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10/10/2011 by

Groupon’s Air Fast Ticket Deal Misleading?

Just like in almost any other country, Groupon is also very succesful in the Netherlands. Although there are other Groupon copycats willing to accept lower commissions, many small businesses prefer to partner with Groupon because they reach more potential customers.

Those potentials have become big fans of Groupon, something Groupon pays back by constantly offering great deals with large discounts. Until last week, when Groupon offered a 29 Euro voucher which you could exchange for air tickets from Amsterdam Schiphol to European cities, which eventually didn’t look like a great deal after all…

The offer was without any taxes and fuel surcharge. According to Groupon, these extra charges are always around 80 euros. In the Netherlands you have to be very clear in your commercial communications regarding the final price consumers have to pay for their tickets. Initially Groupon failed to inform users about these extra charges explicitly, but they changed the copy pretty fast, as we read on some forums.

The Groupon Deal was offered by Air Fast Tickets, which must be a new online travel agency here in Holland, as we had never heard of them before. Air Fast Ticket seems like a UK based company, offering their regular website in English, German, Italian, Turkish and Greek. For the Dutch market they are currently using as the .nl url is already taken. Remarkable is that if you want to book a flight at this website, you can only book with the voucher code you buy at Groupon. Even the customer service phone number redirects to Groupon, so it seems like a pretty close partnership between these two companies.

Back to the 29 Euro deal. Normally we mainly see many discount deals on Groupon, such as (again) a teeth whitening or skin laser deal. But this deal showed no clear discount, except a 29 Euro voucher.

 In English: “Return tickets from Schiphol to European top cities”

 We believe this is quite remarkable, as Groupon advertises with the fact that you can get deals with discounts up to 70%:

Discover your City for up to 70% off!

See your city in a brand new light with Groupon! New and diverse deals every day on restaurants, leisure, spa, beauty and sport guarantee excitement for up to 70% less!

The attentive reader, meaning those who are not blinded by discounts and deals, can see that this deal has no discount and no clear advantage, unless you pay less for your ticket comparing to other online travel sites or airlines. You just buy a “voucher”., meaning that your voucher represents a certain kind of value, 20 Euros in this case, which you spent again at Air Fast Tickets. It’s like a I.O.U in Dumb & Dumber:

So why buy a voucher of 29 Euro at Groupon, and spend this at Air Fast Tickets? The most logical reason could be that you pay less, beacuse that’s what we can expect from Groupon right?

We took a try and booked a ticket at Air Fast Tickets for 1 person, from Amsterdam to Milan, from the 11th of November and the return on the 14th of November:

Click on the image for a larger view

Costs for the ticket: € 0 Euro (you’ve bought a voucher before, so no extra costs) Costs for all surcharges € 84,09. Total Costs with the costs for the voucher are € 113,09.

The flight would be with KLM, so we also we composed exactly the same flight at Result: KLM was 5 Euros cheaper than Air Fast Tickets. Yes, we know this is only 5 Euros, but it’s still not cheaper than booking with Air Fast Tickets.

Click on the image for a larger view

So you expect any kind of advantage, mainly discount, at Groupon. And you end up with paying more along with some extra effort as you have to make 2 payments. Or are we missing something here? In order to be really sure, we decided to ask Groupon, social as we are, on their Amsterdam Facebook page:

In English: “Could you please tell me the advantage of the 29 euro voucher for Air Fast Tickets?

Unfortunately, after 4 days, we’re still waiting for a reply. Perhaps our fault, as this was a national deal and not a local deal, although we still believe companies have to answer this kind of questions as well. So we asked the same question on the national Facebook page of Groupon. We did receive some answers there:

Long story, in Dutch. For you guys how can’t read Dutch:

  • We asked the advantage of the Air Fast Tickets deal. Groupon mentioned that booking with one of the Airlines is more expensive.
  • We mentioned that the price is the same (we composed it before but forgot to make a screen grab of it) and that it pretty much doesn’t make any sense to buy a voucher first and then spend it again.
  • Then they mentioned that “the expiration date of the ticket was longer compared to tickets you buy elsewhere”. We believe they meant the expiration of the voucher and not the ticket, because if you buy a ticket for the 14th of November, we are pretty sure that it expires after that date :-)
  • We specifically asked again:”Are you sure that booking this way is cheaper?”
  • Groupon answered that tthey are sure.

So Groupon is sure about the fact that you pay less. We already knew that this is not the fact, but we wanted to be really sure, so we composed the same ticket again. Big surprise, it became even more expensive…

Click on the image for a larger view

So the total costs are not € 113,09 ( voucher + surcharges included) anymore, but suddenly € 128,09! We refreshed the page and the surprise became even bigger:

Click on the image for a larger view

The total price is € 143,09! we’re familiar with the fact that airlines are constantly changing their prices in order to fill their flights. This is called “fluid pricing”. But Air Fast Tickets is a not an Airliner and the ticket prices are still the same on as we write today!

Why is Groupon involving with this kind of companies? Why is Groupon suddenly selling deals with no clear advantage or discount for their users? And why are they saying that there is a price advantage for the user, even if we asked that question specifically again? Is this a result of the fact that they need to push their sales in order to keep up with the company’s ambition? Do you believe Groupon is misleading their audience with this “deal”? Or are the 2316 “gready” consumers to blame, who apparently are willing to buy any fancy deal Groupon offers them, even when you pay more this way?

We  have tried to compose this article with all possible care. We definitely want to hear if we misjudged some facts! We’re looking forward to your comments!

Source: ICON&CO

UPDATE: Seems like we’re not the only one that are sceptical towards Groupon’s way of offering “deals”, check this article on Business Insider, its’ called BUSTED: Groupon And Living Social Caught Inflating Regular Prices To Make Deals Look Better


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Laurens Bianchi

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