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Last week, Expedia announced it would distribute some of Groupon's travel deals through its own channel. From your prospect as a consumer, the lash-up should provide still another source for travel discounts. But at least so far, don't expect a bonanza of offers: As I checked the Groupon lists for June 3, I found the travel discount pickings to be pretty slim.
In case you haven't noticed, Groupon has quickly become a big player in the discount coupon business— probably the biggest. Every day, Groupon posts a featured deal for your area, along with a list of other available deals. Typically, those deals are available to buy for only a few days or even hours. Discounts can be substantial—as much as 50 percent—but many of them are subject to limitations, restrictions, requirements to buy something else at full price, and other fine print. As I check different locations, I find that probably the plurality of the deals are for restaurants and food items, but you also see lots of gadgets, professional services, entertainment, and other stuff as well. Travel represents a relatively small fraction of the deals, but those that are available can be attractive.
So far, local deals are restricted to larger metropolitan areas, and deals may be pretty scanty in the smaller of those. For example, Groupon has nothing in my hometown of Ashland, Oregon, or even in our proximate larger metro center, Medford. In fact, Groupon covers only three areas in Oregon, and in the two smaller—Eugene and Salem—Groupon lists only two current local deals. Even in an area as large as Chicago, today's list includes no accommodations; the only travel-related offer is a highly restricted discount on a Lake Michigan sightseeing boat excursion; the mix of deals in Boston and New York is about the same.
Groupon says its pitch to sellers is that they can expose their brand or service to consumers, who will then return at full price. Maybe. But it looks more to me like most of Groupon's offerings are from suppliers that are hungry for any revenue they can get. And, for the most part, Groupon's offerings are for midlevel or mainstream products and services, not high-end.
Groupon is one of the growing numbers of online sellers that feature big-discount deals with very short purchase windows. So far, most of the others employ the private sale business model rather than coupons: You register, enroll, or whatever else they might call it, and you receive frequent emails about travel and merchandise deals. Typically, you have only a few days or a week to buy, but many of the travel deals are for use over a period of several months. For the most part, both the travel deals and the merchandise are very much upscale. Among the private sale sites, JetSetter, SmarterTravel sister site SniqueAway, TabletHotels, and Vacationist stick closely to travel. HauteLook and RueLaLa mix some travel in with high-end merchandise (mainly clothing and household items).
Expedia clearly wants to strengthen its position as a primary "go-to" source for all things travel, and Groupon's coupons add another option for consumers. Don't be surprised to see the other big online travel agencies negotiating hookups with other coupon or private sale operations.
Overall, the system of quick announcements and short purchase windows seems to be today's major stage in the evolution of travel merchandising. Look for more of the same.
Expedia plans to start by offering deals based on Groupon's hotel and resort coupons, plus probably some sightseeing and restaurants. And it will undoubtedly bundle Groupon-based deals with airfares and other mainline Expedia offerings. Expedia will start posting its initial Groupon offerings by the end of June; you can already sign up for emails featuring the new deals. Unless you want to avoid extra emails, there's no down side to signing up for Expedia's program. Who knows; you might find something you really like.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)