How I Hacked My Wedding

Weddings are complicated. I proposed to Megan on the top of a volcano, keeping the whole thing secret until the very last minute. (Pro tip: a 10,000-foot elevation at 3 AM is just about the only cold place in Hawaii, making it easier to justify wearing a fleece, and thus giving you a place to hide the ring.) I booked an incredible honeymoon that will span five cities, two weeks, and cost only $1,500 out-of-pocket to stay at some of the finest hotels in the world. It took just a couple days to plan and book.

But the wedding…

Oh, there’s nothing as stressful and involved as planning a wedding. Here are a few things I learned from the experience — things that might help you plan your own wedding (or your children’s, because the wedding is never about the bride and groom) while keeping a mind toward travel and loyalty programs. And if you live in Seattle, I have a list of recommended vendors, too.

Sign-Up Bonuses …for Others

One thing I would have liked to do is sign up every guest for a hotel and airline credit card. It was a destination wedding for everyone but us, and their trip could have been free even with Seattle’s typically expensive summer rates. I might have even made a tidy sum from affiliate fees to pay for the whole thing. :D More than a few of my readers suggested it, but Megan nixed the idea pretty early. I suppose she’s right. Credit cards can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Still, if you feel you have a responsible family, this might be a good idea. I wouldn’t worry too much about looking for award space since you won’t find enough for everyone anyway if you have a large guest list. Focus instead on fixed-value programs like Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, and Barclaycard Arrival card’s “miles” that can be used to book almost any flight. If you do look at something like a United or Delta card, make plans to book a standard-level award.

Unexpected Category Bonuses

Get your own cards in a row early because you may be carrying large balances, which look bad when you apply for a new card. Megan and I haven’t applied for anything this year except one or two cards in February. Some cards that were priorities were a Sapphire Preferred for the hotel and caterer (yes, it counts as a “restaurant”) and a Premier Rewards Gold Card for booking flights for family (and getting reimbursed).

We also wanted a Williams-Sonoma credit card so we could earn a 1% store credit on all the gifts other people purchased for us off the registry. Although it has a piddly $25 sign-up bonus, there is no annual fee and Megan was targeted for a mid-year promotion offering a $150 store credit if she spent $500 a month for three months. (Williams-Sonoma, by the way, also has a better selection and often better prices than Macy’s in our experience, plus it offered our guests free shipping on nearly every item. Macy’s also required us to get a Macy’s credit card for their 10% completion discount. While I liked that we had a W-S card, I’m glad we didn’t need to get it.)

Our one goof: Megan lost her Sapphire Preferred the week before our final payment to the caterer. I’ve complained before that I think the 3X points for dining the first Friday of every month is a joke. It’s such a minor benefit unless you’re spending thousands of dollars dining out. Except we were! So we didn’t pay the caterer until Monday, and the card still hadn’t arrived in the mail after waiting a week. I put it on my Hyatt Visa, which earns 2X points on dining.

Plan for Annual Spend Bonuses

Megan and I did not focus much on category bonuses because we figured this year would be a good opportunity to make a go at annual spend bonuses. Remember, I’m not all that big on manufactured spend, not least because there is no ready source of Vanilla Reloads in a 600 mile radius of Seattle. It takes a lot of effort to put 10s of thousands of dollars of spend on a card unless we have something that we are actually buying.

And buy we did. Toward the end we grew so tired of planning and strategizing that we’d just whip out the card and pay for it — whatever it was. I’m glad our parents chipped in, too. (And these figures below do include some manufactured spend, so it wasn’t as lavish as you might think from first glance.)

We focused on Megan’s British Airways Visa, which is nearly at the $20,000 threshold required to get a bonus 50,000 Avios points (note: this offer is no longer available). We may decide to go for $30,000, which will also earn us a companion certificate (this offer is available) that is valid for either a paid or award ticket, effectively doubling the value of those points. We are also nearly done with spending $30,000 on my Premier Rewards Gold Card for an extra 15,000 Membership Rewards points and $40,000 on my Hyatt Visa for some extra elite stay credits toward my Diamond status.

Strategize with Status and Flexible Rates

Our host hotel was the Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle, one of three Kimpton hotels here. And it. Was. Amazing! I told everyone I could to sign up for Kimpton’s InTouch program before arriving so they could get the free WiFi and a $10 minibar credit. A few of us also had status matches to Inner Circle and received complimentary suite upgrades upon arrival.

Because this was a wedding, I was also able to arrange for a few rooms to be upgraded in advance at a discounted rate. But we knew we’d probably need some backup for people who didn’t plan in advance for the wedding block (the rate nearly tripled as we neared the event). My dad’s girlfriend booked several refundable rates at the nearby Renaissance hotel, assigning them to guests as the need arose, so no one went homeless.

People Matter More than Anything

Not just the guests, of course, but the people helping you plan for the guests. I’ve always shied away from doing business with people who rub me the wrong way. I would rather work with no contract and a handshake with someone I trust because it shows when you worry more about the money than the work itself. Megan and I would recommend every vendor we worked with — save one — because they did excellent work. Since I have a platform, I think it’s only right I use it to give them the recognition they deserve.

VOWS Wedding

Katy was always there to answer our questions when we had them. I think most of the time we were distracted with other things (Megan was getting her architecture license, and I was chatting with you guys) but she still managed to keep her cool and complete the final details on the day of the ceremony. She was a useful ally in pressing other vendors for discounts, whether a flat percent off, an extra hour, or some other benefit. This saved a couple thousand dollars, making up for some of the expense of hiring a wedding planner.

