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Skip the silver, register for a honeymoon

By Marnie Hunter, CNN
A trip to Paris can be a fun alternative for newlyweds who already have the traditional wedding gift items.
A trip to Paris can be a fun alternative for newlyweds who already have the traditional wedding gift items.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 11% of couples opt for a honeymoon registry, according to one study
  • Concept has become socially acceptable in the past few years, weddings editor says
  • Online registry companies collect funds from guests earmarked for various travel expenses
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(CNN) -- Jessica McCrary and her fiance don't need another pot or pan.

"The ones we already have only occasionally meet the stove," McCrary and Donovan Campbell posted in a message to wedding guests on their honeymoon registry. "As for fine china, we thought France & Spain would be more romantic!"

The Miami couple is among a growing number of soon-to-be-marrieds who have opted to register for honeymoon travel instead of the typical blender or towel set. Eleven percent of couples registered for honeymoon-related gifts either in place of or in addition to traditional housewares, according to a 2010 registry study conducted by WeddingChannel.com and TheKnot.com.

Honeymoon registries have gained in popularity in the past five years. And in the past year or two, the concept has become more socially familiar and acceptable, said Amy Eisinger, editor of WeddingChannel.com.

Scott Ellingboe got into the honeymoon registry business early. In 1999, he co-founded the online registry The Honeymoon after talking with a colleague who was on the verge of his third marriage and another set of typical gifts. The travel registry idea was too late for Ellingboe's own nuptials. He got married in 1986 and received "a lot of stuff that we really didn't need, and the china, of course, which to this day has been used maybe 10 times in going on 25 years."

The Honeymoon site works like most of the many honeymoon registries that have sprouted up online in the past decade: The couple outlines a honeymoon itinerary, dividing the trip into increments covering things like airfare, hotel stays and activities -- from scuba diving to candlelit dinners and couples massages.

The couple, or an agent, ultimately books the trip and is responsible for paying each vendor. The registry mirrors what they have planned, earmarking funds for each component.

"It's a less obvious approach to giving cash," Ellingboe said. "It's cash with a purpose."

Wedding guests can pick parts of the honeymoon trip to help fund, and that money is transferred to the couple by the registry. Most charge fees of between 7.5% and 10% of the gift amount, paid by guests or the newlyweds.

The Honeymoon charges 7.5% for amounts up to $500 and smaller percentages for greater gift values.

Some resorts, including Marriott and Disney, offer registries that give gift cards to the couple without fees.

The etiquette

Generally, couples who choose Spain over saucepans are a little older, already live together or have been married before. Probably half of The Honeymoon's registrants are getting married for the second time, Ellingboe said.

"The bottom line is that among the older, more modern, more cosmopolitan couples, it's very OK to them to do this sort of thing, especially when you already have all the traditional household items," WeddingChannel's Eisinger said.

McCrary, 28, and Campbell, 36, live together and have established careers. McCrary runs her own business, a wedding and event planning company called Lavish Soiree, and Campbell is a sportscaster for a Miami TV station. This is the first marriage for both.

They're expecting about 250 guests at the oceanfront Miami Beach wedding McCrary has planned, the cost of which they'll be sharing with their parents. When they started to think about registering, the department store model didn't feel right.

"We just kept looking at items that we did not need. And so it kind of put me in the mindset of what could we use, what could we create for people to get us as gifts that we could actually utilize?" McCrary said.

McCrary decided to work with her Web designer on a customized honeymoon registry. It's a service she's now offering to her clients for a flat fee, starting at $800.

The response to her own registry has been very positive, she said. "Maybe I'm just around like-minded individuals, but I haven't heard, even through hearsay, any type of negative feedback."

Guests of all ages have been excited to see and share in the experiences they've planned during their trip to France and Spain, she said.

But ultimately, the contributions are designated, not committed, to each activity. McCrary said everything guests choose on the registry will be purchased, and the couple plans to take photos along the way to send to guests with their thank-you notes.

Like all things wedding-related, there is some debate about what's appropriate. The word "tacky" gets thrown around a lot among posters on wedding website message boards.

It's true that not everyone is in love with the idea. One of Eisinger's friends wanted a honeymoon registry to help with air travel costs to Fiji. Her family balked at the idea, so she compromised and registered for fine china and servingware, to give some guests a traditional option, and the honeymoon, for friends who want to contribute to that experience.

Eisinger offered these tips for couples considering a honeymoon registry:

• Choose at least one store registry to give guests the option of a more traditional gift.
• Register for your honeymoon through a website. Sending a card or putting a note on your wedding site asking directly for contributions would be considered tacky, she said. (WeddingChannel partners with honeymoon registry site Traveler's Joy.)
• Read the fine print on honeymoon registries; make sure the fees are very clear.
• Try to avoid extensive itemizing. Couples who register for travel are generally more established and might want to stick to airfare, hotels and major excursions.
• Put yourself in your guests' shoes; what would you feel comfortable buying for them?

One couple Eisinger knows registered for snacks on the plane. Maybe a step too far, she said.

"You can't control what the bride and the groom do as a guest, but what you can control is what you pay for."