If you’ve read Our Honeymoon Story page, and/or watched our honeymoon video, perhaps you’re inspired to reach for a luxurious honeymoon or vacation of your own, without going into debt! I hope so. And if so, this is the page to read and perhaps reread as you start to plan your trip.
On this page, I’ve condensed quite a bit of the info and best tips into a step by step guide for readers.
1. Concentrate on the Big Hitters
For most honeymoons, the two biggest costs are lodging and air travel, in that order. To minimize the cost of a honeymoon while maintaining luxury, you’ll want to focus on reducing the cost of accommodations and flights.
Think of it this way – if you’re able to reduce lodging or airfare costs by even 10% you may very well be saving $200-$400. That will cover several nice dinners for you on the honeymoon!
The good news is that there are several great ways to minimize lodging and airfare costs.
2. It’s the Signup Bonuses
Frequent flyer miles, hotel points and free night awards earned via credit cards are a great way to travel in luxury without breaking the bank. Now, that probably doesn’t seem surprising. It may even be a letdown to read that as you’ve certainly heard of frequent flier programs and you may be thinking, “I’ve been religiously putting all my spending on a single airline-branded credit card for years and I barely have enough for a single flight.”
If so, you’ve been doing it wrong.
Banks that issue credit cards know that a key to their business is getting new accounts.
They offer incredibly lucrative bonuses such as two free nights at any hotel in their chain worldwide (total value often exceeding $1,000) or even 100,000 frequent flier miles, just for signing up for a new card.
If your credit is good, you can sign up for multiple travel credit cards with attractive signup bonuses and make a major dent in the cost of your honeymoon.
This was the number one tactic we used to minimize out-of-pocket costs on our around-the-world honeymoon.
Once you’ve been approved and receive the cards, be certain to meet the signup bonus requirements. Some cards may have minimum spending requirements which can seem intimidating at first but you can time-shift your purchases to meet the requirements through purchase of gift cards you’ll use later or prepayment of utility bills, etc.
Protip: You should be getting about $400-$1,000 in value from a travel credit card signup bonus. There are a few exceptions but in general, if you aren’t getting $400 in value from a signup bonus, consider foregoing the application.
3. Double Up on Cards
Realize that both you and your fiance can get the same credit card. For example, if a card offers a signup bonus of two free nights at any hotel, by both getting it you can earn four consecutive nights at a luxurious hotel for free! My wife and I used this approach with great success for our honeymoon.
For example, we each got the Chase Hyatt Visa and then made consecutive bookings at the chic Andaz Maui. Then, we called the Andaz Maui and asked them to link the two reservations. The call took just a few minutes and we didn’t have to switch rooms in the middle of our stay.
4. Focus on Lodging First
When traveling for a honeymoon, the two of you will be staying in the same room (you better be or your marriage is off to a really bad start!). This means you only need one lodging redemption per night whereas for flights you each need a separate seat of course. Hotel availability is also more transparent, flexible, and predictable than flight award availability, so hotel first.
Once you’ve picked your honeymoon location(s), research the lodging options. To use points or free night awards, you’ll want to identify hotels owned by companies with extensive reward programs like Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, etc. Select two or three lodging options so you have flexibility.
Research the rewards programs for the properties to calculate how many frequent hotel rewards points you’ll need to redeem. Then, scour the internet to find the best credit card signup bonuses for the relevant rewards program. Offers change all the time, I keep an updated list: The Best Travel Cards.
Protip: Some major hotel brands have all-inclusive properties. If you’re wanting an all-inclusive (AI), beach-centric honeymoon, check out the Hyatt Zilara and Ziva properties. They have all-inclusive properties in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. My wife and I stayed at the Hyatt Zilara Cancun and found it to be a great property. With food and beverages included we spent less than $75 out of pocket for a four-night vacation!
5. Consider Renting a Condo or Home
Mainstream hotels have major appeal for a honeymoon. They’re consistent and there are some great rewards programs you can hack for premium value.
But, if you’re looking for a more intimate option, consider condo and home rentals. Airbnb has exploded in popularity and is now a major source of honeymoon lodging reservations. A friend of mine toured Europe for their honeymoon using Airbnb for all of their lodging.
To reduce the out-of-pocket costs for condo rentals, get a rewards credit card that allows redemption for general travel costs, rather than being tied to a specific program. A couple of these cards have become very appealing lately with their benefits and great sign-up bonuses. Two of the hottest such cards right now are the BarclayCard Arrival Plus and the Citi ThankYou Premier (as of Winter 2015).
Protip: For about $350/week, active and retired members of the Armed Forces, Department of Defense employees and select civilian employees in military support roles can often get great deals with Armed Forces Vacation Club, though mostly in the off-season. Not in the military? You can get similar deals at Endless Vacation Rental on condo-style rentals.
6. Ensure “Honeymoon” Appears in Booking Notes
There’s no better word in a travel booking than “honeymoon.”
