For the best customer service, experts recommend shopping for a hot tub at a local dealer. These stores know all about the brands and models they sell and can offer expert advice. They're also likely to offer highly rated brands. Another big advantage is that you can "wet test" the tub before you buy; experts say there's no substitute for actually sitting in a tub to see how the seats, water jets and other features feel. Local dealers can also offer better service after the sale, including installation, troubleshooting and warranty service support.
Of course, all this service comes at a price: You'll probably pay more for the same tub at a local dealer than if you buy from any other source. Another downside is that a small store may not carry a wide selection of models. If you do shop with a local dealer, make sure the one you choose is trustworthy. In addition to certifying national spa manufacturers, Spasearch magazine's parent company offers a certification program for local professionals, dealers and service centers that covers a variety of industries, including spa and hot tub sales and service. Dealers who earn a TradeCertified award have been in business for at least two years and have a proven track record of good customer service. Your local Better Business Bureau is another top source to learn about the reliability and quality of a local hot tub retailer.
One way to save money on a hot tub is to buy from a big-box store. HomeDepot.com, for instance, offers several above-ground spas priced between $2,000 and $4,000, and fully portable and inflatable models between $400 and $1,000. However, big-box stores typically sell brands that have not undergone any type of expert evaluation, though some have dozens or even hundreds of user reviews. If you buy from a big-box store, check out the tub carefully to make sure it meets your standards for build quality, insulation, features and efficiency. You won't get the same kind of service at a big-box store as you would at a local dealer, and you can't "wet test" the tub before purchase and may not even be able to sit in it when it's empty. Although big-box retailers will deliver your hot tub, they probably won't assist with setup or warranty service afterward, so you'll need to figure out how you'll get repairs done if your hot tub stops working. The trade-off? Hot tubs bought from these types of retailers can be a fraction of the price of those purchased from a specialty hot tub retailer.
Many of the same caveats apply to buying a hot tub online. You can't test the tub or even see it in person before it arrives on your doorstep, so you must do very careful research before you buy. On the plus side, buying online gives you the widest possible selection of hot tub brands, models and prices. Since many tubs sold this way come from brands not typically reviewed by experts, you should diligently check out both the manufacturer and the seller before you commit to a purchase. Look at user reviews as well -- especially for hot tubs and spas with enough feedback to be meaningful. Make sure to ask about such details as what will happen if your spa arrives damaged, whether someone will help you install it and how you can get warranty service.
One way to see a wide selection of hot tubs -- and perhaps even test a number of models -- is to shop at home shows. These events are also a great place to get substantial discounts on spas and hot tubs, note the editors at Spasearch. "Local dealers and manufacturers are always there and always offering tons of incentives to buy at the show," the editors say. "The savings could be huge."