Are Groupon Getaways a Good Idea?
I just returned from a mini-vacay, compliments of a voucher I bought on a daily deal site similar to Groupon. I’ll admit to having let at least one of their local deals expire after purchase, so I was determined to get the biggest bang for my buck on the hotel deal. While I’m not completely sold on doing it again, here are the pros and cons to such offers, as well as tips to keep the excursion well under budget. (See also: The 5 Best Travel Reward Credit Cards)
Offers Are Valid Longer
I had an entire year to use the hotel voucher I purchased, so you would think I would have no problem redeeming it prior to expiration. I found myself hustling at the last minute, however, and I used it literally on the last possible day it was valid for.
Lesson Learned: Even with increasingly longer valid dates, your personality may determine if it’s long enough. If you have a crazy, busy lifestyle, or procrastinate (like me), no amount of time may be long enough to warrant a travel deal. Book early and leave a little “wiggle room” at the end, just in case!
The Same Rules of Reservation Apply
Before I could ultimately use my hotel deal, I had to cancel and reschedule at least once. Most travel destinations will be OK with this, but you should be aware — if they have a cancellation or change policy in place, it will apply to your voucher, as well. (Some vouchers impose even tougher rules for changing plans.)
Lesson Learned: Even if you can’t use a voucher and are content to let it expire, don’t forget to call the destination back to cancel any standing reservations. You don’t want to be hit with the cost of an unused voucher AND a cancellation fee or first-night’s stay!
Perks Can Be Pricey
Our particular package came with two nights at a family suite, one meal, snacks, and some tokens for the local arcade. While this seemed like a great way to stretch the family dollar, keep in mind that these deals are designed to get you to spend more once you are at your destination. Our “free” drinks and appetizers at the local bar, for example, didn’t include tax or gratuity. The free arcade tokens barely allowed the kids to play one game each and didn’t account for the no-refund policy on broken game machines.
Lesson Learned: You may need to get crafty with ways to avoid paying ridiculous additional charges. We were able to take our free appetizers to go, for example, allowing us to pay just $.54 in tax and skip gratuity altogether. (It also limited the urge to pay for pricey soft drinks at the restaurant.) We also brought along our own gaming systems for the kids to play during “quiet time” in the hotel room; this kept the begging for quarters at the “arcade” down to a minimum.
Not All Trips Are Worth It
When we bought our voucher over a year ago, we thought it was a good deal at the time. After all, how often would we get the chance to get all five kids into a nice suite within a hotel with a water park for under $250 for three days? As it turns out, this trip kept adding on the costs: our van had troubles, so we rented one for the week; bad weather forced us to return home one night early; and the kids hardly spent any time in the water due to exhaustion. Had we stayed home or just attended the local water park for one day, we would have saved $300, even with the cost of the unused voucher.
Lesson Learned: Look at all the costs involved with redeeming an offer. Sometimes, not using a deal you purchased can be more affordable than seeing it through. Put a value on the experience of going on your trip; for some, any amount of money is a small price for the chance to get away!
Nothing feels worse than buying something you can’t use. The guilt of letting a purchased voucher expire is what gets many of us on the road to spending even more money on a daily deal. If you’ve purchased a voucher but are on the fence as to whether you want to use it, check the deal site terms to see if a refund or credit can be granted. Otherwise, gifting it to a friend may be an option. If all else fails, limit your expenses to keep your trip enjoyable without the additional burden to your budget — and strongly ponder your situation the next time a travel deal catches your eye!