Marriage etiquette question: who pays for guests?
April 11, 2014 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Ms Stewie and I are getting married next year and are hung up on a point of ethics and protocol: who pays for our guests that will be traveling from out of state to the wedding?

We have a very small ceremony planned in California, the state which has been our home for a decade. Of our twenty guests (all closer family), nearly everyone will fly from other parts of the US. Our families are lower middle class to middle class, we're about the same but slightly better off. We intend to pay for everyone's lodging (we're renting a place with space for everyone).

But, do we need to offer to pay airfare as well? Does flying from Ohio to California count as a destination wedding? We don't want to impose a financial hardship on those attending the wedding but the airfare would be a lot for us to pay.

If we do offer, who do we pay for? Just nuclear family (this seems declasse)? How about Ms Stewies divorced parents` dates (they are currently experimenting w online dating)? And what about my 23 y/o cousin's casual but long term boyfriend of three years whom no-one has ever met?

posted by stewiethegreat to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Guests usually pay their own way and lodging.
posted by maurreen at 9:40 PM on April 11, 2014 [58 favorites]

I've never had offers to pay my airfare for a destination wedding, and I haven't heard of that being done either. It seems above and beyond. I think offering to pay for their lodging is already quite generous by destination wedding standards.

I believe most people having a wedding in a location far from some of their guests, just recognize the fact that folks who have to travel a long way may not be able to make it for cost or convenience reasons.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:40 PM on April 11, 2014 [13 favorites]

Hell no you don't need to pay for airfare for everyone. I flew my father across the world for my 30ish person wedding, everyone else paid their own way. If someone close to you tells you that they are not going to be able to make it to the wedding because the price of airfare you can always offer to help cover it.
posted by foodgeek at 9:40 PM on April 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

I agree with everyone else: there is no obligation, etiquette-wise, to pay for any of your guests' transport or accommodation. Your paying for their lodging is already generous.

Although I might offer to pay for flights for immediate family (parents and siblings) if the alternative was that they couldn't attend.
posted by Salamander at 9:45 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think paying for everyone's lodging is more than generous. Other than one or two people who you know are financially strapped, or who indicate that they can't afford the airfare, it's not something you need to worry about.
posted by radioamy at 9:45 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even paying their lodging is incredibly generous. I've never heard of anyone paying for the travel costs of a large group of their wedding guests. Occasionally a well-off couple will quietly offer to pay the way of a particularly financially precarious loved one who they want at the ceremony bad enough to pay for them to attend, but it's an exceptional thing offered to individuals, not categories of guests. Like, if your kid sister is just out of college and working a barely paid internship, you might chip in for her, but grownups who are in regular financial health can either manage to come up with the money or decline.

In my mind, a destination wedding implies that the bride and groom have chosen a (probably expensive) vacation destination for everyone to travel to. If the bride and groom are getting married in the home of their current residence or in either of their home towns, that's not a destination wedding, it's just a wedding. They have to happen somewhere, and unless childhood sweethearts from tightly knit families get married, somebody's going to have to travel for them.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:48 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

one thing i thought was nice of my friends who had me fly in for their weddings is that they explicitly told me NOT to give them a wedding present - that my being there was more than enough of a gift.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 10:05 PM on April 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

Etiquette does not require you to pay for your guest's travel expenses or their lodging. But it does require you to be completely understanding if someone can't come to the wedding because it is too expensive. I've encountered people who didn't get the memo about the second part.
posted by Justinian at 10:14 PM on April 11, 2014 [19 favorites]

It's not required and I think you've more than done your duty. When I've travelled for weddings (which, for me, involved destinations, even if they weren't 'destination weddings'), guests were either put up with friends and family living in the area, or offered a group rate at a hotel.

But if you're inclined to help out and can, I'd lean towards partially subsidizing close family or good friends who you know can't afford it, on the down low. If you'd like all 20 to make it but think most probably couldn't pay a full fare, you might keep an eye out for cheaper flights; if many (e.g. 10) are coming from one place, it might be possible to get a discounted group fare for the flight. (Though of course scheduling would be a nightmare.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:28 PM on April 11, 2014

Does flying from Ohio to California count as a destination wedding?

Not if California is your home. "Destination wedding" usually refers to circumstances where half the draw is the event (wedding), and the other half of the draw is the destination itself, usually because it's some type of vacation spot or someplace your guests wouldn't otherwise be visiting. For you, planning your wedding in Las Vegas, Bermuda, or Venice would constitute a "destination wedding." You aren't inviting people to a random destination. You are inviting them to your local wedding; they just happen to live farther away.

Good luck, and congratulations!
posted by cribcage at 10:52 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would consider paying for parents and possibly siblings if getting to the wedding is otherwise out of the question. Everyone else is on their own.
posted by Sara C. at 11:01 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was covered in this style at a wedding once. The people paying for the wedding were absolutely in the 'rich' category, and I was to be a groomsman. Every wedding aside from this it's been a pay as you go, and you might get a free meal or a couple drinks out of the deal. it's awfully nice of you to want to do this, but don't go broke or into debt doing it, the wedding is supposed to be a fun time, not a debt-producing transaction.
posted by efalk at 11:03 PM on April 11, 2014

My uncle often arranges for family members to attend his events (kids' weddings, grandkids' birth celebrations), but he is far wealthier than the rest of the family and I think he often uses his frequent flyer miles (he and his wife travel a whole lot.) I would certainly not expect it in general and I don't think etiquette requires it.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:47 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Sorry - what I meant was, keep an eye out for flight deals and communicate these to your whole guest list, or maybe help organize a group deal for them, if they're up for it, but only actually contribute to the fare for very close people in a tough spot, if you want to.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:39 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We covered lodging for out of town guests, and all but one paid their own airfare. The fact we'd paid the airfare for this one person (who it was very important to me be there) was not discussed with any of the other guests.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:22 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't have to, of course, but consider paying for parents and siblings.

Random dates from OKCupid? NO. Absolutely not, and if I were you I wouldn't even let your parents invite them to a small wedding!
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:57 AM on April 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hell no. If you feel really bad about the airfare, tell people that their presence at your wedding is gift enough and not to get you anything else.
posted by amro at 4:03 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Guests pay their own way to a wedding. The most "travel booking" you're expected to do is arrange to reserve a block of rooms at a hotel, maybe, but the guests have to claim those rooms if the want one ("hi, holiday inn, I'm going to take one of the ten rooms you have reserved for the stewiethegreat wedding") and pay for it themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 AM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to say no, you are not responsible for airfare or lodging for even close family. We live in Arizona, got married in California, and all of our guests were responsible for making it out there themselves. I did negotiate with our hotel aggressively to provide a great deal: 30% off, so as cheap as $149/night at a beachfront hotel in Laguna, which people really appreciated.

You're to cover the event, their food and drink at the event, and transportation to the event if it's in a different venue than the hotel you've selected.

The people you're naming can all huff it out there themselves if they're serious about attending your wedding. Especially including your in-laws-to-be. Everyone gets a plus one and you can't really say anything about who they bring (though it'd be rude to bring someone to your wedding as, say, a first date or something) but that's it.

We did cover airfare for our maid of honor as a courtesy to her, since we had points and it was easy to fly her out there with us, but she could have easily afforded the flight or drive herself. Many of our guests drove, but our Michigan guests flew in and were of course responsible for their own transportation.

