Destination weddings: Do guests have to give gifts if they spent tons on travel?


We’re headed into the busy summer wedding season, which means many folks will likely be traveling to attend those ceremonies — and in some cases, jetting across the globe.

After all, destination weddings are becoming an ever-more popular way to celebrate that special day. One report says the worldwide market for these events is expected to increase from $23.31 billion in 2022 to $78.90 billion by 2027.

But all that begs the question: If you’re attending such a wedding — and paying hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on airfare and a hotel stay — are you still obligated to buy the lucky couple a gift?

It’s a question that’s often asked on social media, with many guests freely saying they skip buying anything — or, at the very least, they wonder about the practice.

“So if someone has a destination wedding do they still expect a gift? Like I just spent mad bread just to attend,” one person observed on Twitter.

Another put it this way: “Wondering if couples expect gifts for a destination wedding? Like me flying across the country should be a present.”

Guests who go to an out-of-town wedding typically spend $640 if they’re traveling by car, and $1,200 if they’re traveling by plane.

And about those “mad bread” costs: They’re very much a real thing. The Knot, a popular wedding planning site, said guests who go to an out-of-town wedding typically spend $640 if they’re traveling by car, and $1,200 if they’re traveling by plane, according to a 2022 survey. That compares with a guest spend of $260 for an in-town wedding (the bulk of which is for the gift, according to The Knot, with the rest going toward local transportation and other incidentals).

But etiquette experts and wedding planners that MarketWatch spoke with say regardless of whether the wedding is in your backyard or in Bora Bora, you should always buy a present (or give the gift of money). It’s just bad form otherwise, they insist.  

“You’re celebrating one of the seminal moments in someone’s life. You shouldn’t be looking for ways to cut corners,” says Jeannie Uyanik, a New York-based wedding planner.

Thomas Farley, an etiquette authority who’s known as Mister Manners, goes so far as to say that if you’re attending a destination wedding, don’t think you can get away with giving a cheaper gift, either.

“I would give the same amount dollar-wise as if the wedding was five minutes away,” he says.

Related: Jeff Bezos reportedly spent upwards of $5 million on Lauren Sanchez’s engagement ring — but what should the average person spend?

But Farley doesn’t let the wedding couple off the hook. That is, if they’re asking guests to travel, they should be offering them something more than just a wedding dinner. He says group activities, a brunch and a welcome reception should all be possibilities to consider.

Jacqueline Whitmore, a Florida-based etiquette expert, says a gift is necessary for any wedding you attend. But she sees no harming in spending less on the present if it’s a destination event.

“Instead of getting them a duvet, you might want to scale back and get one or two pillows,” she says.

“You’re celebrating one of the seminal moments in someone’s life. You shouldn’t be looking for ways to cut corners.”

— Jeannie Uyanik, a New York-based wedding planner

Bruce Russell, a wedding planner who focuses much of his business in Europe, adds a couple of caveats to the destination picture. For guests, he says if you’re giving a physical gift, don’t bring it with you to the event — no newly married couple wants to lug a toaster on the plane ride home.

And for the couple getting hitched, he says it can be a thoughtful touch to suggest that gifts aren’t necessary and that the presence of the invited guest is what really matters.

When Ann Ragan Kearns, a New York-based publicist, got married in Mexico last year, she says she didn’t expect gifts from her guests.

“A gift is not mandatory,” she says. “I just truly loved that you decided to join us on our special day.”

Of course, all this discussion begs a larger question: Should couples even have a destination wedding, knowing that it may be putting a financial burden on some invited guests?

Most planners and etiquette pros say it’s a question that has to be thought through carefully. Russell says couples need to really think about whether key people in their lives can attend the wedding — and even speak to them about it — before they lock in a plan.

“These are conversations that need to be had,” he says.


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