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Hotels turn to elopement packages to attract those planning weddings

Jenna Bush Wedding
Posted at 6:54 PM, Jan 21, 2021

As the number of large weddings and lavish receptions plummeted in 2020 — a trend looking to continue for at least the early part of 2021 — luxury hotels are turning to a new strategy to market their event space: elopements.

While an elopement might conjure up images of a casual courthouse ceremony, a secret getaway or a Las Vegas drive-thru with Elvis as your officiant, some hotels are capitalizing on an entirely different clientele in 2021. Luxury hotels are amplifying their abilities to offer what they’re calling “Elopement Wedding Packages,” also sometimes referred to as micro weddings.

A hotel elopement wedding package isn’t all that much different than a traditional hotel wedding package. The big difference? You’ll keep the number of guests to a minimum. Oh, and you’ll save a bunch of money.

The Magic Kingdom’s fireworks can be seen from the 17th floor rooftop at The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. Image courtesy of The Four Seasons.

Save money with a micro wedding hotel package

Take the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. For just $6,500, you can host what the hotel calls an “Intimate Wedding” for anywhere between two and 35 people. That price tag covers pretty much everything you’ll need (besides what you wear and what you eat) including access to indoor and outdoor ceremony locations, recorded music, florals for the couple, a photographer, a celebration toast, and a one-night hotel stay.

That’s a sharp contrast to the $20,000 minimum you’ll spend to book venue space for a more traditional, 100-person wedding at the same hotel. What’s more, the bigger, $20,000 price tag also doesn’t include many extras you’ll inevitably pay for, such as professional makeup services, a photographer, flowers and wedding insurance.

Across the country, you could book a wedding at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, a luxury hotel in California overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In normal times, the cost to book the hotel’s gazebo alone is $3,000 for the ceremony (or $5,000 if you want it for the ceremony and reception). But if you keep your wedding to 20 people or fewer, you can book a weekday wedding for just $1,500 through the hotel’s elopement package, which includes extras like use of the hotel’s wedding changing room (that room usually costs an extra $500 for a traditional wedding).

Elopement packages are shaping up to be a win for couples who’ve found an opportunity to get married at a lower price tag, or at venues that might have only been a fantasy in a pre-coronavirus world. Event planner Keith Willard says it’s a win for hotels who are desperate to get anyone they can to book.

“Keep in mind that, as salespeople, hotel event managers are trying to reach their budget and meet their sales goals,” Willard says. “Those catering managers are looking for ways to make sales.”

And it’s paying off: The Four Seasons Resort Orlando hosted three times as many micro weddings as traditionally-sized celebrations in 2020, says Laure Hitzig Clavette, Director of Catering for the hotel.

When smaller weddings aren’t cheaper, they’re often more extravagant

For a wedding at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando held during coronavirus, all your extended family probably won’t fly in from around the country. But with the money you saved on a dinner plate that your picky cousins won’t eat anyway, some couples are using the money to go all-out on upgrades, like better food and an open bar, or opting for a destination wedding versus staying local. At the Four Seasons Resort Orlando, you might even spend a little extra to have Minnie and Mickey show up at your wedding (though the Minnie and Mickey add-on option is currently suspended due to COVID-19).

“It is cheaper in the sense that due to the sheer number of guests, the overall cost will be lower,” Hitzig Clavette says. “Couples tend to splurge a little more and add more fun customized touches since they don’t have to stretch their budget as much. Although the grand total may be lower, the spend per guest tends to be on the higher side.”

In fact, 26% of couples said they plan to spend more on a wedding after the pandemic, according to the 2020 American Wedding Study commissioned by Brides.

Earn those points

But if you are going to splurge on extras, there’s another bright side: You can likely rack up more points than ever. As hotels look for ways to encourage people to book events in their otherwise empty ballrooms and courtyards, many large hotel chains are offering additional promotions to earn extra points for your spending — which can then fuel your honeymoon or future vacations.

For example, Hyatt launched “Hyatt Together,” which promises World of Hyatt loyalty program bonus points plus additional discounts for event reservations booked and held at one of its hotels by Dec. 31, 2022. Their deal ends up netting you about 20% back on the event cost in the form of World of Hyatt points and credits.

Book sooner than later

While Hitzig Clavette says the hotel is seeing “a significant increase in micro weddings,” that doesn’t mean massive events are gone for good. In fact, most of the larger celebrations that were in the works for 2020 moved to 2021, as many couples did not want to have to compromise on their guest list. She said it simply means that the combination of micro- and traditional-sized weddings will likely cause business to expand in 2021.

Whether you’re one of those people who won’t compromise on the huge guest list and intend to have your wedding in 2022 when you’re confident everyone can safely attend, or you’ve been convinced that getting married this year for an audience of just a dozen or so people is the way to go, wedding planners recommend jumping on dates now.

“Once we get into the scenario when the world goes back to normalcy, you’re going to see prices come back up,” Willard says. “Throw in the fact that dates are filling up for the extra year of couples who put off their weddings in 2020, and the next year or two could be among the wedding industry’s busiest. It’s going to smack people soon.”

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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SAFmedia.