MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Cornucopia of coupons

Sign up for online discounts, and you'll rarely have to pay full price.

Bicycling on Chicago's Lakefront Trail.

© Beth Gauper

Tours of Chicago's lakefront by bike, Segway or boat are cheaper with coupons.

These days, everyone wants to give you a good deal.

Sign up for the many online discount programs and you’ll get offers for lodgings, restaurants, theater tickets and spa services delivered to your in-box every day.

You can save the most on lodgings, and the best deals come in the off season, generally winter.

To see them, sign up for emails from LivingSocial Escapes, Groupon Getaways and Travelzoo.

Deal conditions have improved. LivingSocial now allows buyers to return a voucher within 30 days if they can't find a date they want. Groupon also promises a refund, and for many properties it allows buyers to book their desired date along with the voucher.

In general, the deals are very good, but read the fine print. Check the business's own website to make sure the deal actually is a deal. Then, make sure it's good for weekends, if that's when you want to travel. 

Then, make your reservation immediately; you'll be competing for prime dates with everyone else who bought the coupon.

The vouchers usually are good for at least several months, and often up to a year. If you can't use the deal within the specified time, you still can use the amount you paid for it.

Businesses are willing to offer these discounts in return for email exposure to hundreds of thousands of potential customers. They know you'll see the offer, and they're hoping you'll try them out, became a repeat guest and recommend them to friends.

In the off seasons, Hotels.com may offer last-minute deals that are as good or better than half-price coupon deals, and you have more flexibility using it.

Here are some of the programs that will save you money. You can sign up for deals in the cities to which you plan to travel as well as the city you live in.

In some cities, Groupon, which debuted in 2008, has inspired so many competitors you may need an aggregater site like Dealradar to compile them and send them to you in a daily digest.

However, Dealradar now includes mostly the small coupon sites, so check to see if it includes the ones you want.

If you're not familiar with a hotel or restaurant that's offered and you want to know more about them, check the reviews at such sites as Tripadvisor, Yelp and Chowhound before you buy the deal.

If you don't know if a restaurant is convenient to where you'll be staying on a trip, use Walkscore to find nearby restaurants and shops.

If you already know you want to go to a certain resort or restaurant, sign up for its email specials in advance. 

Milwaukee Art Museum on Lake Michigan.

© Beth Gauper

Visitors heading to the Milwaukee Art Museum will find a two-for-one coupon in the Entertainment book.

You can also "like'' its Facebook page or become a follower on Twitter; many resorts offer specials or announce vacancies that way.

Some resorts, especially those in Wisconsin Dells and on Minnesota's North Shore, offer specials to previous guests in the off season, so if you like a resort, make sure you're on its email list.

And of course, we pass along the deals we like on the MidwestWeekends Facebook page or in our newsletter.

Twin Cities

In addition to national sites, the Star Tribune's STeals offer frequent deals. 

STeals bargains often are good only for two or three months, and unlike Groupon, it doesn't remind the buyer when the deal is about the expire.

Minneapolis-based Crowd Cut is a newer entry in the coupon wars and offers hotel deals in the region.

Eden Prairie-based Dealstork uses the same model and offers mainly services and goods, such as a two-year subscription to Minnesota Monthly magazine for $13.

The Entertainment books don't offer as many deals as they once did, but serious sightseers will have no problem justifying their expense.

New Entertainment books start out in fall at $35, and the price decreases as the year progresses. Look for deals, such as 2-for-1 or free shipping.

There's also a Twin Ports Entertainment book for Duluth and Superior, Wis.

If you're a member of Minnesota Public Radio, you'll get discounts at lodgings and restaurants, mostly in the 10 to 20 percent range. It includes discounts and 2-for-1 deals in Duluth.

Goldstar offers half-price theater tickets, though it charges a per-ticket fee, usually about $4.

If you're going to the Mall of America, the mall sells a coupon book. But first, check to see if it offers discounts on things you want to buy.

Spoonbridge and Cherry in Minneapolis.

© Beth Gauper

In the Twin Cities, watch for discounts to the Walker Art Center and other attractions.

Chicago

The Chicago Tribune Co. offers Half-Price Chicago. Most Chicago sites list getaway deals for resorts in Wisconsin, especially around Lake Geneva.

There are two Entertainment books, one for Chicago North and one for Chicago South & West. Both include coupons for Wisconsin attractions.

