Do I deserve a refund for this LivingSocial deal?

Eduardo Rivera/Shutterstock
Eduardo Rivera/Shutterstock
Teri Rustmann’s Living Social voucher for a Caribbean vacation isn’t worth the money it’s printed on — or so he thinks. Why won’t the company refund it?

Question: I’m writing to you in the hope that you can help resolve a dispute I am having with Living Social. I don’t know where else to turn.

I purchased two Living Social vouchers for a Costa Rica trip, for $1,799 each. According to the advertisement, the voucher represented a 40 percent savings over the regular price of the trip. I purchased the vouchers specifically and solely because they represented a significant savings, as stated in the voucher.

After I booked the trip, I contacted the tour operator directly. I asked for a breakdown of the costs of the excursions on the trip. When I conducted my own research, I found that the total price of the trip was approximately $200 less than I had paid.

The tour operator refused to provide a breakdown, but agreed to cancel the reservation and waive the cancellation fee since, in a representative’s words, we “bought something different to what you thought you were purchasing.” We were told to take the matter up with Living Social.

Living Social has declined to refund the voucher, since the 30 days we have to ask for a refund had already passed. Now they are both marked as “used” so I can’t even take a vacation. I think Living Social misrepresented one of its vouchers. What do you think? — Teri Rustmann, North Palm Beach, Fla.

Answer: If Living Social promised you a deal, you should have received one. But this one’s a little complicated. Bear with me while I break it down.

According to Living Social, you inadvertently bought two vouchers. You only needed one. So when you contacted the company the first time, describing your problem, someone should have mentioned that you bought more vouchers than you required.

If your voucher was really saving you 40 percent, then your math should have added up, even if the tour operator didn’t reveal the exact cost of each component. Tour operators rarely do that, because they make money by buying in bulk, repackaging the tour, and selling it to you. (You still save money, because you’re often paying less than the list price.)

One reason your numbers didn’t add up is that you had two vouchers, when you only needed one. That might account for some of the price disparity, when you ran you own calculation.

Of course, the time to research whether a deal’s a deal is before you buy the voucher, not after buyer’s remorse sets in. It never hurts to go online before making a purchase on Living Social, to ensure sure the math makes sense.
You might have been stuck with two useless vouchers, but you got lucky. It turns out the tour operator has gone out of business.

Living Social offered you a full refund on both vouchers.

Did Teri Rustmann deserve a refund from LivingSocial?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Had he only bought one voucher instead of two, would he have realized the 40% savings?

    I’m conflicted on this one. He wanted a Caribbean vacation for $1800 and he got the promised Caribbean vacation for $1800. The fact that it could be purchased cheaper isn’t necessarily important.

    But on the other hand, the representation was so far off that it might be considered fraudulent.

  • backprop

    To answer the question with a “Yes,” I’d have to hear why the OP deserved a refund. I didn’t hear a single word to that effect.

  • EdB

    “The tour operator refused to provide a breakdown, but agreed to cancel the reservation and waive the cancellation fee since, ”

    The tour operator canceled and waived the fee. Sure sounds to me like he deserved a refund.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    There’s a lot of red herrings in this story. The central problem is the OP bought two vouchers instead of the one she actually needed. But there was still a 30-day window to ask for a refund from Living Social, and she somehow missed that. How’d that happen? She waited a whole month before actually researching what she’d bought? Or did she originally plan on taking some other people with her and that fell through, forcing her to scramble for excuses to try and get her money back? Personally, I’m leaning towards thinking the latter.

  • John Baker

    @Joe_D_Messina:disqus I’m with you. Something doesn’t smell right with the OP’s story.

  • Meghan Guilford

    I voted ‘no’ because I think he ‘should have’ only received a refund on 1 of the vouchers, not both. And I don’t like saying ‘should have’ because he doesn’t really deserve anything.
    The terms are clear on the travel groupons/living social deals – this voucher is good for 2 people, does not include children, ect. All-inclusive/Airfare included. A current living social deals states: “Voucher valid for up to 2 guests; max occupancy is 2 adults and 2 children” in the “Fine Print”, which is a font size anyone can read. And if you’re unsure when you are purchasing, there are always options to leave a question.

