Groupon’s offering TSA PreCheck and $150 off hotels. Here’s why it’s a terrible deal.

Oct 27, 2019

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TSA PreCheck is an expedited security service that most seasoned U.S. travelers could not live without. There are a number of ways to acquire this coveted fast pass, but we’ve never reviewed this latest method before: Purchasing it through a deals site.

A TPG reader tipped us off to a Groupon package bundling TSA PreCheck enrollment ($85) with a $150 hotel discount for $129.50. Here’s what it includes:

  • A voucher code that voids the fee for your TSA PreCheck enrollment application ($85 value)
  • A separate voucher code that can be used three times for $50 off your stay ($150 total value), valid at worldwide hotels and resorts such as Marriott, Hilton, Omni, Starwood, Wyndham, and Four Seasons
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions on hotel offer
  • No expiration date on hotel offer

All in all, that’s a retail price of $235 — a $105.50 savings, or about 45% off what you’d pay if you purchased everything at face value. However, this is The Points Guy, and our readers don’t pay retail price in cash unless the math holds up.

Just to prove our point, let’s do some math, shall we?

This Groupon package could be a good deal for you if …

If you’re looking to spend some extra cash and earn some miles for doing so, you can earn up to four Ultimate Rewards points by shopping through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and paying with your Chase Freedom credit card (No longer open to new applicants).

Alternatively, you could earn three miles/points per dollar from United, Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest and American Airlines. That’s 388.5 miles or points, worth anywhere from $5.05 to $6.99 by TPG’s current monthly valuations — bringing your total discount to around $111-$112.50, or about 47% off the retail price of TSA PreCheck and a $150 discount.

Alternatively, you could get up to 8% cash back on Mr. Rebates, which would bring your effective purchase price down to $119.14, just a hair over 50% off. Nice.

So if you seriously love Groupon and just really want to buy this package, have at it — we won’t stop you. But there’s a lot hidden in the fine print even so.

This Groupon package most likely is a terrible deal for you if …

If you already hold a travel rewards credit card that offers free credit toward Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck fees, don’t look twice at this deal — not for yourself, your partner, your grandma or your kids. If you don’t need to spend $85 purchasing TSA PreCheck, the retail value of the $235 bundled package drops to $129.50 for a $150 discount — hardly a good deal, as we’ll examine next. 

Related: You can get free Global Entry and TSA PreCheck with these credit cards

How valuable are the hotel discounts?

Buried in the Groupon deal fine print, you’ll see that the hotel discount code isn’t valid for direct bookings with any of the major chains, which again, include Marriott, Hilton, Omni, Starwood (which is now a Marriott brand), Wyndham and the Four Seasons. Instead, you have to book through an obscure website called GiftCardForTravel.com.

Just for the hell of it, TPG purchased a Groupon package just to see what’s available, compared to Hotels.com. The purchase took several hours to finish processing, and comes in the form of a digital voucher with two codes for use.

The instructions state:

1. Visit http://www.giftcardfortravel.com/demo to view hotel inventory
2. Click “Activate Today”
3. Enter your 10-digit Hotel PIN (AFTER “H-” on your voucher) and personal information, then browse the inventory and complete your reservation.
* Hotel pin may be used three times for $50 off three separate stays and does not expire.

Meanwhile on the GiftCardForTravel.com website, we set to work looking for hotel deals. Here’s what we found for two different examples:

  • New York hotels over Thanksgiving week
  • Tokyo hotels over Christmas week

New York over Thanksgiving

I knew we were off to a bad start when I searched for hotels in New York City on November 25, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. GiftCardForTravel.com only had 30 hotels total, 26 of which were located in Manhattan.

In contrast, Hotels.com had 1,412 hotels and vacation rentals available for booking through the platform with the exact same criteria.

I chose a property at random: The New York Marriott East Side, conveniently located in Midtown East. The hotel’s direct link shows rates beginning at $158 for that night for Bonvoy members before resort fees and taxes:

Hotels.com showed a room rate of $161 before the resort fee, which was clearly disclosed under the room rate. On the checkout page, it was clear that I would pay $188.24 after all taxes, and a separate resort fee of $28.69 per day would be collected directly at the hotel.

Meanwhile, the GiftCardForTravel.com site rolled the room rate and taxes into a single dollar amount, and hid the resort fees deep in the fine print (which you’ll find if you click on “details”).

So on the surface, a casual or inexperienced shopper would easily think that Groupon travelers using their $50 voucher will get the best deal booking through GiftCardForTravel.com. And in all fairness, the final price for all three rooms are within a couple of dollars of each other. But the deceptiveness of hiding some of the fees sat badly with me, since it would be a nasty surprise to discover the resort fee upon check-in at the hotel.

Cancellations are “free” through GiftCardForTravel.com, up until a certain date (one month before the arrival date). After that, there’s an increasingly pricey cost for canceling or changing your reservation. And there’s a separate “processing” fee of $8.81 charged on top of that, also buried in the fine print.

Furthermore, travelers booking directly with Marriott earn points and credit toward elite status, while Hotels.com travelers could earn up to 24% back if they doubled up on the Capital One/Hotels.com promotion. While the $50 Groupon discount is nice if you’re truly strapped for cash, GiftCardForTravel.com offers extremely limited access to inventory, no privileges of elite status and may include hidden costs.

My second test booking was for Tokyo on December 26, when I will be flying into the country for a quick stop over before traveling on to Taiwan.

GiftCardForTravel.com has a grand total of 12 hotels for that night in its inventory.

Meanwhile, Hotels.com showed 2,306 available hotels and vacation rentals across the greater metropolitan area.

I chose another hotel that was available through both GiftCardForTravel.com as well as on Hotels.com — no easy feat with such limited options.

The Hotel New Otani Tokyo, The Main, was $258 per night on Hotels.com ($312 after taxes), and the same price on GiftCardForTravel.com before the $50 Groupon discount:

One other way in which GiftCardForTravel.com failed me? Its extremely limited inventory meant that my discount didn’t go as far as it could have.

For comparison, Hotels.com showed more than a dozen hotels in the vicinity of the Hotel New Otani Tokyo, the Main, which would have been far cheaper than the Hotel New Otani, even with my $50 discount.

A discount isn’t a discount unless it actually saves you money. In every use case TPG tested, the Groupon/GiftCardForTravel.com package never came out ahead.

What else should you know about this Groupon package?

Hopefully by now, you’re well convinced that the Groupon deal for TSA PreCheck and $150 off of hotel bookings has some serious flaws. But in case you needed additional convincing, all Groupon voucher sales are final. You can’t even request Groupon credit once you’ve viewed your digital voucher. 

Instead, we suggest you check out some of our favorite credit cards for both TSA PreCheck: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card; the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card; and of course, the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve and the The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Hund.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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