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The myth of the wedding markup.

Updated

“Are wedding services marked up just because they’re for weddings?”

We’ve heard that question so often, we turned to the numbers (and the experts) to find out. Every year Thumbtack helps connect hundreds of thousands of couples with wedding professionals in their area, giving us a wealth of insight into wedding cost estimates nationwide.

And because Thumbtack event professionals also specialize in dozens of non-wedding services — like birthday parties, reunions and school dances — we compared costs across multiple event types to see if the idea of a “wedding markup” is fact or fiction.



The truth we found is mixed: while some services really are more expensive for weddings, this certainly isn’t always the case. And if you break down what you get (from prep time to the quality of materials used), you may find that you get what you pay for.

Here’s when wedding services really do cost more than any other event — and when the sky-high price tag is nothing but a myth.

bride tapping on groom's shoulderThe planner

“Brides generally have a full vision that a planner has to come in and help turn into a reality. Weddings, because they are a dream, are so specific. A lot of the time, it takes four or five times to get things right. That research, those tryouts, and vendors, that’s time and money.” —Bill Asbell, Sunshine Weddings, LLC

Wedding planning cost

Average cost: $700 to $1,000
Premium pricing: $1,000 to $1,500

Wedding planner costs more: false

Not all event planning services are created equal, and depending on what kind of event planner you hire, your price tag will vary. For most weddings, the levels of planning are split in two: full-service and partial-service.

Bill Asbell, a wedding planner in Titusville, Florida explains the difference. “A wedding coordinator starts verifying and confirming everything either the month before or day-of," he says. 'A planner is involved a year, even two years in advance and cost three times as much.”

When it comes to planning something as huge, complicated and high-stakes as a wedding, couples generally opt for the full suite of planning services. On average, full-service wedding planning costs around $445 more than partial-service planning.

Full-service wedding planning cost

Average cost: $850 to $1,250
Premium pricing: $1,250 to $1,850

Partial-service wedding planning cost

Average cost: $695 to $855
Premium pricing: $855 to $1,200

Weddings are the most expensive type of event to plan, with one notable exception: the cost of high-end corporate planning is as expensive or more expensive than a wedding. But keep in mind that both are pricing outliers. Weddings and corporate events cost up to twice as much as planners for every other event category, from bridal showers to fundraisers.

One example: anniversary parties. At exactly half the cost, hiring a planner for romantic benchmarks such as anniversaries get less expensive after the wedding.

Anniversary party cost

Average cost: $300 to $500
Premium price: $500 to $800  

>>See pros near you: Get free wedding planning estimates.

people sitting down at wedding receptionThe food

“The formality of wedding catering drives up the price. And if you’re using high-quality rentals and serving high-quality food, you need high-quality experienced labor to match. That’s where the cost comes in.” —Rona Casterline, Bernwood Catering Co.

Wedding catering costs

Average cost: $2,300 to $2,500
Premium pricing: $2,500 to $2,705
Guest count: 100 to 125  

Weddings caterers cost more: false

When it comes to planning your wedding banquet, the options are endless—but keep in mind that each choice you make factors into your final bill. On a per-person basis, it may be more expensive to feed wedding guests than the same number of guests at another party, but as Rona Caterline, an event caterer in Naples, Florida explains, “Most people like real china and choose a venue with a certain motif about it for their wedding, and that’s expensive. Add in a full-service meal and the cost starts to make sense.”

On average, it costs more to cater a corporate event or holiday party than a wedding banquet. Because corporate parties tend to happen at the close of each quarter and during holiday season (dates that are consistent across companies) demand for catering within these windows spikes. Busy spells are often cause for pricing hikes, so as long as your wedding isn’t on the same day as your office Christmas party (and with wedding season occupying spring and summer, it probably won’t be) your odds of paying less look pretty good.

Corporate events cost

Average cost: $2,300 to $2,825
Guest count: 100 to 125  

>>Start planning today: Get free wedding catering estimates.

bride kissing groomThe forever photo

“No matter the size of the wedding I’m taking the same number of pictures and I’m editing them in the same way after. Headcount really doesn’t matter to wedding photographers. It’s time and it’s the date.” —Ivan Djikaev, Mind on Photography

Wedding photography cost

Average cost: $675 to $900
Premium cost: $900 to $1,500

Wedding photography costs more: true  

Wedding photography is the most popular kind of photography by far — and as we’ve seen across other wedding services, costs skyrocket when demand does.

Looking for a workaround? Consider getting married on a weekday.

“During wedding season the the most important thing is the day. There is a lot of competition for my services on Saturdays so I don’t tend to move much on price,” explains Ivan Djikaev, who runs a photography studio in Boston.

Outside of demand and date, one of the biggest factors driving up the cost of wedding photography is the scope of the photo package. For photographers, capturing perfect moments means capturing an event from all angles (with multiple cameras), being able to shoot individuals for portraits as well as larger action shots, and getting to know the bride and groom’s families to focus on the right people throughout the event. Also factoring into the final price: nearly 40 percent of couples select a wedding photography package that also includes an engagement shoot, driving up the cost by around 27 percent.  

On average, the cost of wedding photography is twice as much as general event photography and over three times as much as sports photography, engagement photography and aerial photography. Yes, photographers are making three times as much taking photos of wedding parties than they are hanging out of a helicopter.

Event photography cost

Average price: $235 to $700

Aerial photography cost

Average price: $200 to $495

Sports photography cost

Average price: $150 to $395

>>Contact pros near you: Get free wedding photography estimates.

groom and bride kissing in front of busThe ride

“The wedding industry has changed. Nowadays, everybody likes to drive to the wedding together in a luxury bus. Your whole party can share that time together, those hours of excitement. It’s less expensive than the three-car layout and definitely more efficient.” —John Waleski, Classic Coach Limousine

Wedding transportation cost

Average price: $250 to $400
Premium price: $400 to $575

Wedding transport costs more: false  

As it turns out, getting to the church on time is something of a bargain. “These days, a lot of weddings are a one-stop shop. Brides tend to get married in the same place as their reception so they don’t need a ride in between,” explains John Waleski, owner of Classic Coach Limousine in Cranford, New Jersey.

John remembers the days of the three-limo-rollout, unlike today, with the increasingly popular party bus. “Everyone can enjoy that time together,” he admits. “It’s definitely less expensive than the three-car layout.”

It costs 20 percent more to hire luxury transportation for a bachelor or bachelorette party than it does for a wedding. The reason? Time. While most wedding transportation rentals are for one to four hours, bachelor/bachelorette parties tend to last between four and eight hours. And pricing models tend to be steep: on average, the price of a stretch limo increases 30 percent for every two hours you rent.

Bachelor/bachelorette party cost

Average cost: $340 to $650
Average time: 4 to 8 hours

Shocking but true: birthday limos are more expensive than wedding limos by around $10 on average. If you’re wondering to yourself ‘when did birthdays become such a thing?’ know you’re not alone.

Birthday party cost

Average cost: $295 to $590
Average time: 3 to 6 hours

>>Don't delay: Get free wedding transportation estimates.

bride and groom dancingThe music

“The price of a wedding DJ comes down to three things: experience level, time and the size of the wedding.” —Gary Perl, Gary Perl’s Rock-On DJ Service

Wedding DJ costs

Average cost: $350 to $450
Premium pricing: $450 to $550

Wedding DJs cost more: true

Weddings are the longest, fanciest and biggest party most of us will ever throw. That’s exactly why they tend to cost the most

As Gary Perl, a Top Pro wedding DJ in Broadview, Ohio explains, “If your wedding is for under 100 people, we don’t need to truck in a massive sound system or stage. But if your wedding is over 100 people (and most are), you can anticipate those extra costs entering into the equation. And the price of a stage and speakers isn’t cheap.”

On average, wedding DJs play five-plus hour sets, longer than for any other event. Most events, including reunions and engagement parties, are 3.5 to 4.5 hours long, and wedding DJ prices reflect that extra time.

Corporate parties (like holiday get-togethers or quarterly celebrations) are similar to weddings in both length and price. But most corporate parties take place between Monday and Friday, while weddings almost always happen on weekend, which tend to be a high volume time for entertainers.

“Saturdays are prime time. You’ll find entertainers almost always charge more,” Gary says.  