  • MarkKelling

    OK, I can price a trip pretty much anywhere and get what I want for less than some of the package deals charge. I might pick lower rated hotels or less direct routing on air travel or go on days when there are fewer customers and get a discount because of that. But so what – you buy a package deal so you don’t have to do all the work of selecting each and every item spending many hours of your time. Someone has to get paid for their efforts.

    The fact that the OP didn’t really understand how the vouchers work is not the tour operators fault.

    OP got lucky that the vouchers were refunded because the tour operator went out of business. Learn and move on.


    Another case of buyer’s remorse. Teri bought 2 vouchers instead of one, yet the complaint is not about getting a refund on the additional voucher which meant that the purchase was probably intentional. And why not do some research to know that what you are purchasing is actually a good deal–either before you make the purchase or within the refund window. Either essential details are missing from this or Chris Elliott is being hoodwinked. I have no sympathy for people whose problems are of their own making and then portray themselves as “victims” of a scam, poor customer service or outright negligence. And Teri is ultimately responsible for not doing some work before purchasing or within the cancellation timeframe.

  • Don Filiault

    Teri evidently didn’t cruise much,since she was unaware that hardly anyone would ever pay the “Regular Price” for a cruise. The time to do your research is before, not after you agree to a price which apears on Groupon, Living Social, etc.

  • Daddydo

    Why do you always defend the OP’s that fail to do any research? They are greedy, fail to know what they are buying, then cry for help. Boring! They are out there by the thousands and they they just do not read first, and cry later.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    By buying through Living Social, you’re actually pre-paying for the vacation. xx% of it goes to Living Social. So just because the OP got an offer to cancel the vacation from the tour operator, Living Social had no reason to agree because they’d be giving up their commission, too (which can be quite substantial – I’ve heard 30-50% for some deals). The OP got lucky on this one. He made so many silly mistakes along the way.

  • Charles B

    The actual cost of the trip appears to be $200 less than what she paid. She paid $3600. So the actual cost was $3400. The complaint is that living social promised a deal of at least 40% off the actual price. Had she bought one voucher, she would have paid $1800. $3400 – 40% = $2040. Yes, the voucher was more than 40% off the actual price.

    All this complaint about not living up to their claims is misdirection. The problem is the OP bought two vouchers and needed one, and NOT that the value of the deal was misrepresented.

  • emanon256

    I think whats its saying from CE’s statement is that the OP accidental spent $3,600 on vouchers, for a trip that costs $3,400, when he only needed one voucher for the trip. So it should have been $1,800 on a $3,400 trip. But it is a little confusing.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Greedy? Hardly. Unsophisticated and naive perhaps but hardly greedy.

  • backprop

    I’m talking before the bankruptcy, which is when the OP approached Christopher with buyer’s remorse.

    The tour operator going under, as noted by Christopher, was a lucky break after this all started. I doubt the poll would ask about a refund from a defunct tour provider.

  • EdB

    The OP should still receive a refund of what the tour operator was paid. Price paid minus commission.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes, but only because the tour operator went out of business. I appreciate Living Socials refund policy, and they are very good about honoring it, even outside of the term limit if the right reasons exist. I also agree with CE’s statement that you should do your research before buying, not over 30 days after like in the OPs case.

    I’ve found many great deals on Living Social, and also many bad deals. I keep seeing the same event pop up on Living Social advertising an 80% savings on the event. When I go to the event sponsors home page, they say tickets are only available through living social. So how is that a savings? Its not. Its a bold faced lie. Its not an 80% savings if that’s the only way to buy them. Its the price of the event, and I am not willing to pay for it.

    One time I bought my wife a spa pass and it was quite a good deal. Then when she tried to scheduel an appointment, the spa said they would only honor the Living Social coupon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am or 2pm. So it was basically impossible to use since my wife has a day job. I called living social even though it was past the refund period, they apologized and said that their vendor terms specify that the vendor can not put any conditions on the Living Social certificate that are not already in place on cash paying customers. They gave me a 100% refund on my credit card, told me we could still keep and try to use the certificate, and said they would deal with the vendor. We threw away the certificate, but I was very glad about how proactive they were.

