At first it looked like an unexpected wedding present for Matt Parisi and his wife, Kimberly. The deal-of-the-day site LivingSocial was offering a week at an all-inclusive resort on the pricey Caribbean island of St. Maarten for just $1,658.
But it proved to be no gift. Shortly before he left for his honeymoon in the fall, Parisi, an engineer from Marlton, N.J., learned that the resort was closed for the season and that his reservation had been transferred to a full-service hotel on St. Maarten.
“The new hotel was not an all-inclusive,” he says. “We were completely caught off guard and very disappointed. We had intentionally planned an all-inclusive to avoid worrying about any additional expenses for food and beverage at the resort on our honeymoon — especially after paying off our wedding only days before.”
His disappointment deepened as the week progressed. It turned out that the resort hadn’t just failed to make arrangements to transfer his “all-inclusive” status. Parisi was forced to pay for his room over again, setting him back another $2,138. He protested, pointing out that he’d already paid LivingSocial, but a hotel representative said that the all-inclusive resort had failed to pay its bill when it transferred the reservation. Parisi was told he was ultimately responsible.
When Parisi checked with LivingSocial, it claimed to be just the middleman. “They did everything in their power to avoid any involvement in this situation,” he says.
Weeks ago, I wrote about the explosion of “flash” sales offered by airlines and hotels. But some of the biggest and best offerings can be found on sites such as LivingSocial and Groupon. These limited-time offers, which aggressively discount everything from tours to resort stays, come with their own set of problems and solutions. It helps to know them before booking.
LivingSocial says that it isn’t entirely clear what happened to Parisi and his wife or why their all-inclusive package fell through, but it promised to investigate. “The ball was clearly dropped here,” says Elizabeth Hebda, a LivingSocial spokeswoman.
It’s hard to miss LivingSocial’s travel product, called Escapes, which according to general manager Nick Stafford, features about 175 flash-sale offers at any given time. “They represent a select, curated group of great travel experiences to buy at a discount and are generally available to consumers for a window of two weeks,” he says.
LivingSocial also features a selection of about 1,000 properties and high-demand destinations on an ongoing basis. Travel is a significant portion of LivingSocial’s empire: Escapes accounts for up to 25 percent of its business in Europe and 15 percent of its U.S. sales.
What about your rights as a consumer? In some respects, LivingSocial’s vouchers are more flexible than a traditional travel product. About 90 percent of its travel vouchers are dateless, meaning that you contact the resort to make a reservation for whenever you choose. The company also offers a 30-day refund on the purchases, no questions asked. But the fine print in its contract is clear: It offers no warranties of any kind for its services.