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Spring break travel: How to find great deals (and avoid big problems)

There are plenty of spring travel deals promoted online, but do the resorts really look like the pictures? Jeff Rossen goes undercover to investigate.
/ Source: Today

Spring break springs eternal, and so do discount vacations — particularly on popular coupon sites like Groupon, which advertises deep discounts on thousands of getaways to destinations like Europe, the Caribbean, and even right here in the U.S.

Get Jeff Rossen's new book, “Rossen to the Rescue,” here.

But do those resorts actually look like the pictures online? TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen checked out a small sampling from three popular destinations:

Dominican Republic: The Rossen Reports team booked an all-inclusive three-night vacation in the Dominican Republic for just $417. The online photos looked great, and the resort even made Groupon's Best of 2017 list. But once there, Rossen found such problems as a vent with a missing screw separating from the flimsy ceiling; water pooling on the bathroom floor from a leak under the sink, what appeared to be mold along the trim of the bathroom, and a shower window with dangerous shattered glass.

The takeaway tip: Make sure you cross-reference reviews and prices on multiple travel sites.

Cancun: Rossen snagged a deal at a resort for a deluxe ocean-view room and a stunning infinity pool at the Groupon rate of $357 for a three-night stay. But when a Rossen Reports producer checked into the same type of room for same exact dates at the very same hotel, his rate was $279 for the three-night stay — $78 less.

The takeaway tip: Check rates with the hotel directly to compare.

Orlando: The Rossen Reports team found a hidden gem on Groupon: $81 a night for a room in Orlando, Florida, with free shuttles to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. The room was just like it looked in the photos online, and clean, and the bathroom was modern as well.

Groupon told NBC News: "...the photos featured on our site, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, Hotwire and others are provided by the hotels themselves. In addition to photos, we provide our customers with a wealth of other information — including hundreds of thousands of reviews — to make an informed decision about their purchase." Goupon says customers can contact them or the property for help with a bad experience.

Another tip: In select cities around the country, Groupon offers "top secret" hotel deals where you can book a hotel on the site for an extra low price. The catch? They don't tell you the exact name of the hotel until after you're finished booking. But Rossen Reports checked out some of the hotels, and they're nice.

To suggest a topic for an upcoming investigation, visit the Rossen Reports Facebook page.