Destination weddings: the secret way to save thousands and earn reward points

Destination weddings: the secret way to save thousands and earn reward points

  • Food and travel journalist Sofia Levin shares insights into planning a destination wedding, based on her own experience.
  • Get an idea of costs and pick up some useful tips.
  • A wedding is likely to be one of the biggest expenses in your life, so make the most of all that spending by earning heaps of credit card rewards points.

A couple of years ago my now-husband and I decided to tie the knot overseas to save money. It sounds counter-intuitive, but assuming you’re not set on Santorini, it’s possible. According to OneFlare, the average Australian wedding costs around $51,000.

I’m not going to share our final bill, but I will tell you that for significantly less than that we flew to an Indonesian island, put 75 guests up in a resort for four nights, enjoyed a cocktail party and group day trip to the Gili Islands and had a fully-catered, boozy and beautifully-decorated wedding with a live band.

Planning ahead pays dividends

Happy married couple after Bali wedding
Apel Photography

If there’s one piece of advice I can share, it is this: do your research and start early. It’s in my DNA to fact-check, cross-reference and be a little obsessive, but that worked in my favour. 

A week or so of Googling and phone calls quickly made me realise that a wedding in Bali is much more expensive than one in Melbourne, and a wedding in Melbourne is much more expensive than one in less-visited Lombok – a 20-minute flight from Denpasar. 

Once we had a shortlist of about eight places that felt affordable and offered decent wedding packages, we went on a reconnaissance trip, locking in our location a year in advance to allow ourselves and guests time to plan.

Believe me, you need a wedding coordinator

Bali wedding decorations
Apel Photography

Resorts usually have wedding packages that come with a coordinator. If they don’t, or are slow to respond, it’s going to make the process intolerable. We had a feeling we’d found our place and ‘our guy’ before we visited, but being there in person confirmed the level of warmth and service we were after. 

I received quotes from professional wedding planners, many with existing relationships and expertise in certain countries. They were atrociously expensive. Instead, we created mood boards for our coordinator and his team, with everything from table arrangements to decorations. 

I even made one for the cake I wanted, complete with an online recipe for the chef! 

Images are able to cross cultural barriers and make sure everyone is on the same page. 

Do you foot the whole bill? It’s your choice.

A beautiful evening wedding reception in Bali

As for our guests, it was our choice to pay for accommodation. Booking the venue for four days gave us incredible bargaining power – I even had three days at the resort’s other venue thrown in, to wind down at the end. 

The etiquette for overseas weddings is usually that the couple covers all meals and costs connected to the actual wedding event. Flights, accommodation and transfers are often at the expense of the individual guest.

In a perfect world, your wedding should be the best you’ve ever attended, irrespective of the fact that you’re the one walking down the aisle. If you adore planning a holiday, you will take pleasure in the planning process. For me, it felt like organising a trip for a big group of people I love, because that’s exactly what it was.

Tip: Your travel insurance is not the same as wedding insurance. Buy some, especially if you’re getting married somewhere that’s prone to natural disasters.

Looking back, is there anything I would change?

Wedding in Bali

In retrospect, there is something we could have done differently. We could have paid for all of our expenses on a single credit card to earn points, the same way businesses do.

From time to time, the American Express Explorer® Credit Card offers a 100,000-point sign-up bonus and two points earned for every dollar spent, points which can be transferred to eight different airlines. The $395 annual fee is off-putting, but you also get a $400 travel credit each year, so it effectively pays for itself when you take the attached benefits into account.

Working out the huge number of points we could have earned

Here is a quick breakdown of the points we could have earned.

The potential expenditure:

  • Flights to Bali – $1,000
  • Wedding ceremony – $1,000
  • Wedding venue + decor hire – up to $6,000
  • Hair & makeup – $190 per person
  • Photography – from $400 up to $2,300
  • Catering – $85 per guest
  • Entertainment – $1,000
  • Wedding cake – $400
  • Four nights accommodation for 75 guests – from $15,000

In addition to receiving 100,000 sign-up bonus points for my own card, I could also have earned more points through the American Express family and friends referral program by referring my partner.

So in total, we would be looking at:

  • Card sign-up bonus: 100,000 points
  • Amex referral bonus: 40,000 points
  • Partner’s card sign-up bonus: 100,000 points
  • Wedding related expenses: say $30,000 x 2 = 60,000 points

That’s an estimated total of 300,000 points we could have earned.

And remember, this does not take into account your everyday expenses in the year leading up to the wedding. A monthly spend at $2,000/month per person could earn you another 96,000 points per year. This brings your new total as a couple to 396,000.

Those points could have paid for us to extend our honeymoon, and fly there and back in Business Class.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It may not have helped me, but if you’re planning a destination wedding, make sure you don’t miss out on earning lots of points that will really put the icing on the wedding cake.

Get 50,000 Bonus Membership Rewards Points

Spend conditions apply.
American Express Explorer® Credit Card
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Get 50,000 Membership Rewards points when you apply online, are approved and spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.

Receive a $400 Travel Credit each year towards any flights, hotels and car hire when you book online with this card.

Smartphone Screen Insurance for up to $500 for screen repairs when you pay for your phone or contract with this card.

Earn 2 pts per $1 spent on eligible purchases, excluding Government spend where you earn $1 pt per $1 spent.

T&Cs and eligibility criteria apply. Available to new card members only.
Entry into The American Express Lounge is governed by the full Terms and Conditions available at

This credit card offer is subject to change and may not be directly related to the content of this article.