) you desire, but you can not request a specific hotel. Also, if Priceline finds accommodations at your stated offer price, you must accept the reservation. (As in, your credit card will instantly and automatically be charged the full amount for your stay.)
15. Consider An All-Inclusive Hotel, Cruise, or Tour
The best part about all-inclusives? There are no surprises and no limits: You can live like a king and queen for one flat fee. You can even get married at no cost with a minimum-night stay at Sandals, SuperClubs, Swept Away, and Couples resorts. Most all-inclusive rates include room, all meals, drinks, activities, entertainment, tips, taxes, and airport transfers (adventure tours also include guides and equipment). Knot Note: Packages vary. Club Med, for example, doesn't include alcoholic drinks. Ask lots of questions and make sure most of what's included appeals to you (otherwise, why spend the money?).
16. Consider A Bed-And-Breakfast
True, some lack privacy, but not all. Most are packed with romantic nooks and luxe amenities. Prices are usually favorable -- especially during the week -- and breakfast is obviously included. Knot Note: Kids and pets are allowed -- even encouraged! -- at some.
17. Do Your Own Cooking
Book a condo or villa with cooking facilities, where you can whip up your own meals for two whenever you get the munchies. Be sure to pack candles and your favorite tunes for romantic ambience.
18. Call A Hotel Broker
These companies sell rooms that hotels need to fill or they buy blocks of rooms and pass the savings on to you (and may have rooms at hotels claiming to be sold out). Two good ones to try are www.quikbook.com and www.1800usahotels.com.
19. Call A Hotel Directly
Reservationists at a hotel's 800 number, especially at large chains, are not always familiar with the latest promotions and packages offered at a specific location. Call the front desk of the hotel you're interested in directly to get the scoop on sales, find out which rooms are best, and get an accurate idea of how much it will cost to get to the hotel from the airport.
20. Ask About Packages
Not only do you get lots of extras when you sign up for a package (which may have a romance, honeymoon, spa, or sport theme), but package rates may include tax, tips, and airport transfers, which can save you big money over the regular room-only rates -- even with all the perks! Check honeymoon articles on The Knot for romance package details at featured hotels.
21. Sleep Cheap, Live Large
Book the cheapest room you can in the swankiest hotel you can afford. Choosing a room that faces the garden or pool instead of the ocean is no big deal if you plan to be on the beach or out of your room enjoying posh amenities most of the time anyway. Light sleepers should choose a garden view -- pool parties or dance bands may keep you up. Save even more if you're willing to stay a block or two from the beach.
22. Read The Fine Print
Compare rates based on what's included. For example, tax alone can add up to 21%! Optional inclusions such as tax, tips, airport transfers, breakfast, and afternoon tea or wine and cheese in the evening can save you a bundle.
23. Don't Be Shy
Don't accept the first room rate quoted (especially during low season). Inquire about weekend rates (common at city hotels), extended stay discounts, and seasonal promotions. Ask: Is this absolutely the lowest rate you can offer me? What would I need to do to get a better rate?
24. Pull Your Resources
Get intimate with the benefits of all your credit cards, dining cards, and club memberships. For example, your auto insurance or credit card may already cover Collision Damage and Liability on car rentals. You may also be covered for other travel snafus -- or discover optional coverage you'll need to activate before you leave, such as travel insurance, which can protect your trip deposits and reimburse you for pricey medical expenses if something happens on your trip. It's a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind.
When you're inquiring about a rate or making a reservation, make sure the person knows it's for your honeymoon. At the very least, you may get a better table or free flutes of champagne. At best -- especially during the off-season -- you may get a room upgrade!
Is your budget still coming up short? Don't sweat -- book a nice hotel room for your wedding night and start saving for a belated honeymoon blowout on your first anniversary. Bon voyage!