launches travel deals, but do your own math first

chichen itza ruins outside of CancunLivingSocial, a website that offers city-specific pop-up deals based on group participation, has thrown travel deals into the mix.

Although deals on the site are normally available for only 24 hours, the travel deals, which it calls "escapes," will be offered for a week at a time. Also unlike the normal deals, anyone can grab them without a minimum number of participants. Another perk: If customers can get three of their friends to book the same deal, theirs is free.

That's all good news. Now for the warning: Not all of these deals are the cheapest you can do. Take, for example, the current four-day air-hotel package from New York City to El Tukan Hotel & Beach Club at Playa del Carmen, outside of Cancun.

The LivingSocial price for the deal is $650 for one person or $900 for two. That's for four nights, airfare, airport transfers, and a few activities, such as a zipline, the chance to snorkel at Xel Há waterpark, and time to explore nearby Mayan ruins. Sounds great, right, especially considering that LivingSocial lists the standard full price as $1,584?

But take the deal for a solo traveler, which costs $650 at LivingSocial. If you book the hotel on your own through a website such as, you get the same room (and not-quite-luxury hotel) for $54 a night. BookIt lists its room as all-inclusive, meaning all meals and drinks are included, whereas LivingSocial's deal is for "most" meals, plus happy hours at the bar.

That's $216 so far for the hotel, which leaves airfare as the other major expense. In early December, the same period as the BookIt hotel price quote, JetBlue flies from JFK to Cancun for about $142 each way on many days. So now that's about $284 for airfare, plus $216 for the hotel, totaling $500. Xel Há costs $79 for an all-inclusive day visit. We're still at only $579, $71 short of the LivingSocial tally.

So even figuring in the incidental costs of airport transfer, taxes, and the Mayan ruin walk, there's no way you'll reach the standard $1,584 price tag that LivingSocial claims is the benchmark. In fact, you could probably have put together the same trip on your own, without the site, for about the same exact "discount" price.

There no shame there -- you're not getting ripped off -- but you're not getting the staggering discount you were led to believe you were getting. That's a strong lesson for doing a little math before agreeing to buy.

The news isn't all bad. Check out another of the "Escapes" deals posted by LivingSocial for the New York market. That's for two nights at a Burlington, VT, hotel called The Essex. If you booked that yourself, it would cost $239 each night, but LivingSocial is selling it for $359, and it's throwing in a cooking class, a ski pass, or a Swedish massage. That's a true bargain.

So LivingSocial's new travel deals are a decidedly mixed bag. They can be as exciting as its standard daily deals, but don't get so excited that you forget to add before you click.

Update: LivingSocial's representative says there are two $119 tours included in the package, plus private airport transfers it values at $90. Single rooms at El Tukan are more commonly $81. That adds to $936, including airfare, however, it should be noted that
Cancun International Airport's own website explains that public transportation would cost only $20 round-trip. It's still always a good idea to perform your own price checks to make sure you're happy with any offer.
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