It Pays to Be Late: 7 Awesome Things You Can Get Cheaper at the Last Minute


I'm habitually running an hour or a day or a week behind. The upside of this chronic lateness is that I've found that waiting until the last minute to buy things often leads to unexpected discounts. Here are some ways that the latecomer gets more deals than the early bird (and deals are better than worms, don't you think?). (See also: 16 Amazon Deal Hacks)

1. Farmers Markets

Show up at a weekly fresh produce market in the last hour, and many vendors will be happy to make you a deal. Even if they don't change their signs, just ask: "How much for all the peaches you have left?" Nobody wants to load unsold produce back into the truck. (See also: Fresh Fruits and Veggies by the Month)

2. Garage Sales

It's 1 p.m. on a Saturday, and neighbors are starting to pack up their unsold goods and schedule charity pickups. It's the best time to wheel and deal — most people have by this point given up on making money and just want to avoid hauling the stuff back inside. (See also: How to Turn Trash Into Cash)

3. Rental Cars

Because we don't own a car, my family rents them several times a year for weekend getaways and such. I've found that the best prices often come up on Hotwire or Priceline on the day before or even the day of the rental. At this point, the rental companies may know roughly how many cars they're going to have sitting idle, and they will release more to these cut-rate vendors. The rental companies themselves may also list last-minute specials on their sites.

Of course, if you really need a car, you don't want to wait until the last minute and then find out that the last minute prices are sky-high. So I recommend making an early reservation at the best price you can find — search for good prices — as a back-up. If you don't select the "pay in advance" option, car reservations are generally non-binding for the customer.

4. Hotels

The same thing goes for hotel rooms — hit Hotwire, Priceline, or Orbitz at the last minute, but consider a backup conventional reservation. Just remember that many hotels charge cancellation fees if you cancel too late, so check their policy.

Orbitz is nice because its listings tell you how the price compares to "usual" prices. For instance, when I searched for a room in San Francisco for a weekday night, it told me that the $139 price it was quoting for the Kimpton Prescott hotel was 25% less than usual.

You can also wrangle last-minute hotel deals by simply calling the front desk and asking for a discount. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Budget Hotels)

5. Flights

Last-minute flight deals are one of those bargain leprechauns that I have always heard about but never quite believed in. After all, when you book a flight, you'll notice that the prices trend higher and higher as the travel date approaches. And how many times have you boarded a plane recently with lots of empty seats?

Well, in truth, you can never count on getting a last-minute bargain to a specific destination. But if you are flexible and keep your eyes open, you may be able to find last minute opportunities. Like with hotels and rental cars, you want to start with Priceline, Hotwire, and Orbitz. (See also: How to Get the Lowest Price on Airfare)

Another place to look is the airline's home page. I registered on American Airlines and entered my prefered travel routes, SFO-ORD or OAK-MKE. When I logged in recently, it notified me that I could fly from San Francisco to Chicago and back for just $200, less than half the price on most other upcoming dates — but only if I left this Saturday and returned on Monday or Tuesday. You can also get last-minute deals emailed to you if you sign up with airlines and travel sites. And set up a fare alert on to let you know when a route you travel drops in price.

USA Today has two more tips for snagging last-minute deals. First, travel alone, because single cheap seats are easier to find than groups. Second, look for sites that cater to the region you're traveling to, like Airtech, which specializes in cheap flights to Hawaii.

Finally, if you are heading to a vacation destination, try searching the sites of tour operators like Apple Vacations or Funjet. (See also: Cheap International Vacation Destinations)

6. Holiday and Seasonal Goods

Of course, the best deals on Christmas decor or Halloween costumes will come after the holiday, when retailers want to clear the shelves for the next season's merchandise. However, a lot of stores discount these things, say, 25% or 50% in the last week leading up to a holiday. If you aren't particular about what your Halloween costume will be, or if you can wait until the last couple days to wrap your Christmas presents, you can snag major discounts.

Likewise, if you can wait until July 1 to buy a bathing suit or until January to buy a snowblower, you'll get a better deal than if you shopped ahead. Back-to-school clothes and supplies will be on clearance before the kids really need most of them.

7. Theater and Event Tickets

Tickets to the hit musical "The Book of Mormon" start at $125 in San Francisco — unless you show up two and a half hours before the performance and get front row seats for $29 each. OK, these are sold by lottery, so you're far from guaranteed to get in, but if you have the time to gamble, you can save a hundred bucks or more.

Most cities have a ticket booth where you can line up to buy half-price tickets (plus a fee) for whatever show has empty seats that night. