Free Weddings: Great Deal or Too Good to be True?

To entice couples to choose their property as the setting for their “I dos,” a growing number of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico are offering great deals on wedding packages — including, believe it or not, ones that cost nada. Tying the knot on a beautiful tropical beach — for free, no less — probably sounds a little like a Publishers Clearing House commercial: Sure, who wouldn’t want all their dreams to come true? But few of us are holding our breath, waiting for Ed McMahon to show up at our doors with a jumbo-size check. However, unlike that check, these freebie nuptials aren’t just gimmicks to get you on a mailing list. You can have a destination wedding sans cost — though not without a catch. Want to know more? Keep reading to find out what these free wedding packages are all about — and to decide whether one is right for you.

What’s the real deal with these so-called free weddings? While free wedding offerings vary widely from resort to resort, typically you’re getting the most basic wedding package, which in some cases may not be a lot. Think: flowers, decorations, a cake, taped music and hors d’oeuvres. What you probably won’t get: a three-course dinner for you and all of your guests, an open bar, live music (i.e., a band or DJ), a wedding photographer, a private reception (the space may be shared — as in, other hotel guests could crash) and your desired guest list (the headcount is typically limited). While a wedding officiant is usually part of the deal, you won’t necessarily get a legal union for free either. If you choose to marry at a resort outside the US, there’s typically paperwork and fees (not always covered by the resort) that you’ll need to complete in order to legally be considered husband and wife. Get more info on marriage license requirements outside the US here.

So, what’s the catch? You’re smart to be skeptical. Not surprisingly, there are restrictions and requirements, which vary but may include a minimum length of stay (typically ranging from three to seven nights), a maximum number of guests (think: two to four in addition to the bride and groom) and a minimum number of rooms that must be booked (we’ve seen anywhere from five to 20). Or the bride and groom may be required to book a pricier suite. And as we said, you’ll be getting a pretty bare-bones package — any upgrades or extras you choose to add will cost you. But of course, if you choose to stick with the basic freebie, you may not get to pick your color scheme or cake.

Why are some brides choosing them (besides the fact that they’re, uh, free)? Most resorts have wedding coordinators who can help with all the details, which can be a huge relief when you’re planning a wedding from afar. Some may even be able to incorporate your tastes and preferences, so you can still personalize the event (just check with the resort first). Couples who want an intimate affair, surrounded by just family and close friends, may want their guests to stay at the same resort anyway, so meeting a room quota might not be a big deal to you — or your guests. But the real attraction? You’ll get a gorgeous, beachfront wedding — free of charge — and you won’t have to worry about traveling anywhere for your honeymoon.

Why in the world would a resort treat you (and your nearest and dearest) to a free wedding? Well, it’s a great way for resorts to incentivize couples — and their guests — to stay there, especially during nonpeak times. (Some only offer “free weddings” during shoulder season.) These guys know that once they get people to their resort, those people are going to spend — and not just on the room (room service, spa treatments, poolside margaritas, etc.). And if they like what they see, taste and experience, they may come back, so it’s basically free advertising. Plus, these resorts count on the “upsell” factor — that they’ll be able to get couples to shell out for extras and upgrades, as well as welcome cocktails, rehearsal dinners, and good-bye brunches (which many do, considering they’re getting the big day for free).

The bottom line? For some couples, especially those on a tight budget, these free wedding packages offer a chance for them to get married in their dream location. It can also be a great way to save money on the big day, even if you opt to pay for upgrades and extras. After all, free is free, and all the elements to a fab affair really add up, so why not save where you can? Just be sure to do your research to make sure it’s a great deal for you and your guests, and you’re still getting a wedding you’ll both love.

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