Honeymoon Helper

Tom Nick Cocotos

You could register for a set of fine china, or you could register for a trip to China instead.

Honeymoon registries sound appealing to engaged couples and gift givers alike: After all, a South Pacific cruise is more exciting than new pots from Williams-Sonoma. Honeymoon registry specialists The Big Day, HoneyLuna, Distinctive Honeymoons, Traveler's Joy, and The Honeymoon now compete with programs from lodging chains Marriott, Starwood, and Sandals. Even Aruba Tourism is getting in on the action, allowing couples to register for Jeep safaris and restaurant gift certificates. The problem, as with marriage itself, is that some couples sign up for honeymoon registries without knowing what they're getting themselves into.

Create a wish list

There are several big differences between agencies like HoneyLuna and programs from lodging companies. Some of the honeymoon specialists are simply travel agents that book whatever trip a couple pleases--and like any middlemen, the agents add a fee one way or another. A registry through such an agency can include first-class flights, overwater bungalows, hot-air-balloon rides, dinner on the beach, estimated cab fares, bottles of champagne, and more. Airfare and lodging can be divvied up on the registry in suggested gift amounts ($100, say) or at per-night rates, the same way other couples list place settings. A honeymoon registry might also include vague items like "happy-hour dollars" (whatever that means) and "shopping."

With lodging-chain registries, couples may select only tours, meals, and accommodations operated by the company and affiliated vendors. On the other hand, gifts for these registries usually come as a flexible credit. If it rains on the day the couple is scheduled to go snorkeling, that dollar amount can be exchanged for (on-property) spa treatments, cocktails, or room service.

Ultimately, it's your bill

With traditional wedding registries, couples select their wineglasses and whatnot, then wait for the gifts. If the gifts never come, it's no problem because no money was spent up front. Travel registries work differently. Airfare and certain tours must be reserved and paid for long before wedding presents are traditionally given. Couples pay for much of their honeymoons in advance, hoping guests will chip in with gifts down the road.

Can't hurt to ask

Many splurges--$200 couple's massages, private boating excursions--don't have to be reserved beforehand. A couple can wait and see if somebody picks up the tab, knowing that if guests don't come through, the newlyweds aren't on the hook for something they can't afford.

More personal than cash

Wedding guests view the registry online and pay via credit card. The registry company notifies the engaged couple every time a guest buys a gift. Distinctive Honeymoons, for example, sends an e-card in which a gift box opens to reveal a personalized message from the giver. All the websites track who has given what in order to help couples organize their thank-you notes.

But still pretty impersonal

Typically, the agency mails the couple a check for whatever's in the account shortly before the wedding. A second and third check may be sent to account for late gifts. For registries through Starwood, Sandals, and Marriott, the couple receives a gift card or company credit.

Expiration dates

Starwood's registry gifts--called Honey Money--expire two years from the purchase date, which seems stingy. Marriott credits, on the other hand, never expire.

Watch the fees

The Honeymoon adds an 8.85 percent service fee, meaning a wedding guest who wants to give one $200 hotel night actually has to pay the agency almost $218. In fact, all the honeymoon-specialist agencies tack on fees of some kind for registries. The Big Day charges 9 percent, though the fee decreases depending on how much the couple books through the agency. Distinctive Honeymoons charges couples a flat $150 to set up a registry and doesn't take a percentage of gifts. But you'll pay more if you use one of its agents to "customize and build your registry so you don't need to do the work," as its website suggests. "Each itinerary will be evaluated as to the fee charged" on top of the original $150. Sandals registries use American Express gift cards, which have a handling fee of 10 percent. There are no extra fees for registries through Marriott and Starwood.

Don't assume it's a good value

There's no guaranteeing that prices for airfare, lodging, and tours booked via any registry are the best out there. In fact, rates may be inflated. One option at Aruba Tourism is a barhopping excursion called the Kukoo Kunuku. It costs $130 per couple via the registry program, but only $54 per person for bookings made online directly with the company.

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