Friends With (Discount) Benefits: Save on Almost Everything

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www.workingadvantage.com
Employees of governments and businesses large and small can often get employee discounts, on purchases as diverse as belly dancing classes and home mortgages. Better yet, their friends and family can frequently enjoy some of those discounts, too.

In general, the larger the company, the more likely it offers these deals. For instance, Southwest Airlines (LUV) offers free flights to both workers and their families; friends get discounts. Many of the larger telecom companies, like Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T), have discounted service plans for employees of the government and large corporations. If you work for an insurance company or a bank, you might get discounts at Macy's (M) or on Apple (AAPL) or Dell computers. So if you have a friend or family member who works for a large entity, you might want to ask them to inquire with their human resources department about what employee discounts they -- and you -- might be entitled to.

Join the Club

But for variety and breadth of discounts, plus ease of access, the web is the way to go. Sites like corporateperks.com, workingadvantage.com, workplaceperks.com and corporateshopping.com can best be described as mashups of priceline.com (PCLN) and Groupon (GRPN). They offer discounts to some alumni, some students and members of many special interest clubs, societies and groups, such as AAA, Actors Equity and the Zoological Society of San Diego -- and, in some cases, their friends and family members.

After finding out if a program is available to you, using it is fairly straightforward. Sign into the site with whatever identification is required, browse the list of merchants and add your purchases to the shopping cart. For example, CorporatePerks offers a Lenovo thinkpad that retails for $700 for $600; the 15 percent discount is roughly the amount of a Lenovo employee discount. WorkingAdvantage has a two-day ticket to Universal Florida for $165.99, a $30 discount from the standard price. Larger-ticket items can get more complicated, and don't forget shipping and taxes.

Why These Deals Abound

Companies offer employee discounts as a low-cost (to them) perk that makes workers happy, especially in retail. American Apparel (APP), the Gap (GPS), Best Buy (BBY) and J. Crew offer employees up to 50 percent off their merchandise. For companies outside of retail, an employee discount program is relatively cheap and easy to administer. Partner merchants get exposure to potential customers, so it's a win-win even if they are discounting their merchandise and paying a fee or percentage to the program management companies. Then the discount program managers have the advantage of aggregate buying power to leverage deeper discounts.

If you can't find a listed employer, these employee discount managers are eager to bring in more eligible groups since more members gives more power to negotiate with merchants. Just ask your human resources department or an officer of your club, society or organization about signing up.

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