1. Don't be afraid to negotiate, but don't be jerk about it.
Between my work in the travel industry and my work in the wedding industry, I've seen a lot of negotiation happen in the interest of booking room blocks and getting weddings. You see, hotels and resorts typically have multiple rates for a single room or facility rental, and sales managers have some flexibility for getting you what you want at a lower price. Don't be afraid to negotiate for a better deal on your venue, especially if your guests are staying at the resort or hotel, or your wedding is off season.
(Note: Winter is NOT an off season at a ski resort.)
Remember that the vendors you are negotiating with negotiate with practically every bride, and you all say the same thing “Can you do better? I'm on a tight budget.” Seriously, you're not being original. Everyone knows that every planning book and wedding magazine tells brides to negotiate with vendors.
But the real trick to effective negotiation is to put yourself in your vendors' shoes. Understand what they need. If you're getting married mid-week in the off season, they will likely welcome the business you and your guests will bring to them. If you're getting married on a Saturday at peak season, you may be flat out told, No when you ask for a discount.
You can even ask, “what would you need from me to get the price down?” If you're really on a budget and cannot afford the quoted fee, consider being flexible with your dates or reducing the size of your guest list.
Finally, you can negotiate for perks. In the industry, these are called “value adds.” Ask if the venue can waive the parking fee, coat check fee, or cake cutting fee, each of which can add hundreds of dollars to your final bill.
2. Consider midweek or Sunday
Look, nearly every couple wants to get married on a Saturday night. It's especially convenient if you are getting married close to home and your guests have to work on Friday and Monday. But if you're having a destination Mountain wedding, you have more flexibility. Many of your guests are likely taking some vacation time to accommodate travel days and to enjoy a few days in the mountains. Consider having a midweek wedding (I always loved the idea of getting married on a Wednesday… if you say it right, it sounds like Weddings-Day). Sunday weddings work well too.
If you have a mid week destination wedding, take the time to set up suggested itineraries to orient your wedding guests to the area and ensure they have a wonderful time in the mountains. Remember, your guests are likely taking their vacation (or part of their vacation) to attend your wedding. Make it amazing for them.
3. Be aware of hidden fees.
Coat check, parking, cake cutting, corkage, added security personnel, tax and tip. These fees can account for up to 30% extra on top of your bill. So if your reception venue and catering comes to $10,000, you're looking at an additional $3,000 in fees.
Also ask about over time. Many venues have a steep hourly rate for overtime. It's better to contract for a midnight stop time than to pay thousands of extra dollars to go for an extra hour past your original 11pm stop time. In addition to venue, reception and rental overtime fees, expect to pay your band or DJ, photographer, and planner will likely have overtime rates. As will your rental company and wedding planner. So either honor or original stop time, or opt for a longer reception in your contract.
4. Have your ceremony and reception at one venue
When you factor in church fees, extra transportation fees for getting from your ceremony to your reception, and travel time for your photographer, videographer and planner may bill, you may see an increase of a thousand dollars or more to the overall cost of your wedding. Having the ceremony and the reception in one place can also save you money on decoration, because the ceremony flowers can be moved to the reception hall. (Be sure to ask if there is an additional staff and labor fee for this service.)
5. Look for sites that require little extra decorating
This is my favorite venue hack of all time. Consider botanical gardens, arboretums, historic houses, galleries and museums, and venues with stunning mountain views. All of these have gorgeous build-in decor. Do keep in mind that the more beautiful the place, the more expensive it may be. Set up a cost breakdown sheet to compare venues.