  • EdB

    Before the bankruptcy, if the tour operator agrees to a refund, the OP is entitled to the portion that was paid to the operator. Amount OP paid minus Living Social’s commission.

  • emanon256

    I worked with a company that did a Living Social deal once. At that time, their commission was 50% plus credit card processing fees. Living Social makes a LOT of money on these.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Couldn’t agree more. I hate to see Chris represent OP’s who don’t do their homework, and blunder into a swamp of their own making. Of course Living Social is going to cave; they know who Chris is.

  • emanon256

    In my opinion, that would be up to the tour operator to give, not Living Social. The Tour Operator gets the money upfront, paid at certain percentages over an up to 3 month spread. After all, the tour operator marked the vouchers as used, and had their money. (Marking them used has nothing to do with getting their money, at least in my case).

  • John Baker

    Actually no. The TO can not obligate a 3rd party to any refund. I’m sure LivingSocial’s T&Cs state that their deals are non-refundable are 30 day.

    It would be nice if LivingSocial refunded the money but not required.

  • EdB

    Like I said. If the sponsor agrees to the refund, the customer should get the amount paid to the sponsor. Living Social should not be allowed to keep that money. So the OP might have only gotten $900 back on each voucher, I think they are entitled to that.

  • EdB

    The tour operator agreed to give up their portion. The operator needs to refund the money to Living Social and they in turn should send it back to the OP.

  • EdB

    Living Social is entitled to keep their commission. But if a operator agrees to return their portion, I feel Living Social is obligated to return that money. They are not refunding the money paid for the deal. They are just an intermediary for the operator to send money to the customer.

  • RobynJacqueline

    What a lot of people don’t realize is that savings on certain items will equate to “up-to” x-number % off. Rates on hotel rooms, flights, package deals fluctuate often. So if a hotel for example is offering a package at 50%, but valid 7 days a week. It might equate to 50% if they booked a weekend stay but if they book on a Monday it may only work out to 20% off because that package rate fluctuates.
    That may not be the case in how the pricing was structured for this particular package, but it’s something people fail to realize.

  • emanon256

    I agree with you, except the sponsor already has the money, Living Social doesn’t have it to refund do them. When I had a client who used them, we sold a normally $100 product for $50 through LS. The agreement was that my client would get $25 for each sale, minus credit card processing fees. So it came out to about ~$24 per sale. Fifteen days after the deal, my client got a check for 100% of their ~$24 per sale. However, LS said if certain conditions exist, they can distribute the funds on a rolling manner and I believe they would get at least 50% at the 15 day mark, and the rest within 30 or 45 days. So the sponsor is the one keeping the money in this scenario, not LS.

  • emanon256

    When I worked with them, there were no provisions anywhere in the contract to refund Living Social, and then Living Social would issue a refund of just the commission. If the tour operator issues a refund, that’s between the tour operator and the customer. In this case, I don’t see where the Tour Operator agreed to give up their portion, they said they would waive the fee, which makes even less sense as this was a pre-paid non-refundable voucher. So what fee are they even waiving? And the tour operator still marked it as used, which again has nothing to do with actually getting the money.

  • EdB

    If the sponser already has the money as you say in the beginning, why do they have to wait 15 to get it? Either Living Social has sent the money, in which case the sponsor needs to send the money back to Living Social, or Living Social is holding the sponsor’s money in an account and the money comes from there. Either way, Living Social is not out any money.

  • emanon256

    I don’t quite follow your statement.

    Here is what happens.

    1. Day 1. Customer pays Living Social.
    2. 15 days later, Tour Operator gets their portion of the money.
    3. >30 days later, Customer request refund.

    The vendor contract states that Living Social cannot process refunds on behalf of the vendor. So the vendor can’t send the money back to LS to refund the customer, there is no process in place to do this. The vendor has their portion, and can refund directly or not. In fact, the customer terms state that its non-refundable and any dispute or refund request is between the purchaser and the vendor directly, and that LS is not a party to any such decisions or transactions. LS is only responsible for a refund if canceled within the initial refund period, or in the event the vendor goes out of business.

