How To Plan Wedding Travel After the Pandemic

Know the rules and explore safer alternatives

Chairs and an altar rest on a tropical beach under an illustrated overlay that reads “Our Money’s on Travel.”

The Balance

After a year-plus of lockdown and postponed nuptials, weddings are back. This summer, couples are once again planning celebrations with family and friends as travel restrictions and pandemic guidelines ease. 

Of course, the situation is still not what one would call “normal.” Many destinations are expanding their guest capacities and scaling back social distancing, masking, testing, and quarantine rules. Nevertheless, be prepared to adapt to changing guidance from wedding venues and during wedding-related travel and stays.

Here are some ways to prepare for wedding travel as the world begins to evolve into a post-pandemic mindset. Check out the rest of “Our Money’s on Travel” for more advice on getting where you want to go as we return to travel sensibly.

Key Takeaways

  • As virus restrictions ease, professional event planners are seeing more inquiries from engaged couples.
  • Wedding travelers should look for hotels and other venues with clear post-pandemic health guidelines and services such as COVID-19 testing.
  • Travel deals are available, from rewards points boosts, to hotel and resort credits. Check with your venue or even the regional visitor’s center to see what’s available.  
  • If you’re planning a destination wedding, consider alternatives to common carrier airline travel such as road trips or even semiprivate or chartered flights. 
  • Although virus restrictions have eased, many limits remain. Make sure you understand the latest rules and requirements before you go.

Returning to Wedding Travel

As of June 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends that people avoid domestic travel until they are fully vaccinated. For those who haven’t completed the vaccine regimen, if you must travel, pre- and post-travel testing is encouraged. It may even be required in some states or local areas, or by some airlines. You no longer have to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel in the U.S. if you’re fully vaccinated, however.

If your wedding will take place outside the United States, keep in mind that there is still a testing requirement to return to the states—even if you’ve gotten your shots. 

Weddings Are Booming

Despite the evolving guidelines, the wedding industry is starting to see a boom. For example, the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino has seen an increase in destination wedding leads over the last six months, according to Rosy Nuboer, the resort’s romance planning manager. She said they got only 93 wedding leads from December 2019 to April 2020, but got 213 between December 2020 and April 2021. Nuboer also noted that people are booking for longer stays—weeks rather than weekends.

There’s also been an uptick in destination wedding travel south of the border, said Jessica Blachut, weddings and events manager at ACRE Resort in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. About half of the resort’s upcoming weddings are postponements from last year. “Summer in Los Cabos is typically our slow season, with the hot, humid weather arriving in late July. However, this year, we have seen an increase for wedding bookings,” Blachut said.

Whichever destination you choose, it’s a good idea to read your contracts and cancellation policies very carefully. 

She attributed the growth to the fact that there are looser travel and event restrictions in Mexico. “Many other countries still have very strict rules, such as no dance floor or strict requirements to wear masks during the entire event. This is leading many couples to look for quick, safe, and easy alternatives, like a destination wedding,” she said. 

For couples who don’t want to venture too far, but are choosing a hotel venue and inviting out-of-town wedding guests, there may be more options than last summer. Many hotels can now operate at higher, or even full, capacity.

Finalizing the Guest List

One thing that some engaged couples are grappling with is the need to be judicious with the guest list. Depending on the wedding location and venue, there may still be capacity limits. But as the year marches on, those limits may ease as vaccination levels improve. 

If you’re hoping for a larger wedding, consider starting out with your “must-have” guest list. Then if you’re confident that your venue can accommodate more people, you can add more guests. 

There’s also the question of whether or not you should invite only vaccinated or lower-risk guests. Some couples may rather exclude immunocompromised loved ones rather than risk having the event be the place they contract COVID-19. 

How To Pick a Hotel

The hotel industry is in full recovery mode these days while trying to bring guests back safely. Again, the rules and limitations vary by destination. For example, at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, guests are required to provide a pre-departure COVID-19 test (taken within 72 hours of arrival), from a Hawaii-approved testing partner. And, according to Kiana Jepsen, the resort’s event and wedding sales manager, all travelers must download the AlohaSafe Alert App—the state’s official exposure notification app—or another approved app before entering Maui County.

In most of the continental U.S., however, hotels are getting closer to business as usual, save for some mask requirements. 

How Safe Is It?

