Groupon and other sites like Living Social have made their mark on social lives by offering discounted restaurant and service vouchers for everything from manicures to 3 hours of trampoline lessons (have tried, do not recommend if you are a woman with a B-cup or larger). These sites have forayed into the travel sphere by offering what appear to be discounted hotel or hotel + flight packages. I routinely check Groupon for hotel discounts, which I find to be perfect for 3-day weekend getaways, but are the Groupon “Getaway deals” really deals?
Like other Groupon products, Groupon Getaways members buy a travel voucher that can be redeemed within a certain period — typically, a few months to a year, but based on availability — without committing to a vacation date. While it sounds great in theory, there are a few snags…
Groupon claims that they offer deals up to 50% cheaper than what a would-be traveler could get directly from the hotel. What I’ve found, however, is that sometimes this claim is overreaching. Some of the hotel deals were the same deals those hotels offered on their own websites, or were being offered on other hotel booking sites. And then there’s the “subject to availability” factor.
All Groupon vouchers are “subject to availability” and “availability” doesn’t mean that if there is a room available, you can book it. Many hotels divide their rooms into multiple groupings. In order to use a Groupon, there must be availability in the grouping designated for Groupon vouchers; it’s not enough that there’s availability in the hotel alone. Also, with Groupon, you’re not buying a stay on a specific date when you purchase; you’re buying a voucher that you may or may not be able to redeem later. That’s fine if your travel plans are flexible, but if you have a 4-day weekend in which you want to plan a trip, you could be in for a letdown if the hotel has no availability for you that weekend.
Another snag that we all hate: the Fine Print. And Groupon Getaway vouchers have a lot of it. First of all it’s, literally, hard to see; it’s usually in a separate tab that is somewhat hidden in relation to the main web page. If you do manage to root out the fine print, some of the bigger culprits include black out dates and massive taxes, cleaning fees, or other surcharges that can surprise travelers at checkout.
The above is less of an issue if you do one of their Getaway “tours,” which allow you to purchase vouchers for complete trips (hotel plus inter-country transportation, excursions, etc.) for designated dates, where you simply select your flight. However, if you’re like me and up for solo travel, you can hit another snag with these Getaways. For these packages, they often require a “singles” fee of several hundred dollars above the listed price for the getaway. That can easily make your trip more costly than if you were to arrange your own travel.
So what’s the verdict? I don’t recommend completely shying away from Groupon Getaways, but here are my 4 rules:
1) Be careful purchasing hotel vouchers if your travel dates are not flexible.
2) Read the fine print carefully.
3) Compare prices to other sites before booking.
4) Read reviews of the hotels and resorts before booking (Groupon doesn’t always check on the quality of the accommodations.)