Broke Hipster lists what's "free and ridiculously cheap'' — gallery openings, burlesque shows, tastings and free days at museums.

Hot Tix, Theatre in Chicago and Goldstar offer half-price theater tickets.

Choose Chicago has a list of free days at 15 museums, mostly for Illinois residents.

Hot Rooms provides discount hotel rooms, but cross-check with such search engines as Orbitz and Expedia to get the best deal.

If you’re a member of Chicago Public Media, you can get many 2-for-1 deals, even on weekends, not just in Illinois but all over Wisconsin.

For more, see Cheap Chicago.

Groupon Getaways.

©

Groupon Getaways offers deals at lodges and resorts.

Milwaukee

In addition to the national sites, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's DealWatch offers a Deal of the Day and a variety of offers in the Milwaukee area, though few are of interest to travelers.

The site Milwaukee on the Cheap offers a digest of deals and money-saving ideas.

Goldstar offers half-price theater tickets.

The Milwaukee Entertainment book is particularly good and costs $40, $5 more than other books.

Many of the coupons in it also are in the Madison and Appleton/Green Bay Entertainment books.

Madison

The Isthmus publication offers gift certificates to restaurants, clubs and shops for half off or more. Deals are offered until they sell out, and there's a clearance section.

The site Madison on the Cheap offers a digest of deals and money-saving ideas.

The Madison Entertainment book also offers deals in nearby tourist areas, including Wisconsin Dells and Spring Green, home of House on the Rock.

In spring, watch for the Deals in the Dells card from a Culver's restaurant. With it, an adult can get a free admission for up to four children age 11 and under to lots of attractions, including the water parks at the Kalahari, Chula Vista and Mount Olympus.

LivingSocial Escapes.

©

LivingSocial offers Escapes.

At Noah's Ark, you get a free Adventure Pass, which is good for admission to five rides.

The pass also includes free admissions to both Dells Boat Tours, two jet-boat rides, two Duck tours and the Tommy Bartlett Show. The card is good through Labor Day.

The Deals in the Dells brochure also lists special deals at lodgings and includes a free bundle of firewood at campgrounds.

You'll also save on Dells attractions if you order online and in advance.

The Dells Fun Card includes many buy one, get one free deals and costs $10. Be sure to read the fine print for conditions.

Other cities

Groupon and LivingSocial cover many mid-size towns, such as Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Des Moines, Green Bay, Appleton, Winnipeg and Rockford, Ill.

In Iowa, there are Entertainment books for Des Moines and the Quad Cities.

Nationwide discounts

A lot of people have AAA or AARP cards and forget to use them, thereby losing the 10 percent discount many hotels offer. The AAA card also gets you 10 percent off Amtrak fares and discounts on many attractions.

Before reserving a hotel room, see what the rates are at such sites as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels and Hotwire. For a rock-bottom price, use Priceline, though you'll get the best deals off-peak.

Restaurant.com offers steep discounts on restaurants, though rarely the best ones. Watch out for the minimums: If you pay $15 for $25 worth of food but the minimum is $50, you've only gotten $10 off your bill. An 18 percent tip is added before the discount, and specials often are excluded.

Coupon Sherpa has printable coupons for fast-food restaurants.

RetailMeNot offers promotion codes you can use to get discounts at nationwide chains. Check the site or sign up for a weekly alert; sometimes, you can shave a few bucks more off your deals at Orbitz, Travelocity, Amtrak, Megabus and many hotels, airlines and rental-car agencies.

If you're a member of public television, a museum, an orchestra or other non-profit arts organization, you may be eligible for discounts — be sure to check.

Airlines

AirFareWatchdog lists the cheapest flights from your home aiport.

And sign up for the weekly deals at TravelZoo and Kayak, which cover the world and show occasional deals in your home city. If you know where you want to fly and you're tracking price trends, Kayak allows you to sign up for fare alerts.

Unlike most airlines, Southwest books only a few months ahead, and when it opens bookings for the next time period, the cheapest seats are first to go.

If you want a crack at them and want to know when Southwest opens its bookings, you'll be notified first via Twitter, then by Facebook and finally by email, if you've signed up for them.

More discounts

For more ways to save money, see our Cheap Trips stories.

And for a list of attractions and activities that cost nothing, see Free for all.



Last updated on February 7, 2013

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