Lonely Planet Writer

How to get the most from a group travel deal

Group deal websites like Groupon and LivingSocial have hit it big, with Groupon recently filing to become a public company and LivingSocial rumoured to be thinking along the same lines. And the deals are getting bigger and better with travel package deals now arriving in our inboxes (10-day trip to India anyone?).

Groupon and Expedia just launched Groupon Getaways, a joint venture that offers 'unbeatable deals on travel destinations around the world', competing with rival LivingSocial's service for North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, LivingSocial Escapes. Online travel deals are nothing new, but other deal websites tend to be more regional and don't take the short-term group deal approach with exclusive offerings.

With such fabulous prices, you feel like there has to be a catch right? Well yes and no. Here’s how to make sure you get a good deal:

1. Do your research

When a tempting deal is in your inbox, definitely do your research. Before clicking 'buy', check out the company you’re buying from – especially for hotel packages and other big buys. Do they seem legit? Group deal companies don’t check out the businesses who offer deals or verify the accuracy of what businesses are saying they'll provide (ie all the highlights and description), so it's always worth digging deeper.

2. Know that you'll only get a voucher if enough people sign up

This is standard among group deal websites, so just be aware that it’s possible you won’t get the deal you've purchased if not enough people sign up to it in the allotted period of time. Of course, not to worry, you won’t get charged in this circumstance.

3. Read the fine print

In addition to doing your research, you also need to read the fine print. The company and deal they’re offering may be completely legitimate, but the voucher may have some specific conditions that don't suit your needs – for example, for a lot of the larger travel packages, the trips need to be scheduled by a certain time. So you might have an entire year to take the holiday, but you have to make your reservation within a week of receiving the voucher. Happily, most sites have the fine print next to the deal, so these details are usually hard to miss!

4. Understand when you will (and won't) be reimbursed

What if you didn’t make that reservation by the expiry date? Or what if the experience wasn’t at all what it looked like in the deal? Well, then you’re out of luck, mi amigo. According to the Groupon website (whose policy is pretty much standard - see for example, LivingSocial's terms), they’ll make sure you get your money back if anything happens that makes it impossible to redeem your vouchers. However, this doesn’t cover you missing the expiry date or the experience not being what you thought it would be.

Most of the deals on these sites as discussed in Thorn Tree seem to turn out positively, but even with our tips, as the deals get bigger, buying them does seem riskier - or at least, the need for you to do your homework first becomes more important!

Would you consider buying a travel package from a group deal website? Or have you already? Any positive or negative experiences to report?