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How Far Ahead Should You Start Planning Your Destination Wedding?

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Our little Caribbean destination wedding planning company has been getting a LOT of wedding requests for much farther out dates than usual. I mean, we're always booked out by at least 18 months -- that doesn't mean we don't have room for more weddings on our calendar, it's just means that we have contracts going out that far -- but usually two years ahead is the maximum. Since Weddings in Vieques made its reality television debut on TLC's Wedding Island last summer, we're getting wedding requests for three, four, five and even six years ahead. Sometimes I find myself asking are you guys kidding me? We can plan your wedding in as few as six weeks if we have the date available, but we don't plan weddings six year in advance.

It's not uncommon for potential clients and friends who are brides to ask me when they should start planning their weddings, especially destination weddings or hometown weddings where half the guests are coming in from out of town. My best advice: Plan it as soon as possible! But, what I mean by ASAP -- to be more specific since that's obviously necessary now -- is that anytime within two years of the wedding or vow renewal date is a good time to start your planning. You really don't need to start farther ahead than that unless you must have specific room in a specific hotel or country club that regularly books out farther than that. And believe me, ALL of them still have dates available too. Nobody is completely booked solid three-plus years ahead. Let's face it -- who waits that long to get married? Not many engaged couples. And a depressing number of marriages don't even last that long, as my husband is fond of pointing out.

Bringing me to my big question: Why are couples starting their wedding planning so early? And yes, I do ask potential clients that question. Or rather, I ask couples who are planning more than two years ahead why they are waiting so long. I'm direct because I want to know that I'm blocking a date for a client who is actually going to get married, and I want to give them the best possible wedding planning advice. I don't want to waste time and money for me or them -- and those initial deposits are non-refundable. Once you've blocked a date on my wedding calendar and we've had our first conference call, you don't get anything back from my planning fee if you decide not to get married. And if you change the date after we've started the planning, there's a fee to change your wedding date because there's a LOT of work that goes into changing all the dates with all of the vendors, and amending all of the contracts. Plus we've held your date and turned away other clients who wanted in while you were busy changing your mind.

Once in a rare while, the reason for the unusually long delay is completely legitimate and makes logical sense -- for example, they are planning for the month the bride has off after she finishes medical school, or one of them is active duty-military and they're working around deployment schedules and want to plan the wedding together before one of them leaves. Sometimes it's simply a very young couple planning way out because they absolutely MUST have a specific wedding date for some interesting reason.

Recently, I spoke with a lovely young lady planning her fifth anniversary vow renewal for 2018. Stop and do the math. Nope, they've not yet been married a year and she's in wedding-planning withdrawal and ready to start planning their vow renewal. That's the kind of inquiry that I politely refuse to do a consultation with at this point because it's just too early. Don't get me wrong, I want their business eventually, and I'm flattered they want to block the date so far ahead with me to make sure I'll plan their vow renewal. And I think it's cute that she is loving married life so much that she's ready to plan renewing her vows. But I have been married for almost 10 years now, and while that certainly makes me no expert on marriage, I know one thing for certain -- a whole lot is going to happen in this couple's life over the next five years and they may not want to spend the money on a big vow renewal just then. They will have probably either moved or changed jobs or had one or more kids by then. The $20,000 she's mentally ready to commit to four-plus years out (plenty of time to save up, right?) may be the difference between whether or not they can buy their first home between now and then. For real. I think about these things.

I've heard some really ridiculous reasons for planning the wedding four years ahead, but as creative as they get, I'm still saying no. Perhaps my colleagues in the wedding industry would call me a fool -- it's better for my company to claim we have business booked that far ahead and collect the non-refundable deposits. But when I talk to some young girl who is telling me that she's pregnant now but they want to get married in 2017 because that gives her time to have the baby, get her body back and save up the money to get married, I can usually hear in her voice a really desperate woman who would get married tomorrow if the groom would step up to the plate. Because he won't, she's getting him to promise the far-out wedding date, and she's making him keep the promise (as close to sealing the deal as she can get), by having him put down a deposit for a wedding in the future. It makes me sad. Booking a wedding planner doesn't guarantee that he's actually going to walk down the aisle three years from now. It's even worse when they mention they don't have a ring because they're saving up for the baby, and he's going to get her one later. Puleeeze. You don't need some fancy expensive ring to symbolize the commitment if you're already pregnant -- any ring will do, until your fingers swell and you can't wear it anymore anyway. Then when you're financially on your feet as a couple, you can upgrade the ring. But there should be a ring, even if it's something inexpensive. Tell him to use the money you wanted to spend on my deposit to put a ring on it. If you're both serious about getting married, call me in 2015 and we'll get rolling.

So when should you REALLY start planning your destination wedding, or a hometown wedding that's going to require most of your guests to travel? Face it, if you're 35 and have lived in New York for the past 10 years, odds are that most of your friends are going to be traveling to wherever you grew up so it may as well be a destination wedding for planning purposes. Two years out is the farthest I'd recommend starting wedding planning to any couple. But from two years in, it's totally good. For a real destination wedding, you may mail the invitations to your guests as far ahead as one year. Lots of my couples plan to mail their invites on the one-year-out mark so the date matches on the envelopes. You can send out the travel information packet telling them how to get to your destination and where you recommend booking accommodations any time after the two-year out mark. That's also when you can create a wedding website with all the information they need. First you send the save-the-dates (if you're doing them), and then you follow with the travel info packet. You can even mention in the packet that a formal invitation will follow if you want to.

Real wedding invitations to destination weddings can be mailed one year out, but the RSVP rules stay the same. A maximum of eight weeks to respond, and after that, the bride and groom start hunting down those who haven't responded to get answers. I tell all of my clients the same thing -- if somebody won't commit within 12 months to traveling for your wedding, they're not coming and don't know how to say it. There are occasional exceptions to the rule, such as a friend who is going through fertility treatments, active-duty military friends who truly don't know where they'll be 12 months out, or somebody who is in the middle of trying to change jobs or find a job, and may not have any vacation built up by then. But the vast majority of your guests aren't in that position and those people certainly can say "yes" or "no" to your kind invitation. If they won't, then I can tell you with 99.9 percent certainty, they are not coming to your wedding.

If you have a specific wedding planning question, you can always reach me through "Ask Sandy" on my new website -- but you might also find answers there to other wedding planning questions you've been thinking about. Most brides and grooms are wondering the same things you are.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

Sandy