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The Secret to Charging Wedding Clients for Travel, While Increasing Your Bookings

airplane-flying-sunrise
 
Do you ever receive email inquiries for weddings a few hours away?
 
Are you aware of the proper etiquette when billing for travel?
 
Let me let you in on a little secret… there is none.
 
Talking with other industry professionals, it seems everyone has their own way of doing things, especially when it comes to the smaller more trivial items like travel costs. Our method is a little on the conservative side, but it works very well.
 
Here’s how it goes.
 
Our headquarters are in Boston, so in general, anything located in the state of Massachusetts we won’t charge a travel fee. Typically the furthest we’ll drive in Massachusetts to a wedding venue is no more than an hour away, with the exception of Cape Cod, which we’ll get to in just a minute.
 
Being in the northeast, we’re fairly close to other states like Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island… you get the idea. It’s not uncommon for us to have weddings in 5-6 states every single season.
 
With all the traveling we do, we wanted an easy way of charging people for travel.
 
We definitely don’t hide the fact that we’re charging the travel fee, nor has anyone had an issue when it’s brought up. The explanation is very simple… you don’t want us to risk weekend traffic commuting to your wedding on Saturday morning.
 
The travel fee must cover enough for a two-night hotel stay. The night before the wedding, and the night of the wedding. End of story.
 
Some studios like to opt for the same rules that apply for tax write-offs and simply bill travel the same way Uncle Sam reimburses a freelancer, or 57.5 cents on the dollar for every mile. For us, that makes zero sense.
 
From our studio to Chatham, Massachusetts (in Cape Cod) is roughly 188 miles both ways. That would theoretically come to a travel fee of $108. There’s no way we’re risking NOT spending the night before locally, and I’m usually way too tired to drive back the same night anyway. I’d much rather crash at a hotel or cottage nearby. Hotels on the Cape can be expensive, so $106 for your meals, hotel, and gas aren’t gonna cut it.
 
The figure we came up with for local travel in the northeast, including Cape Cod, is a flat $600. That includes New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.
 
Why a flat figure?
 
Because of a very simple psychological principle known as “cognitive fluency.”
 
Cognitive fluency measures how easy (or difficult) it is for your potential client to grasp or understand something you present to them. So let’s say you’re on the topic of travel while talking to a prospect. You start going on about how you only charge 57 cents on the dollar for every mile driven, blah blah blah, and they’re going to start trying to figure out that math in their heads wondering what that number’s going to look like…
 
…all of a sudden you’ve disengaged them.
 
YOUR TRAVEL FEE SHOULD NOT BE HARDER TO DISSECT THAN YOUR PACKAGES
 
Keep it simple to one number!
 
If you live in a pricier urban area, or where your average drive time is a little longer, compensate yourself accordingly. Stretch it to $800 if need be.
 
Another strategy I’ve seen people use is to just have their clients take care of booking. We don’t like that either. We used to do it all the time when starting out, because we didn’t want to offend people by having them think we’re ripping them off on the travel costs. 50% of the time this was fine, but the other half it was a monumental headache.
 
We’d run into everything from clients forgetting to book, to the front desk charging both us AND the client, name misspellings… if it wasn’t one thing it was another. So now we take care of all bookings without exception.
 
The same concept holds true for our destination weddings in the continental United States.
 
For any wedding that requires us getting on a plane and traveling to a destination in the U.S., we have one “Destination Package” for them.
 
Within the package, we make it very similar to a standard local offering, except we throw 2 extra hours of coverage on the day of, and include rehearsal dinner coverage as well. Then, we tack on an extra $1,500-$2,000 to cover travel. Now, this might be a little different for you depending on how much you bill for your hourly time and rehearsal dinner. We charge overtime at $500/hr and rehearsal dinner coverage costs $1,000. We’re including those “for free,” when in reality, if you’re shooting at a great venue across the country, these are going to be things you’d want to have on film ANYWAY, so what looks like a deal for them, is actually really going to help us in the edit.
 
Planning a wedding is troublesome enough, don’t add to their stress by making them have to figure travel costs, what to include, all that nonsense. Make it a no brainer, a yes or a no. Either they can afford you or they can’t.
 
BY ADDING IN MORE BARRIERS & CONFUSION, YOU’RE DIMINISHING YOUR ODDS OF CLOSING THE SALE.
 
Will we sometimes go over or under the “allotted” budget amount? Rarely. More often than not we’re either pretty close to it, or just under.
 
Your clients need to understand that your time is worth something, and if your goal is to attract a high end bride, she expects that anyway. If you run into someone that has a problem with you being compensated for your extra effort, then they’re not the right client for your business. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, you’ll always regret giving that discount or slashing your travel fee when next year rolls around and you realize you’re working for free.
 
Recently we were in a similar situation with a bride who wanted us to film her wedding on the west coast next July. She had kept asking for more and more extras (an extra day of shooting plus our aerial add-on) at no cost.
 
The venue was EPIC and we knew it’d make for a killer portfolio piece, but we’d be getting robbed on the deal.
 
The “old us” would’ve taken the gig in a heartbeat. In fact, I bet I would’ve thrown in even more! But we’ve come to know our worth, and decided to stand firm in our offer, knowing full well we would probably lose the sale, and that would be Ok.
 
And do you know what happened?
 
She bought the aerial add-on at full price and hired us anyway.
 
A FEW KEY TAKEAWAYS TO REMEMBER:
 
1. Don’t be afraid to charge a flat travel fee that’s fair for you. Your time is to be respected & valued
2. Remove confusion and decision-making barriers from your fee structure
3. Stand your ground on travel negotiations. It’s for your safety, & the clients’ piece of mind
 
For those of you who may live in an area where it’s hard to find cheap hotels, we’ve actually started using Airbnb for all our travel accommodations. It’s always clean, we can typically rent out the entire house to ourselves for the same price or sometimes cheaper than a hotel room, and it’s safe. Not only that, there’s plenty of options in regards to proximity to your venue.
 
Take a look at this quick video we put together that shows our process for searching for rooms on Airbnb.