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Never Pay Full Price: The Ultimate Guide to Online Coupon Codes

Using coupon codes wisely can maximize your potential savings — but it may take a little know-how to navigate the vast amount of coupon information out there.

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Intermediate Couponing

Now that you know the basic elements to using a coupon code online, we'll dig a little deeper into the process. While it's a simple concept — find a code, add an item to your cart, apply the code, and check out — many stores feature complicated checkout systems that can frustrate even seasoned shoppers.

How to Tell If the Discount Was Successfully Applied

Stores vary widely in how they handle promo codes in the checkout process. The best stores are up-front and clear about their codes. They apply the codes right away in the shopping cart, prominently display your discount, and may even provide the exact details of the coupon once you apply it.

If your particular purchase isn't eligible for the discount, some stores will help you find something that is eligible by noting the parameters. Many, but not all, stores will at least display a message explaining if your purchase is invalid or ineligible.

However, many retailers aren't as forthcoming; some stores will have you jump through a few hoops before you find out if the coupon will work for your order. You may have to go through the checkout process and enter all of your information, even your credit card number, before you can see if the coupon is valid. There are also cases where the store will appear to accept a coupon, but will show absolutely no information and no discount, like a coupon black hole.

Troubleshooting a Coupon That Isn't Working

A coupon code might not work for several reasons. Most common are restrictions and exemptions.

Even if a code appears to be general and apply to anything offered on the site, there will typically be at least a few exclusions. Unless specifically stated, coupons won't discount store gift cards or certain brands that are excluded because of manufacturer restrictions. Some coupons will exclude entire categories, such as sale and clearance items, or items with special pricing, such as "Deal of the Day" items. Free shipping coupons may exclude oversized or heavy items. At a few stores, exclusions can be so substantial that it's almost hard to find an item that the code does apply to.

If you see the coupon listed on the store's website, check for a "details" link with fine print that can provide insight into what items are eligible for the discount and what items aren't. These links can be found in a variety of places — on the homepage, on product pages, or in the cart after the code is applied — and it can save a lot of time to review this information to verify if your purchase is eligible before going through the checkout process. Alternatively, try Googling the coupon to find any restrictions.

If the store you are shopping at has a Marketplace, or other sellers listed on their site, coupons may not apply to these items. In most cases, coupons will only apply to items the store sells directly.

A code will also not work if it has already expired. Stores can discontinue codes before the expiration date they provide, or there may not be an exact expiration given, meaning the offer can end at any time.

Enter the Code Correctly

Be sure that you are typing or pasting the coupon code correctly. Most codes are in caps, and some are case-sensitive, so the code might not work if you enter it in lowercase. If you copy-and-paste the code, be sure there are no blank spaces before or after that could prompt an error message. And if the code is email-specific, you will need access to that email account.

Be Sure to Meet the Minimum

Many coupons have a minimum purchase. This means you have to spend a certain amount on eligible items before you can get the discount. The minimum only applies to the actual cost of the items in your order after any instant discounts and does not include extra costs like tax or shipping, when applicable. Again, you can sometimes get clues from the code itself.

Perhaps you found a code like "15OFF100" that, for some reason, appeared to be 15% off with no minimum where you found it, but isn't working for your $50 order. That "100" you see at the end of the code would likely indicate a $100 minimum. You can also try checking the store's website for details or doing an Internet search for the store name and the code to see if you can find more information on the requirements.

Once you've mastered these trouble-shooting skills, then you're ready to move on to Advanced Couponing, in which we teach you how to find coupons on your own.

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Coupon Editor

Sarah Jones joined DealNews in 2005 and currently manages the team that publishes coupons and breaks down the info in Black Friday ads, one item at a time. She enjoys family, music, writing, and fashion.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I needed 12 bottles of a non-prescription drug that is price controlled by the manufacturer. I found a seller who gives points on each purchase. You can apply those points to a purchase by cashing in points for a coupon. Unfortunately, only one coupon applies to a purchase. I followed their instructions to a t, but had to make 12 separate purchases of the same item due to their coupon restrictions. It was also necessary to restart my browser 12 times to clear the cache. It all worked out, but I guess they figured it out, since they sent all 12 bottles in the same box. I saved about 15% on the price-controlled drugs.
For maximum discount, also click through one of the cash back rebate sites.

And does a great job of compiling cash back, coupon codes, and special offers for most online shopping sites.
If a store says you've already redeemed a coupon, try creating a different account. How? Use another web browser (or clear your cookie from that store) and a different email address. You'll find that with many stores, that's all you need. (For the others, you'll need another credit card.)
Good article! Just the type of info that DealNews readers can use to keep saving.

I have Priceblink installed on Firefox. It's an "add on" that you can attach (I go to the Tools menu on the browser and select Add-ons). When you shop, it automatically shows some coupon codes and also compares prices at several other stores. It's saved me a lot of time and effort to find coupons or codes, not to say there aren't additional codes to be found elsewhere, sometimes with better savings. Users can also submit codes that are not listed so that Priceblink can check them out and add them to their list.

Also, don't forget coupons/deals and points/cashback that you can earn from on-line shopping through your credit card's shopping mall.
If a coupon code doesn't work, try calling customer service because they often have a little extra lattitude. Once I was trying to get a code to work on and called customer service. The agent figured out that the coupon threshold was $75 and the item I was buying was $74.99. He did an override and got me the discount anyway. Several times, when I have called Musician's Friend to place an order, the agent has managed to find me a coupon code to bring the price of the item (which was already on sale at a very good price) down even further.
When searching for a discount code, you should search based on what the site is asking for. In other words, if it asks for a "coupon code" use those words as the search parameters. If it asks for "promotional code", search with those words.

I never make an online purchase until do a thorough search for a code. Usually I will get to check out and see what type of code they are looking for and then do my search.

If no code is found here's another trick. Fill in name and email and go all the way to check out short of entering a credit card if possible and then close the browser window. Sometimes you will receive an email from the site inquiring why you didn't complete the purchase and they offer a discount then -10% off seems most common.