Some deals sound just too good to be true, especially when it comes to the Internet. But recently, I have discovered that you can get real deals for restaurant gift certificates on eBay for sale by a company called Restaurant.com. They are promotions from the restaurant and generally go for deep discount. Most are $25 certificates that sell at auction for anywhere between the initial bid of $1.00 and about half their face value. The more popular restaurants, particularly in the larger cities, can go for more than half the face value. They can be had for almost every state in the country. Some have restrictions for the day of the week, time of day, and / or party size, but most are unrestricted. Any restrictions tend to reduce the selling price. For example, I regularly travel to Kentucky to see my twins. The coupons for the restaurants that have a minimum party size of 4 people are no use to us, but they seem to go for just a few dollars.
I purchased six coupons for Kentucky ranging in price from $1.00 to $5.50 plus $1.00 each for handling. The dollar one was for Still Bill’s in Bardstown, which happened to be on the road between Louisville and the Kentucky Train Museum in New Haven. We rode the train and had an early dinner on the drive back. This is a family affair complete with the family table in the corner. I had a brief conversation after dinner and would have liked to socialize more but the kids were already heading out the door. The local regulars have discovered some of the other small community restaurants as the usual suspects appear to continually bidding on them. The score for Kentucky was $150 in coupons for $24.28. This is 16 cents on the dollar or a return of 618%. Who said the Internet bubble has burst?
Southern California didn’t fare so well. I purchased $100 of coupons for $32.95 (including handling) in the Los Angeles and Hollywood area. That is only a 300% ROI but, still better than my 201K and is slightly better than their housing bubble is doing. One place was a combination cheese shop and restaurant. That one went for $10.26 plus handling. Even so, that is a pretty good discount on fancy cheese, even if it carries a boutique price. I sent those down to my sister for her birthday. Hope she doesn’t read this and find out how cheap her brother is.
Washington State is another pricey place. The coupons in the Seattle area seem to be going for more than 40 to 50%. I purchased one of the few $10 coupons for $1.00 plus handling, but the ROI is generally much lower. The pickings are also fairly slim considering the population of the area. The smaller towns have less competition and better deals.
Here’s how it works. You register for eBay before you can bid. Search for Gift Certificates. When you get the list you will see a box on the left that is specific to gift certificates. Select the Type (Restaurant) and the Valid Locations (State) and be sure to uncheck the box with the legend “only show items containing gift certificate” or most of them will be eliminated. Click the Find button.
The auction item-listing sort defaults to the auctions ending the soonest. Naturally you have a slight advantage if you can make a last minute bid verses someone else who must work at a real job. You place your maximum bid and the price goes up to the highest bidder. Sometimes that odd cent makes the difference. If you are the high bidder then both eBay and Restaurant.com will send you an e-mail. Restaurant.com sends a link to their secure check out & credit card payment site. They accept only credit cards. They then send a second e-mail with a link to the site to print out the gift certificate. Each one is numbered, which is then inactivated once the restaurant calls it in to verify it. Any additional terms or restrictions are stated on the printout. I usually click trough to the restaurant’s more information page and print that on the backside. You can also access and print out a map.
Each auction on eBay allows you to leave feedback about the buyer or seller. Restaurant.com has had 132,000 unique feedback responses in the last 6 months and only a fraction of 1% is either negative or neutral. That’s a pretty solid organization in my opinion.
I have a two-for-one dinner date set up on the bank of the Ohio River on my next Kentucky trip. I hope she doesn’t that I’m too cheap. Well, maybe I am, but that’s what happens when my priorities are to be with the children on a regular basis, despite the miles.
Peter Koza is a contributor to “The Single Parent Travel Handbook” and a pilot. Peter Koza says, “I can barely remember my first airplane flight, since I was experiencing sensory overload at the time. But I was hooked for life. I still remember some of my earlier trips with my father. These were long flights through the western deserts. More important than just logging travel memoirs were the lessons I learned about the joys and discipline of traveling that I am passing on to the next generation. I have given well over a hundred other kids their first airplane rides through the Young Eagles program (youngeagles.org). My donation of flight time to other people’s kids is my replayment of the time and effort that other people put into me. Helping other kids experience their first flights is being part of the tradition of the last (almost) 100 years of flight that started wtih Wilber Wright (USA pilot license #1). At the end of the day, I know I have succeeded in passing on the tradition while I take the glass cleaner to the greasy nose prints on the inside of the airplane windows.” Peter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.