As you’re exploring hotel options for your wedding reception, safety is just an extra layer of consideration to add to your checklist. Start by researching how the venue handles cleaning, what ventilation is like, and what the masking and social distancing policies are. For example, some wedding venues might ask guests to wear masks when out on the dance floor or on the buffet line.

You can also ask if your group can be kept to one block/section of the hotel, so there’s less interaction with other guests, which is a strategy used by the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino.

Can I Save If I Book Soon?

Though hotels are trying to recover, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see wonderful deals. Especially as bookings increase, prices may creep back up. 

On the other hand, if you’re planning to wed in a city that has just recently relaxed its restrictions, like Los Angeles or New York, you could snag a deal through tourism agencies as hoteliers try to welcome visitors back with discounts and credits. 

What About Rewards Points?

In addition to pricing, be on the lookout for extra perks, bonus points, or extended benefits if you belong to a loyalty program with a major hotel chain. For instance, Marriott Bonvoy members were given extensions on their free nights and a boost in elite night credits.

If you’re reserving a block of rooms for guests, ask if your event qualifies you to earn bonus rewards points. Also ask if there are any special rewards-earning opportunities for weddings. For example, Hyatt’s World of Hyatt loyalty program offers couples bonus rewards points for dollars spent on catered or banqueted food at the event. The minimum spend to earn a bonus is $10,000, which returns 60,000 World of Hyatt points. That’s worth $1,128 according to our calculations of the value of Hyatt’s points. A $40,000 spend would return 150,000 bonus points.  

A rewards card sign-up bonus can yield a big batch of points that you can use to pay for flights, hotels, and other travel costs. Just be sure to apply for the new rewards card several months in advance of your event. Most cards award the sign-up bonus after you’ve reached a spending goal—for example, $3,000 of spending on the card in the first three months. It might be several weeks after that before the bonus points appear in your rewards account and you can redeem them.  

Flying Safely

Although airline travel is generally considered safe, especially for vaccinated travelers, the prospect of a flight could still create a barrier for some of your guests who may be hesitant. Some couples are seeking safer options like semiprivate jet seats, or planning wedding road trips. 

Seeing a desire for private travel in 2020, The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort started working with Advent Jets to connect parties of all sizes with alternative, private flight opportunities, said Nuboer, the resort’s Romance Planning Manager.

Of course, private or semiprivate jet travel can get pricey, and it’s more complex to research prices since you generally have to request quotes from charter flight companies. However, for travelers who have the means, avoiding crowded airports and sitting with fewer flying companions can provide a potentially safer alternative. 

Depending on your itinerary, you may be able to find pricing that fits your budget. For instance, if you’re in the Southwest, the semiprivate jet airline JSX offers round-trip flights between different areas of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas for a few hundred dollars per person.

If you are comfortable with a regular flight, it’s a good time to use up those airline miles you’ve been hoarding during the pandemic. Some airline loyalty programs allow members to pool or share their airline miles with family and friends, too. 

Alternatives to Flying

If you prefer not to get on any aircraft right now, then choose a reception spot within driving distance. It might be worth it to rent a party bus for your bridal party.

Another popular pandemic-era idea is to livestream your ceremony and reception for out-of-town or health-compromised guests. In fact, in 2020, 43% of couples who got married provided a virtual/livestreaming option for family and friends, according to WeddingWire’s 2021 WeddingWire Newlywed Report. Destinations like Sandals Resorts have even added livestreaming wedding video packages to their offerings. 

Other Precautions To Take Before Leaving

Whether you’re planning a wedding or traveling to one, things may be different from in years past, so it’s wise to plan ahead:

  • Understand COVID-19 testing requirements: Couples may be able to work with the wedding venue or a wedding planner to help guests book testing appointments in advance. Some venues like Palace Resorts in Jamaica and Mexico are offering the service on-site to make it easy for U.S. guests who need a negative test to fly back into the states. 
  • Learn about mask requirements: Depending on where the wedding is, guests may be expected to wear masks in public areas, or even during the reception itself—or it might be dependent on vaccination status. Couples should aim to make those instructions clear to anyone invited, and anyone traveling should pack extra masks just in case.
  • Add your vaccine card to your packing list: In addition to your passport and other important travel documents, consider adding a digital and/or paper copy of your vaccine status to your carry-on (or via a phone app). This is another tip you can share with fellow guests who may be attending the wedding.