“I don’t understand why every bachelorette party has to be an out-of-town trip,” a woman recently confided in me at a destination bachelorette party. I understood the confusion. I was the only attendee who didn’t live within an hour drive of the bride’s hometown, so it would have made sense to just have a fun weekend in their local city. Yet elaborate bachelorette weekends are increasingly common with guests spending upwards of $537, according to a survey from The Knot.
I write about money for a living, helping “broke millennials” better manage their finances. I was also well aware of how expensive weddings can be for the bride and groom as well as their guests. Despite this, when I got engaged in the fall of 2017, I (perhaps selfishly) wanted a destination bachelorette party in part because I wanted to take a fun trip with my favorite people.
Besides, I argued, my closest friends and family live all over the country, which meant even if I stayed local, hosting a party in New York City, 85% of the guest list would still have to travel to a not-very-cost-effective destination.
Still, guilt immediately started to seep into my gut, because I’ve been a bridesmaid five times, and I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the last six years on such events. I knew going in it wasn’t a cheap ask of my friends. So, one of my goals as a bride was to attempt the near-impossible: make sure the entire wedding process didn’t become a financial burden on my guests.
To start, I sent a Google doc to the women invited to my bachelorette party. “As your resident money nerd, I would like to make this bachelorette party as affordable as possible. One of the best ways I can help do that is by reducing your travel spend!” the introduction proclaimed. From there, I offered my guests advice on how to make this trip more affordable. Ahead, I share my tips with you.
Choose an affordable destination that works for everyone
Before I even sent that Google doc to my friends, my LA-based sister — who was in charge of planning my bachelorette party — and I started to scout out fun but affordable cities where we could go for the weekend. We took the time to evaluate the price of flights from the home cities of various attendees and as well as the cost of AirBnBs and local activities. We determined that Montreal was actually most affordable and convenient for the majority of invitees. We then presented this option and a handful of domestic ones (including Denver and Savannah), to the guests for input. Yes, my bachelorette party ended up being international, but it still worked out to be more affordable than many domestic ones I’ve attended. (It also didn’t hurt to leverage the conversion rate at the time.)
Nix other wedding traditions to focus on what you care about
As a bride and groom, it’s critical to evaluate what you actually value and focus your budget there. One value for me was to minimize the cost of my wedding for my bridesmaids. To that end, we decided against having an engagement party and I declined a bridal shower. Our families, both immediate and extended, don’t live close to each other and none of them live near us in New York City, so it felt asinine to keep asking people to travel for multiple events.
In addition, I also paid for my bridesmaids’ dresses as well as the cost to have their hair done for the wedding.
Another thing I value: travel. I’m lucky that most of my loved ones also love to travel. While other wedding traditions like a bridal shower just felt like an obligation at best, I truly wanted to a destination bachelorette party. Since I had eschewed other traditions in order to save money, I felt less guilty about asking my friends to join me for this trip.
Use credit cards smartly
Once we’d settled on a destination, I shared a doc with all the attendees on how they could use credit card bonuses to cover — or drastically subsidize — the cost of airfare. Travel hacking is something my husband and I do fairly often to reduce the cost of our trips, and it’s certainly possible to do without incurring any credit card debt. You just have to know how to play the game.
In theory, travel hacking is pretty simple. You open a new rewards credit card that offers a welcome bonus, which can then be redeemed for travel. Usually, you need to spend a few thousand dollars in the first few months after you open the card to receive the bonus.
For example, CNBC Select recommends the United℠ Explorer Card for people who frequently fly United Airlines. New cardmembers can get 60,000 bonus miles after they spend $3,000 in the first three months after they open the account. Of course, the value of miles varies from airline to airline, so you’ll want to do your homework before you sign up for a card.
You can also keep your eye out for when bonus offers spike. The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is offering 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Offer expires 10/28/2020. Do your research to see if the card you want to get routinely offers a higher bonus before you apply.
A lot of people get nervous about travel hacking because they worry it will hurt their credit score. Applying for a new credit card generally only dings you about five to 10 points and that is often recouped in a few months. Closing a card can also hurt you score a little bit, but as long as you’re not opening and closing a bunch of cards a year, or not closing your oldest card, you should be fine. However, if you’re planning to apply for a mortgage soon, it’s best to be on credit score lock-down and not do anything that could bring down your score even the smallest amount.
Before I got into the recommendations, I made one final point.
When this isn’t a good option
I don’t know the full scope of my friends’ financial lives and therefore wanted to remove the risk of encouraging anyone to open credit cards when it wasn’t in their best financial interest.
If you want to get into the travel hacking game, it’s important that you aren’t carrying any credit card debt and to have a baseline credit score of around 730. I was sure to make both of those details clear in the document.
It’s also crucial not to carry a balance on the credit cards you’re hacking. If you’re paying interest on your credit card debt, it pretty much negates any savings you might earn from a welcome bonus. If the cost of the welcome bonus — say $3,000 in three months — is outside of what you usually spend, it’s not a good idea to apply.
I urged people to only try hacking if they were able and committed to paying off the credit card on time and in full each month. No one should be going into debt or harming their credit score for a bachelorette party.
Credit card options
After a lot of explanations and disclaimers, I finally made some credit card recommendations and explained the difference between airline-branded credit cards (Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card) and generic travel cards (Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred®) pointing out that generic travel cards may provide more flexibility for a bachelorette and/or wedding travel.
I also added screenshots explaining how to redeem points and the difference between using the credit card company’s travel portal or just applying points to a purchase. Though rewards portals usually give you a better value, it could mean less flexibility on booking the airline or itinerary you’d prefer.
For example, I currently have 89,873 points on one of my cards. If I purchased a flight and just applied those points as cash back to pay off the bill, it would convert to $898.73. But if I booked my flight through the credit card’s travel portal I get a better return on my points for a value of $1,123.41 but lose the convenience of having more flights to choose from.
It’s also important to evaluate the annual fee, if you have to pay one up front. Sometimes a fee can be worth sticker shocking price. A few years ago, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® in order to get the big welcome bonus (100,000 points at the time; currently it’s 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in three months), but it had a $450 annual fee (the fee has since increased to $550). This is more than four times what I’d ever paid in an annual fee. However, the card came with a $300 travel rebate, which could be used on everything from ride-shares to hotel stays, a $100 credit if you applied for Global Entry (once every four years) and access to Priority Pass, which gets you into airline lounges around the world. Other cards I’ve hacked came with $95 annual fees, and the biggest perk was just a free checked bag. I ultimately decided to cancel some of those cards, since I wasn’t regularly flying the airline and I rarely check bags.
Giving people ample notice and an out
I sent this travel doc nine months before our trip, which was ample notice for them to take advantage of at least one credit card welcome bonus. The notice also gave guests plenty of time to incrementally save up if they wanted to attend.
While I did truly strive to plan a fun and affordable destination bachelorette party, I felt it important to give people an out. So I closed the travel hacking document saying:
No hard feelings if this feels out of your budget or just too stressful with other commitments in 2018. I do not want this to feel like a burden to anyone.
In addition to the “out” clause, I followed up individually with invitees to express the sincerity that if this didn’t align with their budgets or if they simply felt overbooked with other wedding events or just had different personal financial goals or travel desires — to please not worry about declining, which some did.
Ultimately, the Montreal bachelorette weekend ended up being a trip my friends still talk about, and I feel good that it wasn’t a weekend that broke the bank — or our friendships.
Latest: Chase Sapphire Reserve increases annual fee to $550—is the card still worth the cost?
Information about the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.