Groupon, an online coupon service, posts daily deals for local,...

Groupon, an online coupon service, posts daily deals for local, or nearly local, subscribers. Credit: Handout

Discounted meals at Zagat-rated restaurants, half-price deep-tissue massages and buy-one-get-one ghost tours. Group coupons have become a powerful tool for people to save on activities around their hometown. There are dozens of sites now offering limited-time deals. With patience and planning, travelers can reap the savings when they're on vacation, too.

SIGN UP As soon as you figure out where you're going -- even if you're not leaving for several months -- register your e-mail address to get alerts from sites -- such as groupon.com, livingsocial.com, dealon.com and buywithme.com -- that offer deals in destination cities. Deals are typically for spa services, restaurants or tours. But they're for sale for only a short time, so you have to be diligent. If the deal looks interesting, don't wait too long.

READ THE FINE PRINT Before you buy, check closely for restrictions. Will the deal be valid when you travel or will it expire before then? Chances are it's OK -- the deals often last several months or longer, because businesses want to spread around the uptick in customers that comes from these coupons.

Last spring, Groupon sold nearly 5,400 deals of $15 for a sightseeing cruise in Manhattan worth $26 that are valid for a year. On the other hand, livingsocial.com's travel initiative (escapes.livingsocial.com) recently offered a half-price two-night stay for two at a bed-and-breakfast in New York's Finger Lakes region, a bottle of wine and wine tastings for $265. But you can't use the deal between June 1 and Oct. 31 -- prime travel time.

One recent Zozi.com deal in Boston gave paintball fans five days to pay $20 for three hours of indoor paintball ($41 value), but the deal can only be redeemed on weekdays.

KEEP A RECORD If you buy the deal, you'll have to figure out how to redeem it. Print the coupon that's e-mailed or check to see if you can just display the coupon on your smart phone. Because you're traveling, you'll have to think about all of this as part of your packing routine. Toothbrushes? Check. Coupons? Check.

After all, you can do all the planning in the world -- but a coupon is only good if you remember to bring it.

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