You are so hilarious. My friends and I wanted to sign up for a dive course from groupon for less than a $100. It's very irresistibly cheap compared to other dive shop that we checked. Then I came across your article and the other threads. I have second thought about signing with the groupon deals now. Can you advise us what to ask and look for if we were to sign up for this course? Or can you recommend us a few reasonable priced dive shop that we can go to? We don't have any diver friends. Thank you
Anyways, here's the answers to your questions.
You should check the fine print on these deals. There is absolutely no way to get certified for $100 or even $500. $100 barely cover the certification card. Most likely, it's a tryout pool session. It teach you some basic skill and let you have a feel of breathing underwater in the swimming pool. After the pool session, you will need to top up if you wish to continue to get certified. Eventually, you'll end up paying about $600-ish. Although some of these deals may have a misleading headlines, read the fine print carefully. It's one of the creative gimmick by the dive centre. You should ask them how much you will end up paying to get certified and the student to instructor ratio which I already mentioned it in my post.
It appear to me that your selection criteria is based on pricing and I hope I'm wrong. This should be the last thing on your list. What you need is a good instructor. Ask how long they have been in the business and their teaching experience, accidents record, teaching ratio and of course a credible dive centre. I'm more inclined to suggest anyone to go with a small group even if you have to fork out a little bit extra. Not only that you get more attention and better learning experience but most importantly safe. Accident are rare but it happened.
Of course, if you ask any instructor, they will tell you safety is the outmost priority. Nobody is going to tell you that they don't care about safety and only focus on having fun. Action speaks louder though.
Unfortunately, I'm not able to recommend you any dc or instructor. Everyone have different expectations or preference. Some like it strict while others like it fun but prefer the former because I can have fun when I know what Im doing. For this, you have to do a little bit of research yourself. You can start from this link http://scubasg.com/index.php?topic=1214.0
fusionx99 has also good suggestion. Why don't you consider spending slightly more and go for a little holiday in the nearby diving destinations? If I have to start all over again, this is what I'll do.