1. It's often a package deal. And maybe you don't want all the stuff in it. For example, LivingSocial in La Jolla, Cal., recently promoted a 2.5-hour whale-watching tour for two for $130, which included a "souvenir water bottle" and an after-party at a local restaurant. But if you just wanted to spot some whales, the tour company's Web site was advertising a two-hour tour for two, sans add-ons, for $85.
2. Those upgrades add up. The fine print may include more than taxes, surcharges or blackouts on holidays and weekends. Last winter, Groupon offered a one-night weekend stay for two adults at the Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls in a city-view room for $96. Upgrading to a river-view room cost another $20; each additional adult in the room added $25. But at the hotel's own site, you could have booked a Thursday-night stay in a river-view room for $86. What's more, adding two adults to the room increased the rate by only about $20. And though the Groupon deal included a bottle of wine and an appetizer at a nearby restaurant, a $30 casino voucher, and a discount card for a shopping center, you couldn’t deduct the cost of those pricey "perks" if you didn't want them.
3. You're stuck. Or maybe not. If you regret your purchase, you may be able to reverse it. Groupon gives you until midnight of the day you buy a deal to cancel it, and the company promises refunds anytime to dissatisfied customers who contact customer service. However, other services, such as LivingSocial, will grant refunds only within a few days of purchase, unless the merchant goes out of business. If you find you’re stuck with a coupon you can't return, see whether you can sell it online at CityPockets.com or DealsGoRound.com. Each of the sites posts unused vouchers in a marketplace (CityPockets charges sellers a transaction fee of $1 plus 8% of the voucher’s price; DealsGoRound charges 10%). And if you keep buying deals you don't use, you might want to hit “unsubscribe.”
4. Expired doesn't mean useless. The promotional value may expire, but the paid value often lasts longer. You can redeem the amount you spend on standard deals from Groupon forever. The paid value for LivingSocial and Amazon Local vouchers is valid five years after the deals expire.
5. Check your snail mail. Most e-mail offers represent genuine markdowns. But, says Brad Wilson, editor in chief of BradsDeals.com, such offers aren't always the best deals, especially for local restaurants. Sift through the coupon packets that come in the mail, and check out the offers at Restaurant.com. You may find similar or even bigger discounts without the pressure of purchasing and using a voucher before it expires.
6. Buy on the fly. If you have a smart phone, you can wait until you’re on the spot to claim or buy a coupon. The Scoutmob app (available for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone) lets you search for nearby participating restaurants and get a discount of 50% or even 100%. Or use Groupon Now by downloading the Groupon app for Android or iPhone (or go to www.groupon.com using your phone's browser). You pay upfront as you would with a standard deal, but you have to use the coupon within a specified time frame. If you don't claim the deal during the stipulated window, your money is refunded automatically.