  • bigmanaz

    I have double checked on several hotel “DEALS” from Living Social. Often the purchase price online at the hotel site is nearly as cheap or cheaper than the touted 40% savings price from Living Social. The time to check the “DEAL” is BEFORE you buy not after.

  • Michael__K

    That doesn’t fit the story either, because in that case one of the vouchers should have gone unused. But according to the article they were “both marked as used.”

  • Michael__K

    If that were the case, then we would expect that one of the vouchers should have gone unused. The article clearly states they were both marked as used.

    Without understanding exactly what the vouchers actually said, interpreting this story is like taking an ink blot test. Everyone “sees” what they are prejudiced to see.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If the tour operate agreed to refund the trip, Living Social cannot keep that money. They have to at least return that portion. Now, they might be able to keep their commission, markup, whatever, but certainly not double dip.

  • John Baker

    But the TO never agreed to return their portion. They agreed to ” cancel the reservation and waive the cancellation fee.” That is not the same thing as a refund.

  • EdB

    That makes no sense. If there is a fee to cancel and you don’t get anything back, what’s the point in canceling? Pay extra to not go? If there was no cancelation fee, your argument might make more sense. But a fee with no money being returned doesn’t.

  • Trudi

    I voted yes because it’s in Living Social’s best interest to make customer’s happy. This customer’s ignorance would have been a weight around their neck for a long time. Living Social has a pretty decent repuation, but why would ANYONE charge so much money without researching it a bit first? She’s lucky she did get help, and I hope the lesson sticks with her. If something looks like a good deal, look into it before you commit to it.

  • bodega3

    Potatoe, potato. What it comes down to is that what you find online may not be the best deal. Do your research BEFORE you purchase!

  • bodega3

    You point out valid points in that a package is put together to make your travel arrangements easier and often for less than if you handle everything separately.
    Not knowing what the voucher actually stated, like travel dates, carrier, day of the week restrictions, etc., we don’t know if the research made AFTER purchase was apple to apple. Plus there can be other things that play into the price, such as class of service found on the date of booking, vs class of service based on the price quoted in the voucher.
    Let’s also look at the issue of buying something online with a company you know nothing about and having them go out of business. In the State of California, for travel, we have a Seller of Travel Law that is consumer protection for CA residents. If you pay for something and don’t get it, if the company is registered to sell to you, a CA resident the state will assist you with getting your money back as there is a fund for this. It isn’t uncommon for companies to go to these sites, like Social Living, Groupon when they are desperate for business. Keep that in mind!

  • John Baker

    I don’t know their business practices but … Their trips could have been non-refundable. If you cancelled, you paid a cancellation fee and the remaining credit stayed on the books. Airlines do the same thing with non-refundable tickets and change fees.

  • Lindabator

    because he cancelled both – so they both showed used.

  • Lindabator

    That’s how I read it, too. Great savings on one voucher, but he inadvertently bought two, and screwed it all up.

  • Lindabator

    But he still needed to get the refund from Living Social, and their offers are nonrefundable – again, folks, you need to go to who actually SOLD you the offer. Of course – helps to pay attention in the FIRST place.

  • Lindabator

    But they have a 30 day refund time period – he waited too late, so they can follow their rules as they see fit.

  • Lindabator

    AMEN! I hear first timers say they can find that for $209 a night, why is ours like $215? BECAUSE you are looking at the inside room, no view, NO taxes, mine is oceanview, all taxes included. Apples to apples, folks. (Plus, looks like he assumed the TWO vouchers should add up to a certain total, when it was actually only ONE)

  • Lindabator

    Refunding stupidity is in no way in LS’s best interest. Only in the stupid client’s interest. Take responsibility instead of expecting everyone else to.

  • Michael__K

    What the article actually says is:

    The tour operator…. agreed to cancel the reservation

    If you believe 1 voucher fully covered the OP’s reservation then why would cancelling the reservation cancel the other voucher too?

  • TonyA_says

    The tour operator went out of business? I wonder why?