Corporate event DJ cost

Average cost: $300 to $500
Average length: 4 hours

Prom season overlaps with wedding season in late spring and early summer. But unlike wedding season, which stretches to the end of October, prom season is short — and demand within that window is outrageous.

“When demand goes up, pricing bumps. That’s the truth of it,” says Gary.

School dances and prom DJ Cost

Average cost: $300 to $500
Average length: 3.5 hours

>>Here are the top pros near you: Get free wedding DJ estimates.

bride holding bouquetThe ‘I do’ hairdo

“More often than not I’m hired for the full wedding party. That means doing hair for anywhere between seven and 15 people. There’s no way I can do that without an assistant — and that’s one more person to pay.” —Madison Cardoza, King Cardoza Studio

Wedding hairstyling cost

Average cost: $75 to $130
Premium pricing: $130 to $270

Weddings hairstyling costs more: true

Weddings tend to be long, lively, at times humid affairs — and for most of us that means one thing: by the end of the night, your hair’s a mess. And if you’re the one tossing the bouquet at the end of the night, ratty hair is not an option. That’s why most brides hire a professional stylist, one who can craft a picture-perfect hairdo that won’t melt to pieces when the dance floor heats up.

For this reason, hairstyling preparations tend to begin months before the wedding. Around 70 percent of brides request a pre-event trial when shopping for a hairstylist, compared to the less than 20 percent who do so for non-wedding events. And once they’re hired, wedding stylists are in for a long day.

As San Diego-based hairstylist Madison Cardoza explains, “I do full wedding parties a lot—anywhere between 7 and 15 people. They tend to want their hair down, which means I have to set it, and if I’m setting hair for more than two people at a time I need help. That all adds up."

Hiring a hairstylist for a school formal on the other hand, can cost as little as a third the cost of wedding styling. Unlike wedding parties, high schoolers tend to get their hair done for the prom one-on-one, driving the average event cost way, way down.  

School dance hairstyling cost

Average cost: $60 to $100
Average size: 1 person

Birthday hair makeovers are a relative bargain. And unlike prom styling, just under 85 percent of birthday hairstyling requests are for more than one person. Still, most birthday gigs can’t get close to the communal price tag of one of Madison’s 15-person (and 2+ stylist) wedding styling sprees.

Birthday party hairstyling cost

Average cost: $65 to $150
Average size: 1 to 3 people

>>Hire a pro: Get free wedding hairstyling estimates.

bride getting readyThe makeup

“Weddings are really hectic for the vendors involved, and I give more time to my brides than other clients. At the end of the day, you need these services on your wedding day, and the people providing them need the time to make everything perfect.” —Monique Renee, Unveiled Ego

Wedding makeup styling cost

Average cost: $75 to $120
Premium pricing: $120 to $250
Ask for a trial run: 70 percent  

Wedding makeup costs more: true

Dewy wedding glows don’t just happen — they’re carefully crafted by experienced professionals. For this reason, few brides leave their day-of makeup up to chance. Well over half of all brides request a makeup trial run for their wedding day, increasing the final price of styling by a considerable margin. Also expensive — the makeup being used.

“A lot of brides want airbrush makeup which costs significantly more,” explains Monique Renee, whose Chicago-based makeup company specializes in both weddings and other private events.

According to Monique, wedding makeup costs more because it takes longer and involves more steps. For example, Monique starts all of her bride sessions with a hydrating face mask to lock in moisture and brighten their look.

On average, brides pay 1.5 times more for makeup styling on their wedding day than do individuals getting glam for a birthday or special event. At its most expensive extreme, brides hiring makeup artists pay 2.5 times more than high school seniors do for prom makeup.

Prom makeup cost

Average cost: $65 to $130
Ask for a trial run: 18 percent

>>Start planning your wedding now: Get free wedding makeup estimates.

The wedding pricing lesson: weddings aren’t always the most expensive event service out there. So know what’s in a price before you panic, get married in the off-season and say “I do” on a Tuesday. But as any soon-to-be bride knows, the list doesn’t stop there.

For more information on what it costs to hire everything from the person who marries you, to your first-dance specialist, and the videographer how can capture it all in style, visit Thumbtack’s pricing calculator.

Here are more wedding service professionals you can hire on Thumbtack:

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