Save on Your Next Trip With Local Deal Sites
Save on Your Next Trip With Local Deal Sites
By MICHELLE HIGGINS - New York Times, 2/16/2011
I LIKE a good deal as much as anyone. So when daily deal sites like Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com, which negotiate major discounts from local businesses and distribute them via e-mail to those who sign up, became all the rage, I quickly signed up for as many as I could find. But I wanted to go beyond the “local” concept and search for travel bargains in other cities — a $129 surf lesson for $49 in Dana Point, Calif.; a $165 guided rock-climbing adventure near Denver for $55; a $159 dinner cruise for $90 in Chicago.
I quickly discovered that trying to take advantage of those offers was more work than it was worth. It involved signing up for e-mails for all the cities I planned to visit, and then sifting through the daily bombardment of offers for things like laser-hair removal and oil changes in order to find what I was after: half-price massages, dinners, city tours and other travel-related bargains.
Then I learned that a number of so-called aggregator sites, with names like YipIt.com and Dealery, will do the work for you, searching across multiple daily-deal or group-shopping sites like Groupon, GiltCity and Tippr for a given destination, and spitting back discounts for activities you’re interested in. There is also a new service from Travelzoo.com, the popular bargain site, which now negotiates its own deals designed to appeal to locals and travelers alike.
I recently took a look at these sites to see how useful they might be for travelers seeking discounts on museum tickets, performances, spas and other activities — an estimated $26.8 billion market according to PhoCusWright, a market research firm.
Travelzoo’s Local Deals uncovered the most relevant offers for vacationers. On a recent weekday the site offered a $167 massage and Champagne lunch at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort in Phoenix for $79, and a $125 four-course dinner for two at Baur’s Ristorante in Denver for $59; $67 ballet tickets in Atlanta were going for $34. Like Groupon, Travelzoo strikes deals with local businesses, but focuses on discounts of interest to travelers. “We don’t include gutter cleaning or dog walking,” said Michael Stitt, vice president and general manager of Travelzoo Local. To be listed, he said, each deal must pass the “do you like to” test: Do you like to go hot-air ballooning while on vacation? Sure. Do you like to get your teeth whitened? Not exactly.
Most Travelzoo-negotiated discounts are on sale for only two to three days. Some bargains require a minimum number of people to buy the deal before it’s activated. Travelers who do buy it receive a voucher from Travelzoo that can then be redeemed at the local business or, in the case of many performance and event tickets, be bought directly from the supplier. To ensure that users won’t get closed out of that spa, dinner cruise or popular restaurant, Travelzoo tests the deals for booking availability twice a week, every week until it expires. Travelers also have seven days from the end of the sale to cancel without penalty.
While Travelzoo offers a broad range of popular destinations (31 cities across the United States), discounts are limited to just a handful in each place. For example, the only deal available in Philadelphia when I looked earlier this month was discounted 76ers tickets.
For a more comprehensive search, check out YipIt.com, which pulled up 22 deals from 13 sources, including Travelzoo’s cut-rate 76ers tickets, in a recent search. YipIt covers 20 North American cities, including New York; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Toronto, searching across 326 group buying services. Travelers can filter results by checking categories like wine tasting, museum, golf or other types of activities to help weed out those automotive and hair-removal offers — as I did in my Philadelphia search. Clicking “grab” takes you to the site offering the deal, where consumers can make their purchases.
Where YipIt falls short is in delivering offers that are still bookable. When I searched for clothing and concert discounts in Manhattan, the site pulled up dozens of tantalizing offers, but some of those deals were already sold out, including a 30 percent discount off bespoke men’s shirts and suits at Doyle Mueser in the West Village (through UrbanDaddy Perks), and 40 percent off London Symphony Orchestra tickets (from GiltCity). YipIt’s co-founder, Vinicius Vacanti, said my experience was “unusual” since the company has a system in place designed to eliminate expired deals, but acknowledged that sold-out deals do occasionally show up. Another irritation: travelers must sign up for at least one daily e-mail to gain access to YipIt’s search tools.
Dealery.com covers more cities than YipIt (87 in the United States and Canada) but collects deals from fewer group-shopping sites (roughly two dozen) and offers fewer filters. Clicking on “activities” for New Orleans, for instance, pulled up a discounted online bartending class as well as cut-rate museum tickets. But the beauty of Dealery is its simplicity. It doesn’t require you to sign up for a daily e-mail, so you can simply go to the site, select the city you are traveling to, and see the deals for that city in an easy-to-view list format. You can also click on one of nine categories, including dining and night life, entertainment and activities to see smaller lists. TheDealmap.com, introduced last May by Center’d, a local search engine start-up based in Menlo Park, Calif., sifts through 250 deal sources across the United States and displays results on a map or in a list. It also offers apps for iPhones and Androids that automatically pull up deals on your phone based on your current location. When I powered it up near Times Square, the app displayed discounted tickets at the B. B King Blues Club, a $25 gift certificate for $2 for a host of nearby restaurants, and several hotel offers. But taking advantage of the restaurant deals required printing out a gift certificate — hardly a convenient option when using a handheld device. And a suspiciously low rate for the Hilton, listed as “from $189 & up,” took me to a sold-out page on BookingBuddy.com.
Similarly, Facebook is offering promotions to customers who use its Places feature on their phones to “check in” at those locations. At this point, the deals are being offered in a limited test phase. When a colleague pulled up “nearby places” on her iPhone while at the office near Times Square, only two deals — a discount for video games at Toys “R” Us and tickets to Madame Tussauds wax museum — showed up.
Dan Visnick, the Dealmap’s vice president for marketing, said the company is “maniacal” about making sure its deal index is up-to-date, refreshing its listings every hour. But he also pointed out that the market for location-based deals is still in its infancy and that the company continues to work with its partners to improve the user experience.
BOTTOM LINE: While the sites offer a relatively easy way to sift quickly through the plethora of local deals out there, there still isn’t one comprehensive solution for travelers who want to tap into local deals for restaurant, spa and other entertainment discounts. As with airfare shopping, travelers must still visit a number of sites to get the best deals. My advice is to start with Travelzoo, which focuses on vacation-relevant offers, then use a deal aggregator like Dealery or YipIt to cover your bases. Just pay close attention to expiration dates to be sure the deals will be good for the dates you plan to travel.