  • emanon256

    I found in Living Socials terms and conditions that the “merchant is the issuer” and that Living Social is acting solely as a marketer on behalf of the merchant. Any disputes, etc, outside of Living Socials refund period must be handled between the purchaser and the Merchant directly.

    The merchant was begin shady by referred the OP back to Living Social. The merchant was clearly not honoring the terms of their contract with living social, or the OP. This doesn’t absolve the OP of their responsibility and their mistakes, but they are blaming Living Social for their mistake,a nd the merchants shadiness.

  • emanon256

    That is why I love travel agents :) I would much rather pay $215 for an ocean view, than $209 plus tax for a view of the dumpsters.

    My TA always gets us a room for our anniversary for the exact same price that we would get it for ourselves. But we get a $100 resort credit and $40 breakfast credit when she books it, that we wouldn’t get if we booked it.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    I am so confused by this whole story…especially after reading the comments.

  • Todd

    Probably refunding too many trips!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Hardly. Calling someone greedy is a moral judgement that is not warranted here.

  • TonyA_says

    Me, too. So I gave up trying after the third reading.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    no refund necessary.
    It may have been 40% off, but who knows these days. 40% off what ?
    Maybe the tour operator dropped their prices for a sale. Who knows.
    You can’t buy something & then say I don’t want it.
    Investigate before buying.

  • Daddydo

    I am sorry that I did not consult my thesaurus.

  • EdB

    A thesaurus wouldn’t have helped you much. You would have needed to consult a dictionary.

  • Laura616

    I unsubscribed to groupon, living social etc a long time ago. A lot of the companies providing the service go out of business and there’s a lot of ‘mouse print’ attached to the deals. I wonder how many people get a really good deal from these things – not many I suspect.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Hi Laura,
    You may be missing some great deals. I don’t know about other states, but in California, even if a business for which you have purchased vouchers goes out of business, you still receive a refund of the purchase price from Living Social, Groupon, etc. Living Social even took it a step further for me. I paid $40 for $80 worth of vouchers to a particular restaurant, and the first time I visited the restaurant, an employee took all of my vouchers and wrote out gift certificates for me. I didn’t think anything about it until, some time later, the place went out of business and left me with a bunch of worthless gift certificates. I approached Living Social without much hope of a refund, but damned if they didn’t give me one. And that’s not the only refund I’ve received. In California, at least, you never lose the purchase price of a voucher.

  • Annie M

    When will people learn to read the fine print before they purchase these things? ABC’s The Lookout just did a story on a Groupon voucher purchase to a filthy hotel in the Dominican Republic. Doesn’t anyone check hotel reviews before buying? Living Social did the right thing in this case but you must go into these “deals” with a buyer beware attitude. We once met a girl in a very remote hotel in Costa Rica that decided to book a Groupon deal at this hotel as a birthday gift to herself. She traveled alone and had no idea that this hotel was so remote, there was literally nothing for her to do – there was no town close enough to go into, the hotel didn’t offer excursions, and it had un- air conditioned cabins and lots of bugs. And apparently the buyer really didn’t know what she was doing if she bought two vouchers instead of one. Again – if you don’t understand what you are buying – don’t buy.

    People, do your research before buying deals. Remember, you aren’t going to get the best room in a resort or hotel – those will go to the highest paying customers so make sure you’d be happy with the worst room if you purchase. If the hotel end sup being oversold, guess who gets bumped first? The people who pay the lowest price for their rooms.

    BUYER BEWARE on social deal sites!

  • Yep

    LivingSocial stinks. I bought a deal, and the provider would make no appointments available to use it (first the website was down, then couldn’t receive a call back). Nothing was available before the 30 day money-back policy—I didn’t even want money back, I was content to receive a LS credit I could use to buy another deal. I was told I was out of luck. I had this same situation with Groupon, and they gave me credit to use elsewhere. LS’s policy is inflexible in the event you deal with a provider who isn’t willing to schedule you. Do like I did, and ditch them. And yes, as others have found, these “deals” are often not deals at all.

  • Laura616

    Okay thanks for that, maybe I will give it another go.