After a year and a half of careful wedding planning, Sally Niebuhr was ready to watch her oldest daughter, Kiki LaCroix, walk down the aisle at a winery in Sonoma, California, in October. But Mother Nature had other plans.
When the Kincade fire struck the area a few days before the wedding was scheduled to take place, causing widespread evacuations, their dreams of a wine-country wedding were crushed.
The good news? Niebuhr had bought a wedding insurance policy for $350 from Travelers Insurance that provided $7,500 of cancellation coverage. She was refunded the $6,500 deposit she paid for the venue. The money was then used to book another place in San Francisco on Oct. 26, the original wedding date and just three days after the wildfires hit Sonoma.
“Luck was definitely on our side that weekend,” said Niebuhr, 58, a general contractor from Basalt, Colorado. “All of our vendors — our DJ, our photographer, our florist, our caterer — were able to pivot and provided their services in San Francisco. And the Westin St. Francis Hotel, where we held the reception, had a ballroom that was available and plenty of open rooms for our out-of-town guests.”
Wedding insurance — also called event insurance — can shield people from financial loss that could result from a number of setbacks, such as severe weather, property damage and vendor problems.
“In America, wedding insurance didn’t really gain steam until the 1990s,” said Robert Hunter, the director of insurance at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America in Washington. “I used to tell people not to buy it, but it has become a much more mature product over time, and now I recommend purchasing it to many people.”
Here’s what you need to know to determine if you need a policy.
What does wedding insurance cover?
There are two types: liability insurance and cancellation insurance.
Liability insurance covers property damage to the wedding site and bodily injuries to attendees. “If one of your guests slips and falls on the dance floor, liability insurance will cover their medical bills up to the limits specified on your policy,” said Drew Purcell, the business development leader at Progressive Insurance, which is based in Mayfield Village, Ohio. “The most common wedding insurance we sell, by far, is general liability.”
Cancellation insurance provides reimbursement for the deposits made to vendors — i.e., your events space, caterer, band, photographer, florist — if you’re forced to cancel or postpone a wedding because of extreme weather, unexpected illness to the bride or groom (or an immediate family member), military deployment, or other reasons beyond your control. “Wedding cancellation insurance can also include special provisions that will reimburse the insured up to a specified limit for loss or damage of attire, jewelry, deposits, cake or gifts, even if the wedding continues as planned,” Purcell said.
What cancellation insurance doesn’t cover is a change of heart, said Todd Shasha, the managing director of personal insurance product management at Travelers Insurance, which is based in New York. “There’s no insurance for a runaway bride or runaway groom,” he said.
How much does it cost?
Costs vary, depending on a number of factors, such as the venue, length of the event, site, number of guests and amount of coverage you need. As a benchmark: A liability insurance policy, providing $1 million of coverage, starts at around $175 from Allstate Insurance, which is based in Northbrook, Illinois.
Bill Borst, a vice president of Allstate, said a cancellation policy providing $7,500 in coverage costs about $130. Customers can obtain discounts by bundling insurance plans, he added. For example, a wedding insurance plan that offers both $1 million of liability coverage and $7,500 of cancellation coverage costs as low as $275 from Allstate.
If you’re planning an expensive wedding, expect to pay a higher premium for cancellation insurance. For instance, a cancellation insurance plan that provides $175,000 of coverage costs, on average, $875, according to data from financial research firm ValuePenguin.
Because insurance rates vary by provider, Hunter recommends consumers shop around to find the most competitive plans.
Do I really need it?
Megan Hiltbrand, a wedding and event planner in Syracuse, New York, advises her clients to at least buy liability coverage. “The cost is a drop in the bucket compared to your total expenditure,” she said. “I don’t see a reason not to have it.”
(One caveat: If you’re having a wedding at your house, your homeowners insurance may provide liability coverage. It’s worth reviewing your plan before you buy a separate liability policy.)
Hiltbrand is less keen on cancellation insurance. “Currently, the only time I recommend cancellation insurance is for winter weddings, since we’re in the Great White North and blizzards that knock out power and shut down roads are fairly common,” she said.
Linda Walker, a 63-year-old administrative assistant from Middletown, Delaware, was happy she obtained a cancellation policy while planning her daughter’s wedding at the former Winery at Elk Manor, a vineyard in Maryland that overlooked the Chesapeake Bay. The wedding was supposed to take place there in October 2016, but the winery abruptly closed its doors two months prior after the owner pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud.
Walker had purchased a policy from Allstate for $234. It provided up to $35,000 of coverage, allowing her to recoup the $23,165 she had paid in deposits for the space.
Although the wedding day was postponed, Walker’s daughter got married four months later at Vandiver Inn in Havre de Grace, Maryland, without any mishaps. “I was concerned about having a wedding in February, because I thought there could be a blizzard, but it turned out to be 70 degrees and sunny, so things worked out beautifully in the end,” Walker said.
Noelle Ahmad-Snedegar, the owner of the Washington., D.C.,-based wedding and event planning company Lily & Grayson Events, said couples should review vendor contracts before buying cancellation insurance. Many vendors allow couples to postpone their wedding at no extra cost in case of injury, military duties, natural disasters or death in the immediate family, she noted.
Also, check to make sure your vendors have liability insurance. (“Whether they’re on a ladder, moving tables, stretching to get a good shot, or placing equipment in a place that could be a tripping hazard to you or your guests, it’s important to know that there is some recourse on the venue and vendor’s end,” Hiltbrand said.)
Ahmad-Snedegar says couples should consider the likelihood of adverse events before buying cancellation insurance: Is the bride or groom in the military? Is your wedding taking place during hurricane season? How would you feel about postponing your wedding if one of your parents gets sick?
“As with any insurance policy, it’s a cost-risk analysis,” she said.
George Abdelmessih, a 36-year-old sales manager in Houston, paid $235 for both cancellation and liability coverage after consulting his insurance agent at Allstate’s Mark Francis Agency based in Houston. Abdelmessih and his wife, Elsa Olvera, were planning a wedding with 130 guests in Puerto Rico — until Hurricane Maria hit the island.
“We were supposed to get married on Oct. 14, 2017, which was just a couple weeks after Maria,” he said. “We got about $18,000 back between deposits, hotel costs and travel expenses.”
“Every penny we put into our wedding in Puerto Rico we got back, and we ended up having our wedding in Dallas, where my wife is originally from,” Abdelmessih said. “We were very fortunate.”