Put another way: if people covered guests transportation to destination weddings (of a size greater than, say, literally 5-6 friends basically there for an intimate "elopement"), there wouldn't be destination weddings. Hell, half the reason we held one was to force attrition of certain "friends of the family" we figured wouldn't spring for the gas money, flight, or room.
posted by disillusioned at 4:22 AM on April 12, 2014

While I'd say that covering airfare is not the hosts' responsibility, it's also important for hosts to accept that guests may not be able to afford airfare and not get upset. That's the thing that frustrates me about expensive weddings - not so much that they are expensive, because if people want to get married while watching narwhals off the coast of Expensivestan that's their apres-midi, but that I am supposed to deep-six my budget to watch them do so. If you have guests who are truly broke, for whom an extra $500 in airfare and miscellaneous is going to be too much, don't press them to attend or act hurt that they won't be there.
posted by Frowner at 5:03 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to a wedding in Salem, MA in August, flying out from the UK. The rest of the groom's family will be travelling from Ohio. A house sleeping 12 has been rented for us, as an acknowledgement that the cost of travel will be expensive. The Ohio guests will either have to fly or, if driving, pay for overnight accommodation, as it's an 18-hour drive. I think paying for lodging is more than generous.
posted by essexjan at 5:08 AM on April 12, 2014

Guests pay their own way.

It is very generous of you to pay for their lodging, if also understandable under the circumstances. But they can get their own airfare -- all of them.

And if you decide to retreat from this position, then it is one thing to pay for your mom's flight, but it is another to pay for the flight of someone she just met on okcupid.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:09 AM on April 12, 2014

If you know of anyone for whom the airfare is a great burden, and you can afford it, offer assistance - Chris, we really want you to be able to attend the wedding, and we'd be happy to use some of our frequent flier miles to get you here because people will accept frequent flier miles more easily than cash. Otherwise, the usual deal is that people pay their own expenses. Paying for lodging is a little unusual, and very nice.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 AM on April 12, 2014

Guests generally pay for their own transportation and lodging.

If a particularly large number of guests will be requiring lodging, what you can do is approach a local hotel and see if they will work with you and provide a reduced rate on a block of rooms. I've seen other couples do this for their wedding.

It usually works this way...Hotel will hold a block of rooms for your party, at a special rate, until a certain date. Any rooms not reserved by your party by that date will be released back into general booking.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:02 AM on April 12, 2014

When I've flown to other cities and stayed in hotels for weddings, it never even crossed my mind that anyone other than myself might be paying for it. Whether the guest is traveling from Ohio to California, or from any one place to any other place, is irrelevant to whether you're obligated to pay for them — you're not. Of course, you're free to pay for them if you feel like it, but you'd be essentially showering your guests with extra gifts (in addition to the gift of the wedding itself) by paying for flights or lodging or anything like that.
posted by John Cohen at 7:12 AM on April 12, 2014

Paying for lodging is already above-and-beyond. If you've got the funds, it'd be nice to offer airfare if you have relations who you know are really going to be struggling to pay for it, but I paid my own airfare to my brother's wedding despite his earning twice what I did at the time and never thought anything of it, it's not like it was his responsibility that I lived on the other side of the country.
posted by Sequence at 7:17 AM on April 12, 2014

When I got married shortly after university we payed for a camping spot for our broke ass group of college friends to stay for the weekend, who otherwise couldn't afford to come. We also did pay for my MOH's flight which she payed us back part of, but that was because I was willing to do anything to make sure she could attend up to shifting our wedding date by a weekend. What you have planned is a great idea, but I wouldn't worry about paying for airfare unless it becomes clear someone who you really want there is struggling with the cost.
posted by snowysoul at 12:27 PM on April 12, 2014

Guests pay their own way.

I have seen parents of the bride (or groom) pay expenses for certain guests in certain cases, e.g. if a particularly loved far-off relative could not otherwise afford to make the wedding, but it's not required to do that at all.
posted by w0mbat at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2014


Guests should pay their own airfare. I "paid" for a few people to come to my wedding by using frequent flyer miles to get them tickets, but one of them was in the wedding party, one of them did my hair and makeup in exchange for the tickets, and one was a really good friend who was between jobs and wouldn't have been able to afford to get there otherwise. Other than that, all my out-of-town guests paid their own airfare.

Paying for everyone's lodging is more than generous, and I definitely agree with the suggestions above to help people find flight deals and tell guests not to bring gifts.
posted by bedhead at 5:29 AM on April 13, 2014

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