Finding Travel Deals on Groupon and other Coupon Sites

by Chris on August 25, 2011

Tips for finding travel deals on Groupon and other coupon sites.

This post previously appeared on Frommers.com

The LivingSocial Escapes (http://livingsocial.com) deal that appeared in my e-mail inbox sounded appealing: A two-night stay for two people at Crystal Lodge in Whistler Village, Vancouver, for $299. The coupon included a three-course dinner and two gondola lift tickets.

Then I read the fine print. Turns out that the package went up to $329 for weekends in July and August, with 12 blackout dates listed. The price didn’t include tax (an extra $20). On the hotel’s website, I found the same room for $262 for two nights (excluding taxes) on the weekend I was considering. And while the hotel’s location was outstanding, I wouldn’t have chosen the restaurant — a pricey Canadian steakhouse chain — if I was on my own.

Yet the package offered big savings on the Peak 2 Peak gondola tickets, which normally cost $85.90 for two people. Others must have agreed that it was a great deal; by the time I went to buy it, the offer had already sold out.

Social coupon sites such as LivingSocialGroupon (www.groupon.com), Daily Candy (www.dailycandy.com), and Eversave (www.eversave.com) have proliferated in the last few years, offering discounts on everything from spa services to restaurant meals to rafting trips. The almost instant popularity of the startups has inspired established companies to jump into the fray: Expedia(www.expedia.com) has paired up with Groupon to create Groupon Getaways with Expedia and Amazon (www.amazon.com) now broadcasts LivingSocial deals under the banner AmazonLocal (http://local.amazon.com).

The deals aren’t always popular with retailers. In a Rice University study last year, 40% of merchants said they wouldn’t run a Groupon promotion again. But consumers love them, as seen in a survey by ConsumerSearch where 64% of respondents described their experiences with redeemed deals as very satisfying.

Social couponing can provide some good deals while you’re on the road, if you do your research. Here are a few tips on how to use the sites effectively.

Sign up for deals at your destination. Many daily deals are for things that only a local may or may not appreciate (20 units of Botox, anyone?) Still, I’ve seen Seattle coupons for tourist-friendly activities such as kayak rentals, Puget Sound dinner cruises, and local winery tours. If you sign up about six weeks before your trip, you may snag some deals and fun outings for your vacation.

Tip: If you’re signing up for more than one coupon site, you might want to use a dedicated e-mail address, as the notices can pile up.

Check blackout and expiration dates. Trish Sare bought a New York City hotel package on LivingSocial without checking the expiration date — and was surprised by the conditions. “It meant I would have had to take a trip to NYC in two months, which was much sooner than I’d anticipated,” said Sare, director of BikeHike Adventures (www.bikehike.com). “That would have cost me more in the end.”

Is it really a deal? Sare also noticed that the hotel’s website advertised the same price that she had received from LivingSocial. While LivingSocial refunded her money after she contacted them, Sare has learned her lesson. “I’ll be far more careful in the future,” she says.

Round up your friends. Social couponing emphasizes bulk purchasing. So almost all of the sites make it easy to share deals — and some will give you even deeper discounts or free items if your friends sign up too.

Rebecca Harper, a director with the skincare startup The Tiossano Tribe, had wanted to go skydiving for years. So when she saw a $150 coupon from LivingSocial that cut the original price by more than 50%, she jumped on it — and shared it with her friends in northern Virginia. “Enough people had bought the deal to make a crowd,” she said.

Avoid impulse buys. Do you have clothes in your closet that looked great on the sale rack but matched nothing when you brought them home? That’s how I feel about a restaurant deal I bought on Groupon. Am I really going to eat $30 worth of food from the pizza place across town? It’s the equivalent of shoes with four-inch heels; I’m never going to use it. Better to save money for travel experiences that you know you’ll enjoy — no matter how great the deal.

© 2011 by Wiley Publishing Inc

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Betsy Talbot August 25, 2011 at 8:23 am

We like to travel slow, often staying a weeks or more in each destination. We always sign up for Groupon or Living Social in upcoming destinations to get great deals on restaurants or activities that may not have normally fit in our budget. It is a bad deal for the companies who advertise, as we will at best become repeat customers for only a short time, but it is a great deal for a budget traveler. If you bypass all the teeth whitening and hair color offers, that is.

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Kent @ No Vacation Required August 25, 2011 at 10:16 am

Amen, Betsy! So true about body/appearance related stuff :)

We love checking out these deals and Expedia’s new involvement looks promising. Um, and we could use a good deal up here in Alaska. It’s expensive.

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Chris August 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm

@Kent – Yes to Alaska being expensive. I couldn’t believe how pricey the hotels were, and the quality that you got for your money (ie, not good). That’s why cruises are, in some ways, a better deal.

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Gene Bowker August 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

We got a great deal at a B&B on Groupon! We had already stayed at the location and it was a great deal!

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Jess | Globetrottergirls September 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Great article! We’ve just recently begun to take advantage of the great deals available on Hotwire. As I write this, I am in a super comfortable suite in Atlanta for $48 a night. You’re so right about impulse buys, too. Avoid at all costs!

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Nelieta December 24, 2011 at 11:30 am

I have recently signed up for Groupon and I must admit the offers look pretty good. We are planning a long trip next year and Groupon is defintely something to look into. Best to sfe money where possible :)

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