Of Groupons, Contract Law, and My Son’s Birthday Party

Dear contract law mavens,

I’m interested in your opinions on a recent kerfuffle I experienced concerning a local business that ran a Groupon promotion.

In mid-June I purchased a Groupon for a kid’s party at a nearby swim school. Both the online ad and the barcoded Groupon .pdf that I had to print out and present for redemption showed a Dec. 17 expiration date. I made a Dec. 11 reservation over the phone, and a few days later  went to the facility in person to present the Groupon and complete the purchase. No questions, no complications. I was all set for a fun-filled family celebration — or so I thought [cue ominous music].

Three months later…I received a call from the swim school’s customer service manager, who informed me that promotion expiration date in the school’s contract with Groupon was a date in November, so the Dec. 17 date on the advertising materials and redemption coupon was incorrect. She informed me that because of Groupon’s error, the school would not honor my coupon, and if I still wanted to hold my event I would have to pay the difference between the Groupon price and the full rack rate.

I told her that I expected to move forward as planned without additional charges because, regardless of whether Groupon breached the contract with the swim school, my agreement with the facility was still valid and binding. I am not a lawyer, but here’s the reasoning I gave her for my position:

  • I entered into a formal, written and signed agreement with the facility in good faith, and
  • The validity of the coupon was not questioned by the salesperson at the time of purchase and it was accepted as full payment.

The manager’s response to the second point was that the staff who handled reservations and payment processing at the time did not know that the ads and coupons had the “wrong” expiration date. My gut-level reply was “If you don’t train your staff on the details of a major promotion, that’s your problem and I don’t intend to pay for it.”

I continued to argue my position, and eventually the manager agreed to “make an exception” and allow my party to go on as planned (and I requested/received a confirmation e-mail from her as added insurance — don’t want to show up the day of the party with dozens giddy 1st graders just to get shaken down for more money).

So did I get my way through a blustery bluff, or does it sound like I probably had an enforceable contract?

[Note: I will not construe any responses as legal advice, or assume an attorney-client relationship. Does that help?]


  1. I’m not an attorney at all, but I wanted to tell you that when I’ve had issues with Groupons being honored in the past (twice out of probably 30 Groupons), Groupon promptly refunded my money, no questions asked. One was for a hot air balloon ride that was not what was promised; I can’t remember the other issue. They want to know if you have problems with them. That would be another avenue to go. I agree with you on this, and I’m glad you were able to get what you wanted, but to me, this business has done a lot of damage to its reputation by taking this tactic. What more likely happened is that they discovered they were losing too much money on the deal, and tried to find a way out. This probably worked with others, but not with you, because you were persistent. It’s ridiculous. They wanted to bring in business by offering a Groupon, and then they got it, and decided they didn’t want it!

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