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and travel industry workers know and respect it. For our honeymoon we made sure that each hotel booking included it was for our honeymoon and we were treated like royalty. At each of the hotels, we were treated to a special welcome and/or room amenity like champagne, dessert or a bed covered in rose petals. We were constantly upgraded into better rooms with amazing views.
Best part? It costs you nothing.
7. After Lodging, Turn Your Attention to Air Travel
Once you’ve determined your destination and have your lodging picked out, it’s time for transportation. For most people, this means air travel because part of the allure of a honeymoon is usually getting far away. Very far away. Usually somewhere sunny.
I recommend using Google Flights for airfare searches. It will very quickly show you which airlines fly direct between your home airport and your destination. Once you know which airlines fly there, go directly to their websites. Using their award flight search option, research how much for award seats.
When looking for free flights, be flexible. You can find great deals if you can shift your days around. There’s a temptation to leave immediately after the wedding, which is a good idea if the prices line up.
If they don’t, waiting a few days is actually not a bad idea. Having a couple days after the wedding to recover and pack is a most welcome reprieve. If there isn’t availability two days after your wedding but there is three days after your wedding you may want to consider that a positive and take it.
Now that you know which airlines offer good flights and have available seats, it’s time to check out their credit cards. If it offers 50,000+ miles as a signup bonus, it’s worth taking. From time to time there are better offers, but 50,000 is a lot of miles. It’s 100,000 if your future spouse gets one too.
Otherwise, consider a credit card with transferable points. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers transferable Ultimate Rewards points, are versatile and thus very valuable too.
Protip: If you’ll be flying more than six hours nonstop on an award flight, consider splurging and fly business class. Many long haul flights have lay-flat beds in business class that can transform flying from a horrible, uncomfortable activity into an enjoyable one. Most international business class cabins are much nicer than domestic first class cabins. RouteHappy.com and SeatGuru.com give you the skinny on flight comfort and amenities.
8. Use Wedding Expenses to Meet Spending Requirements
Here’s where the magic happens. The hard part about getting all the free miles from the credit cards are the spending requirements.
One of the reasons that the steps I’ve outlined here are so effective for honeymoons is that the associated wedding almost always costs quite a bit. Using your newly acquired credit cards for expenses will enable you to meet minimum spending requirements for signup bonuses without artificially spending money. You are already spending this money. Get more for that spending!
Protip: Sometimes the bride and groom are fortunate enough to have parents willing to pay for parts of the wedding. If that’s you, offer to pay the vendor yourself and have them reimburse you so you get the spend.
You should not use credit cards to make purchases that you would have otherwise not made. That’s when the spending can get out of hand. Remember it’s still debt and you still need to pay it off, don’t see these cards as free money. Don’t get a videographer just because you need the extra points!
9. Keep Track of Credit Card Signups
I’ve mentioned credit card signup bonuses quite a bit because they can be so lucrative. So you don’t want to just miss the spending requirement because you lost track.
With a simple spreadsheet you can track your credit card signups to ensure you don’t go astray. You can create your own spreadsheet or I have one that I give away to subscribers, absolutely free. The only “cost” is that I ask you to subscribe to my newsletter, which is free.
Protip: There’s a belief that applying for and/or canceling credit cards will hurt your credit score. It won’t. There is usually a slight reduction for a credit inquiry but it’s temporary and offset by other factors, like a reduction in your credit utilization ratio. For more detail, see how my applications impacted my credit score, which includes a graph of what happened to my score after opening and closing credit cards.
10. Consider Unconventional Destinations
If you and your fiance(e) have an adventurous streak, consider eschewing the standard honeymoon destinations in favor of unconventional spots. In addition to making your honeymoon more unique and memorable, some unconventional destinations can offer great value.
Our visit to the Philippines was one of the greatest parts of our honeymoon and was the cheapest place we visited. Expensive doesn’t mean better and cheap doesn’t mean bad.
11. Go Longer
If you have a corporate 9-to-5 job, a long vacation might get you grief from co-workers and management. If you were ever going to test someone’s patience, your honeymoon is the time. A three week vacation is nearly unheard of… a three week honeymoon? Once in a lifetime! Have fun!
Take advantage of it!
First, despite all the talk of divorce statistics, this should be a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. You want to decompress 100% before heading back to the grind. That doesn’t happen in a few days. Or even a week.
Who has ever heard of someone complain their honeymoon was too long?
Second, because a honeymoon is such a special trip, it’s the one vacation you can stretch without getting much blowback at the office.
12. Plan and Track Your Itinerary With a Simple Spreadsheet
Many honeymoons are international and you won’t have constant internet access. Print out your itinerary. We found our printout of our full itinerary invaluable.
The spreadsheet starts as your planner and becomes your schedule. It reduced the chances of a miscue, like forgetting to book lodging for a night. That may sound far-fetched but I know of a very intelligent couple that did just that – they got distracted during the booking process and wound up in a foreign country without lodging for a night.
Mistakes happen, and sometimes that’s part of the fun, but you should avoid them if you can.
Use the itinerary spreadsheet I created or create your own and then print out the completed version for your trip.
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Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!