By Jenice Armstrong Turner
Tisha Mae Brown, a 36-year-old Newark, Delaware resident, loves using Groupon for travel purposes. Last year, she booked a family trip to Orlando, Florida, using Groupon Getaways, and enjoyed the savings and everything that came with it.
“We didn’t have a single issue with using Groupon. When I got there, everything was set,” she told Pathfinders. “I paid nothing extra when I checked into the hotel. All I did was leave a tip.”
Brown, who is married and has three children, plans to use the nine-year-old, Chicago-based discounter for her next vacation, possibly somewhere in the Caribbean.
She’s a smart lady.
Groupon, which gets its name from the words group and coupon, negotiates directly with hotels and tour operators to find discounts for consumers. Budget-minded travelers can rake in considerable savings using it or similar services, such as Living Social. But you’ve got to do your due diligence before you pull out your credit card and try to book a romantic getaway for you and bae.
You may find a great deal, as many have done, or you just may end up in a situation like ABC News’ Linsey Davis. The TV news reporter did an undercover investigation several years ago using Groupon and walked away with some interesting observations. After arriving at a resort in the Dominican Republic in 2013, Davis discovered her junior suite was the same as her colleague’s deluxe room. The colleague who booked directly through the hotel even got a slightly cheaper rate than Davis did using a discounter. After her report aired on ABC, Groupon ceased dealing with the resort in question. Even though Davis’ report was several years ago, it’s an important reminder about the old caveat “let the buyer beware.”
The selection is tempting. I’ve never used either Groupon or Living Social for travel but am planning to this spring. I’m eyeing a five-night stay at the luxurious Round Hill Resort, which has a Groupon rate of just $250 a night for a nice, relaxing birthday getaway. Or maybe I’ll just stay closer to home and spend a few nights at New York City’s Park Central hotel for $328 a night.
Lissa Phillipe, 38, a billings supervisor from Deerfield Beach, Florida, has purchased a couple of ferry rides from Florida to the Bahamas using Groupon and is a more than satisfied customer. She’s on the lookout now for a Groupon to use to go Puerto Rico. “They have trips for everywhere. I think it’s amazing,” she said.
The first time she purchased a Groupon ferry ride to the Bahamas, she didn’t read the terms completely and was surprised to discover she had an additional fee to pay to enter the country upon her arrival. “I would recommend that everybody read the fine print,” she said.
Phillipe is right about that. Here are some tips to make sure you get what you pay for when using a discount middleman:
- Read the fine print. Every single word! That’ll keep you from being surprised when you show up at a front desk and find a $20 daily resort fee or whatever. Also, take special note of cancellation policies.
- When booking, be prepared for black-out days. You may want to leave on certain dates and later discover your voucher can’t be used then.
- Reach out to the property where you’ll be staying to be sure that it’s still open. Anything could have happened after it negotiated its deal with the discounter.
- Consider customer reviews, but keep in mind that dissatisfied customers are more likely to complain.
- Try and see if you can get the same price or better by booking the deal yourself. (I did that recently with an Atlantic City resort and found very little difference between what the property was charging and what Groupon charged.)
- Don’t leave home empty-handed. Bring your hotel confirmation number with you. Take screenshots of any supporting information that might be useful.
- And, finally, don’t jump on something just because it sounds like a good deal. It may well be, but if it’s not a place you’ve always wanted to go or it doesn’t fit in with your travel plans, skip it.
Credit: Elena Elisseeva