Top Coupon Sites for Travel Deals

Cut Vacation Costs, Without Scissors!

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Between baggage fees and gas prices, any vacation discount these days is especially welcome. “Social coupon” websites provide fast and easy ways to trim your travel expenses -- if you research carefully. We’ve read the fine print -- here are our picks for solid sites offering deals and rewards on everything from lodging to fun things to do while on vacation.

Sites to ... Find and Track Flash Sales
Each day, users of sites like Groupon and DailyCandy purchase steeply discounted coupons (“vouchers,” “deals,” etc.) during limited-time “flash sales,” then print or download them for later use directly with the retailer. Get buddies to join you in an Eversave beer tasting, and earn credits toward your next coupon, or savor those suds completely free with LivingSocial. Tracking deals is easy with mobile apps, Facebook, Twitter and email alerts.

Sites to ... Snag Affordable Weekend Getaways
Looking for an affordable weekend getaway? LivingSocial Escapes offers hand-picked travel packages at discounted rates. Most deals are lodging-based, like a Napa Valley B&B weekend -- but you’ll also find the occasional Alaska fishing or Nepal hiking package. After you purchase a travel package, make sure to tell your friends via a tweet, Facebook post or unique link sent via email. If 3 friends buy the deal using your link, your package is free. (You can pay your friends back in daiquiris during your next St. Lucia girls’ getaway.)

In conjunction with travel giant Expedia, Groupon Getaways offers handpicked deals on hotels and resorts – best of all, with a booking guarantee. Yuupon is a travel deal/booking engine hybrid that incorporates TripAdvisor ratings with fewer restrictions than other coupon sites. Photo-filled JetSetter scrutinizes hotels and vacation homes for “personality, style, great service and a sense of place.” TripAlertz believes travel should not be just a transaction, and donates 1% of direct revenue to sustainability efforts.

Sites to ... Get Discounts on Day Activities
You’ll want to keep yourself occupied while on vacation -- and that takes money. But fret not. Sister site LivingSocial Adventures offers great deals on a wide-range of 1-day activities like kayaking, yoga and mud runs. Try these activities at your destination or even in your hometown.

For local deals, check out AmazonLocal, which can save you up to 75% on restaurants, spas and many more entertainment options. AmazonLocal's iPhone app lets you shop for deals on the go. And consider Groupon Now! offerings -- 50%-off vouchers around the US on food, bars and other entertainment options within the next 24 hours. GrouponLive and G-Passes promise entertainment tickets and expedited admission. Refer a friend to sign up for Groupon and earn a $10 credit when they buy their first coupon. Eversave also offers $10 for each referral.

Sites to ... Travel in Style
Daily Candy seeks “what's new in fashion, food, and fun,” primarily for women. The site offers occasional travel deals and travel-useful products like language CDs and bicycles. Ditto for style savings site Rue La La for golf, luggage, limousines and more.

But ... Read the Fine Print
Travel industry minutiae can be profuse. Coupon sites try valiantly to simplify things, but a multitude of murky exceptions and blackout dates can apply. So as with any travel booking, read (and reread) the offer carefully. A recent Living Social Tanzania safari package, for example, advertised itself as $3,996 but didn’t include the $430 entrance fees, gratuities and other expenses listed at the bottom of the page.

Deals can also sell out at any time, and availability isn’t guaranteed -- if a hotel can sell $300 rooms during a big event, your $100 Groupon room may disappear (though you will be refunded). And it’s often unclear when you become the retailer’s responsibility. Coupon sites complicate things further by claiming “no questions” 30-day return policies on one page, then “case by case basis” on another (as in Eversave’s case). Losing out on a leg waxing is one thing; losing your deluxe cruise cabin is another. Bottomline: Confirm all return policies and whom to call for what.

More Fine Print -- and Why the Search Is Worth It!
Many users comment (and demonstrate mathematically) that deals aren’t always the vast savings these sites claim -- 50, 60, 70% and more. Also not uncommon is a coupon offer that is no better than a deal found right on the hotel’s own website.

It’s difficult to actively search for a deal or property you want, like “Oahu hotel.” Few coupon sites have a search function; you just have to sign up for the alerts and wait. Further, sites might offer hotel rooms “from $99,” yet no matter what combination of dates you enter, all you get back are those from $239. Did they sell out? Am I just picking bad dates? What is the meaning of life? Who knows.

But the good news is that all your patience will pay off in savings one way or another -- either through a coupon or your own hard work. And you’ll learn along the way what a real deal is, so you’ll be ready to pounce on it the next time.

About the Author

Laura Boswell is a Washington, DC-based journalist and essayist covering travel, sports, careers and relationships for outlets including ESPN.com, The Washington Post, AARP The Magazine and The Bob Edwards Show.