Toaster or Tahiti, flatware or Fiji, bedding or the Bahamas? It's your big day, so spend time in the perfect destination rather than spending it returning unwanted carving knives and duplicate glassware. Although not a new concept, travel gift registries are gaining in popularity and acceptance and will help make your travel wishes a reality without breaking the budget.
After forking out $20,000 to $50,000 for the wedding, the average American couple will generally end up spending around $4,000 on their honeymoon, making the entire experience a costly one and if at least the travel component of that burden can be alleviated, some of the financial pressure can be lifted off the couple so they can concentrate purely on the enjoyment aspect.
Although there are dozens of individual registry companies and travel agencies that provide the gift registry facility, there are a handful of main companies that operate the larger and more recognized registries -- Traveler's Joy (www.travelersjoy.com); The Big Day (www.thebigday.com); Honeymoon Wishes (www.honeymoonwishes.com); and The Honeymoon (www.thehoneymoon.com). Fees for using these sites vary, but each has a cost for usage for either the honeymoon couple or the gift giver, ranging from 7.5% of total value to around 10%. These fees pay for the credit card processing, the set up of your individual travel web page and added extras like e-vites, invitation insert templates, and online or phone customer service. On initial comparison, Traveler's Joy appears to have the lowest fees at 7.5% and that is paid by the gift receivers as a member fee (I do have a bone to pick grammatically with Traveler's Joy though -- their company name features the apostrophe in the wrong place -- after all I am sure they are catering to more than one traveler).
There are sites that advertise as "fee free" but the small print usually means that you will either have to book the travel through their site (so the actual travel price may be marked up), pay a credit card fee further down the track, or even worse, that your personal information will be sold to a marketing firm and you'll get harassed by wedding planning companies and on-sellers for months and years to come. Others free sites like Honeyfund (www.honeyfund.com) use advertising as a revenue generator. The "buyer beware" motto certainly applies when choosing which registry will work best for you as in most online transactions and memberships. Overall though, the system is easy to use, cost minimal and particularly good for those who may not be taking a honeymoon immediately (redemption times can be up to two years from the wedding date) so if your plans or circumstances change, you can delay your trip.
Depending on the destination and the intricacy of your travel planning, setting up your registry can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as you like to personalize it with anecdotes of why you want to experience each aspect of the trip. Personal admin is reduced with conveniences like online thank-you lists that keep a record (both names and contact information) for gift givers, which really simplifies the thank you card process and the thank you cards themselves can take on a whole new approach if you can use your favorite honeymoon snapshot and thank those who have directly contributed with a glimpse at your early happiness.
Registries offer a variety of honeymoon planning services, including destination advice, pre-packaged itineraries, individual hotels, romantic add-on tours, meals, and activities. Just like a traditional gift registry, different aspects of the travel experience have various price points so rather than contributing a small amount to a one item (i.e. $100 towards a $2,000 airfare), wedding guests can personalize their gifts and pay for a gondola ride in Venice or a chef-prepared meal in a private villa for example. They can even pay for frequent flyer miles for upgrades, bungee jumping or bottles of champagne.
Although guests are still technically giving you "money," it is far more personal and attractive than handing over a check or cash at the wedding reception. It also means that you can pre-pay your honeymoon (assuming that your guests purchase in advance) and not have huge credit card debt to come home to. For those without a lot of travel experiences, travel registries provide inspiration and ideas, personal anecdotes and opportunities to browse through other people's honeymoon wish lists before creating your own. There does need to be a touch of realism though when planning your registry as you don't want to create a $20,000 dream itinerary and then find out a week before your wedding that less than half has been paid for and you will need to pay for the rest.
On average honeymoons tend to last seven days and currently 45% of honeymoon trips for U.S. couples are to domestic locations (predominantly Hawaii, Orlando, and U.S. beach destinations) while 55% of couples choose to venture further a field with international destinations, mainly in the Caribbean (including Mexico). Despite the recent economic downturn, people aren't forgoing their honeymoons and continue to travel, even if it is to cheaper destinations or for a shorter period of time. You'll need to consider the time of the year you are planning to travel, your overall budget, seasonality and of course foreign exchange rates when making your final decision regarding destination and activities. When signing up for a travel gift registry, you may also want to consider a secondary registry that can be set up on an easily created website or blog that will expand on the theme of travel and include must have items like luggage, camera equipment, and, of course, Frommer's travel guides.