Getting guests to pay for your honeymoon

By the time we began planning a wedding, we – like many American couples – already shared a home and had packed it with the stuff of most wedding registries: sheets, towels, china – even a stainless-steel rice cooker. So when friends asked where we planned to register for our wedding gifts, we blanked.

As a middle-aged pair, we have everything for married life – everything, that is, except the cash for a fabulous honeymoon. A friend who knows we rarely take exotic vacations suggested that we register for one. Given the cost of a honeymoon in 2008 – $3,805, according to The Wedding Report, a Phoenix, Ariz., wedding-industry research firm – the concept makes sense. The firm projects that wedding guests in 2008 will pay an average of $96 apiece for a gift – a price that, if multiplied, could send us off in style. But are honeymoon registries, well, tasteful?

”A honeymoon is a perfectly appropriate gift to request,” says Peter Post, president of the Emily Post Institute, a Burlington, Vt., etiquette think tank. ”There’s no objection to it from an etiquette point of view.”

Mr. Post advises that couples who are registering for a honeymoon also select nonhoneymoon gift options in the event some guests feel awkward funding a vacation. Thus counseled, we reviewed the many services that help couples take a honeymoon itinerary and itemize it into ”gift-able” components for wedding guests to give. We tested the concept with our planned honeymoon in Spain and Morocco by registering at services including HoneyLuna, Traveler’s Joy, The Big Day, Honeymoon Wishes, and Send Us Off.

The honeymoon registry industry has been around for more than a decade and has become crowded, with at least 10 companies offering registries that let newlyweds determine their own trips. (Lodging companies and tour companies also offer registries, but let a couple register only for those companies’ lodging or tour products.) Most open-ended registries follow the same format: Couples register online as they would at a retailer, choosing from honeymoon ”merchandise” (a night in a hotel, dinner) and then creating a shopping list for their honeymoon’s components.

Unlike a retail registry, however, these services let couples edit their list to reflect their use of gift items – in our case, theater tickets became bullfight tickets. Couples can also take a single big-ticket item (i.e., $1,000 round-trip airfare) and break it into a request for 20 gifts of $50 toward airfare to make this gift affordable for guests. Once guests choose and pay for items, the services notify the wedding couple. Services then forward funds to the newlyweds within days, weeks, or months of the wedding.

The services basically aggregate cash for couples: Guests don’t literally buy those bullfight tickets or the airfare, but rather choose bullfights and airfare as the element of the honeymoon they wish to fund. Ultimately, the wedding couple will take the sum of funds provided by their registry and deploy it as they wish. This means the services are essentially a honeymoon-themed front for collecting wedding cash – but one that’s much more palatable than a couple just asking for money outright from guests.

The services do charge fees – they charge the guests, the wedding couple, or both. The services host the registry online and all but Send Us Off offer phone-based customer service (for guests who prefer to buy a gift offline). All offer travel-agency service through their own agents or agent partners.

Fees tend to start in the 7 percent range (Traveler’s Joy, Send Us Off, Honeymoon Wishes), or they may vary based on the dollar amount of a guest’s gift. HoneyLuna charges 9 percent for registry services. It charges 15 percent if couples also use site-affiliated agents to book their trip. The Big Day charges both guests and newlyweds, making guests pay a 3 percent transaction fee and then skimming 7 percent off the wedding couple’s total take – a percentage that is lowered for honeymooners who book their travel via affiliated agents. Honeymoon Wishes lets couples decide who pays the 7 percent fee – them or their guests.

Knowing they compete with one another, many services offered lists detailing how they differ from ”other registry services.” But for us, the main differences involved set-up and aesthetics. With set-up, sites either offered prepopulated registries from which you could delete or customize items, or they offered empty or pared-down registries to which you could add items. We preferred the latter approach, as the first was time-consuming and, we found, a little overwhelming.

We found HoneyLuna’s and Honeymoon Wishes’ default set-ups somewhat difficult due to their prepopulated or suggested registry items, although we learned later that Honeymoon Wishes does have a do-it-yourself registry option. The Big Day offered a happy medium, letting couples take suggestions on what to include in a registry, copy items off other registries (developed for honeymoons in our same region), or work from scratch.

Send Us Off and Traveler’s Joy, at the other end of the spectrum, let us most easily create and add items from scratch. Traveler’s Joy also lets you create a pared-down personal wedding Web site. Send Us Off offered guests a simple interface – a list, really, topped with a brief note and couple photo – that was straightforward but felt too anonymous.

Will the experiment work? Ask us after Labor Day weekend, when we tie the knot. Until then, we’ll be adding items to our registry and seeing if guests ”buy” them.

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