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Remember weddings? You might have skipped them over the past couple years, but they're back and bigger than ever (and with steep travel price tags).
Wedding travel is a perfect storm of high-priced factors. For starters, weddings are almost always held on weekends, which is when everybody is trying to fly. They also fall on specific dates, which renders travel flexibility nearly impossible. And, of course, they're often during peak summer travel season, when hotels and rental cars are hardest to come by. Plus, packing formalwear can mean checking a bag, which can balloon the cost still further.
And if you're like most Americans, you'll attend more ceremonies this year than ever before. America is expected to see 2.6 million weddings in 2022, up from just the 2.2 million weddings held in 2019, pre-pandemic. That's according to the latest Real Wedding Study from wedding planning website The Knot.
There’s no way to avoid these realities altogether (short of not attending — no judgment). But each cost can be mitigated. Here are tips for traveling to weddings for less money.
Get creative with flight dates
If you’re flying to a wedding that’s held on a Saturday, it can seem natural to leave on Friday and return on Sunday. Yet this option is often the most expensive one. According to airfare data from Hopper, Tuesday and Wednesday are almost always the cheapest days to fly, while Friday is almost never the best time to leave in terms of cost.
“You can save close to $50 round-trip on average by flying midweek or by departing on a Saturday,” says Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper.
Flying early on Saturday rather than late on Friday can also save you a significant amount on hotel costs, since you won’t need a room for that night. But if that isn’t feasible, consider extending your stay, turning it into a mini vacation and returning on Tuesday, when airfare could be cheaper.
Use points and miles wisely
Wedding travel can offer the perfect opportunity to offload your airline miles and hotel points that have been collecting dust for the last year. Since the prices for award travel are often less dynamic than cash rates, they’re less likely to spike during high-demand wedding dates.
That said, you should always compare the cost of using points or miles with the cash price. Use a calculator (or your own math skills) to determine which offers the best value.
Book flights early, hotels later
It can be tempting to book your whole trip as soon as you receive a “save the date” in the mail, but if your goal is affordability, that isn’t always the best strategy.
While airfare is often cheapest when booked far in advance, hotel prices are often lower close in, according to data from NerdWallet.
The average cost of main cabin round-trip airfare booked six months in advance is $465, but jumps to $577 across the same routes when booked only 15 days beforehand.
The story is completely flipped for hotel bookings, which average $290 per night when booking far in advance and drop to $209 at the last minute.
These prices are averages, and they don’t mean you’ll always get a better deal by booking hotels at the last minute. But they do mean you shouldn’t rush to book your hotel as quickly as possible, especially if your plans are in flux.
And while we’re on the subject of booking hotels: If the wedding planners are offering a discount on rooms at a specific hotel, make sure to check these prices against others nearby. These discounts aren't always as beneficial as they seem, and you might be able to snag a much cheaper room elsewhere that fits your preferences.
Avoid baggage fees
It’s tough to pack everything you need for a wedding — especially formalwear — in a carry-on bag. Yet airline baggage fees, which must be paid both ways, can drastically raise your travel costs.
Here are three ways to avoid or defray these fees:
Sign up for an airline credit card that includes free checked bags. Even a single trip might cover the cost of the card’s annual fee.
Get your clothes delivered. Formalwear rental services, like The Black Tux and Rent the Runway, will deliver to your hotel and let you send your clothes back the day after the service. That way you don’t have to worry about packing your duds. You might even be able to get away with bringing just a small carry-on and purchasing a simple Basic Economy airfare.
Wear your clothes on the plane. That’s right, you don’t have to worry about packing your fancy shoes in a checked bag if you wear them on the plane.
Be realistic about your financial commitments
Wedding travel can be expensive by any measure, even when employing all of these strategies. So if you’re experiencing financial hardship or trying to stay within a strict budget, it’s worth asking yourself whether you can afford to make it at all.
If you really have no option, get creative about how you travel. Maybe you can drive or take the bus instead of flying, or share a hotel room with a friend or relative.
The point is: Weddings should be a fun celebration, not a cause for financial distress.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card