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NEW YORK • Discounted meals at Zagat-rated restaurants, half-price deep-tissue massages and buy-one-get-one ghost tours.
Group coupons have become a powerful tool for people to save on activities around their hometown. There are dozens of these sites now offering limited-time deals, typically by city. Most people sign up for their hometown deals, but with patience and planning, travelers can reap the savings too when they're on vacation.
With a bit of work, such as signing up for daily e-mails at sites weeks or months in advance of your trip, and being diligent about checking regularly on deals, discount-seeking travelers can snag enough coupons to easily fill up their itinerary, and save some money for indulgences.
Here's how to get started:
Chances are you're signed up for a group coupon site, and if not, you know someone who is. Usually a discount or two a day is offered per city on sites such as Groupon.com (which is credited with creating the trend several years ago), livingsocial.com, dealon.com, buywithme.com and more. Sometimes they're just one type of discount such as daily restaurant deals in a handful of cities by the dining guide Zagat at exclusives.zagat.com.
Otherwise, the daily deals are usually for activities because those are easier to discount than hard goods such as clothing so you're likely to find deals for museums, bowling, ferryboat tours and more. The "deal" comes by requiring the buyer to pay a certain percentage of the cost say $20 for $40 worth of sushi at a restaurant.
The "group" part of the coupons comes from businesses requiring a certain number of people to buy the deal in order for it to be valid. Most deals end up having enough interest, and if not, buyers get their money back.
How does this work for travelers? As soon as you figure out where you're going even if you're not leaving for several months look at the sites, select your city and register your e-mail address. Unless you're going to a small town, chances are these sites will cover your destination. Groupon, for instance, is now in more than 500 markets around the world, including New York, Las Vegas, Kalamazoo, Mich. and Columbia, Missouri.
An easy way to get a handle on all of the deals is by signing up for a daily e-mail from a site such as Dealery.com. That type of site culls all the deals for a specific city and alerts you.
The next step: Check your daily offers.
Deals are typically for spa services such as facials or manicures, restaurants, or tours. But they're only for sale for a short time, sometimes a few days or even just one, so you have to be diligent. If the deal looks interesting, don't wait too long.
"If you miss that day, if you don't see it, you're not going to see it," said Kevin Strawbridge, president of online discount site Dealtaker.com.
He recommends using sites like Viator.com, which offers discounts on tours, such as Grand Canyon helicopter rides, or a show at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, for sale all the time with none of the time constraints that group coupons have.
READ THE FINE PRINT
Before you buy, check closely for restrictions. Will the deal be valid when you travel or will it expire before then? Chances are it's OK the deals often last several months or longer, because businesses want to spread around the uptick in customers that comes from these coupons.
For example, in October, Groupon sold some 1,900 coupons at $20 each for $50 worth of food at Moshulu, a waterfront restaurant that is on the world's largest four-masted sailing ship in Philadelphia. The restaurant is allowing the certificates to be redeemed through late March.
Last spring, Groupon sold nearly 5,400 deals of $15 for a sightseeing cruise in New York worth $26. Those tickets are valid for a full year. (This author bought six. figuring they'd be good for out-of-town guests.)
But not all deals are like that.
Livingsocial.com's travel initiative called escapes.livingsocial.com, offers deals on hotels and activities with sales lasting for at least several days. But there are redemption limits. It recently offered a half price two-night stay for two at a bed and breakfast in New York's Finger Lakes region, along with a bottle of wine and wine tastings for $265. But you can't use the deal between June 1 and Oct. 31 this year prime travel time.
Zozi.com's group deals are geared toward activities and can be bought for usually five days. One recent deal in Boston gave paintball fans five days to pay $20 for three hours of indoor paintball plus equipment worth $41. But the deal can only be redeemed on weekdays.
If you buy the deal, you'll have to remember to print out the coupon they e-mail you or figure out how to redeem it. Or check the site to see if you can just display the coupon on your smart phone. Either way, because you're traveling you'll have to think about all of this as part of your packing routine. Toothbrushes? Check. Coupons? Check.
After all, you can do all the planning in the world but a coupon is only good if you remember to bring it.