Carol Harrold Photography

Choose your photographer with care. On your wedding day, you will see this person more than anyone else. Not to mention that these pictures will last far longer than memories. Carol could do no wrong, and every word and action was intended to keep you happy and relaxed. We’re very glad that we also used her for our engagement shoot so we would have some idea what to expect from her on the big day.

Alexis Hotel

I mentioned them before, but I’ll say it again: Great hotel, great service, and a great discounted rate for the wedding block. Every room is different, but everyone talked about how impressed they were with the hotel.

Ravishing Radish

We really wanted to focus on Pacific Northwest cuisine at our wedding. Everyone agreed it was some of the best “wedding food” they’d ever had. They also allowed us to provide our own alcohol with no corkage fee, which saved us thousands of dollars on the open bar since my parents work at a winery and get an industry discount.

Cake Envy

Obviously we had to get our cake from this cute little shop next to Green Lake, which we’ve been jogging around for six years. I’d never had a wedding cake so good as this, made with local ingredients, and the strawberry buttercream was so much better than some jelly filling with white frosting (it reminded me of strawberry ice cream). Helen, the owner, was great to work with.

Urban Light Studios

Originally in the Greenwood Neighborhood near our home, they also purchased the old Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle’s Pioneer District and converted it into an art gallery and event space. We were their first wedding, too! Kevin and Erin were very accommodating, and I’m sure this will soon become one of Seattle’s hottest venues.

British Motor Coach

Our driver from the church to the reception waited patiently for 15 minutes, gave us our privacy, and drove the 1962 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II with great care. Believe me, you don’t want to drive to your own reception in Seattle’s traffic. He also went to go get us some gelato for a break between photos! We’re incredibly sorry we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye since a passing pedicab offered us a free lift the rest of the way.

Braden Landon DJ & MC

Megan originally didn’t want a DJ at all, but I figured it was a necessity because one shouldn’t put a guest in charge of an iPod for the evening after everything else we carefully planned. He did an excellent job with little to go on other than a few suggestions that give him a sense of our style. Plus he coordinated with my good friend Jeff, who did an amazing rap toast.

Conclusion

Despite all the chaos, it was a terrific event. We had a bit of rain the Saturday before, and now it’s grey and gloomy the week after, but there was perfect weather on our day. There was even a brief thunderstorm the night before, giving us some “lucky” rain without interfering with the day’s festivities. And nearly every plan went off without a hitch — even the things we didn’t plan — thanks to a bit of luck and a lot of hard work on everyone’s part!


That one vendor I said we don’t recommend? WithinSodo is a converted warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo district. We found out several months after signing the contract that it had been gutted and was in the midst of heavy renovations — and with no notice at all. Getting our money back was a drawn out mess after the site manager made a stink and said we were “lucky” to get anything. Lucky? We were well within the cancellation period. Experiences like this are why I hate working with people who hide behind their contracts and lawyers rather than take the high road and recognize their mistakes. To this day we’re still out a non-refundable $500 security deposit, which I feel we shouldn’t have to pay because it’s no longer the same space.

Disclosure: A few cards are mentioned in this post which earn me an affiliate fee if you use the links to apply. Your support is always appreciated.

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
Email // Twitter // Facebook // Google+ // Subscribe by RSS

  • Paul Goodman

    i enjoyed this article since i am also planning a Seattle wedding next year.

  • AnotherAndroidKid

    All the above is why I say spend on the honeymoon and skip the wedding completely.

  • diana w

    Was just reading about cake envy last night. Now I need to go!

  • http://travelthusiast.com/ Rachael Z

    Aw…that was so sweet (of your friend to do that rap) :)
    And it only took you a couple of days to book that honeymoon? Geez…you’re good ;-)

  • kyunbit

    Congrats once again!

  • Aptraveler

    A helpful review topped with a great ‘rap’ at the end, what’s not to like?. Congrats again to the happy couple!

  • Ryan

    congrats on the marriage!

  • http://weddingspend.com/ Wedding Spend

    I hear ya. I just finished my own wedding and in the midst of planning it and deciding how to best allocate spend on which credit cards and finding all the right vendors, it was a bit hectic. I also found a lot of my friends asking me the same questions about my research regarding price, quality, etc. so I decided to start my own blog (http://weddingspend.com) dedicated to smart wedding spending with a mix of travel as well.

  • Jordan

    Scott, would it possible for you to use your own links to get a affiliate fees for cards you signed up for? or your wife signed up for?

  • LTL

    Even if half of he $90k was manufactured, $45k is still a really expensive wedding…

  • I L

    This says it all, “Toward the end we grew so tired of planning and strategizing that we’d just whip out the card and pay for it — whatever it was.” =)

  • http://www.BaldThoughts.com/ Lee Huffman

    Great job with maximizing your wedding! You’re right, the photos last much longer than the memories does… plus, they help re-live the day when you can stop and relax vs. being in the moment and freaking out about trying to get things perfect. My wife was willing to forgo just about everything else so that we could have a top-notch photographer and video guy combo. Luckily, we didn’t have to sacrifice much :) Congrats on your wedding!

  • Baqa

    + 1 on British Motor Coach – they are the only vendor we had in common with you but we also very much enjoyed their service.