Groupon (etc.) Expiration Dates

As a follow-up to my recent post Be Groupon Shopping Savvy (which talked about companies going bankrupt after a half-off deal), I thought I would point out a law that some people don’t realize California has. Gift certificates/cards cannot have an expiration date. 
(CA Department of Consumer Affairs FAQ on Gift Certificates). For other State and the Federal rules, check here.

Basically, if you paid cash for a GC, then it is not allowed to have an expiration. This does not apply to a GC that you received as a promotional offer from the business. If they awarded you a card as a prize or you got it from them free somehow, it can have an expiration date. 

Groupons and other half-off  deals are tricky though. Let’s say you have bought a $20 deal for $40 worth of goods/services from ABC Company. The coupon shows an expiration date of June 30, 2011.  If you use the coupon by June 30th, you get your $40 worth. But if you go past the expiration date, say, July 10th, it is only worth what you paid for it - $20.  It is NOT completely worthless. Because you paid for it, it falls under the GC rule in that you can't lose your money's worth.

Some businesses are cool about it and will honor the coupon even after the expiration date. But recently I tried to take a class at the last minute of the coupon. Actually, it was for four classes. The studio was flooded by everyone trying to use their coupons that final week before expiration. People were being turned away because the class was full. Some, like me, had driven a distance only to be told it was full. I asked for an extension since there obviously was a problem with class size. They refused. They said I had six months to use and I should have used it in time. Not a nice response or good customer service. It immediately makes the business look bad.

Thing is, that coupon is still good for the original value, which I have to assume means two classes instead of four. So legally I have a right to go back in two weeks and still take two classes for the purchase value of the coupon. Not sure I will though - their bitchy response really turned me off. (Although I'll admit I was a little bitchy with them too.)

I buy a lot of half-off deals. I want to get the deal I paid for. But if I mess up somehow watching my expiration dates, I’m not completely SOL. Neither are you.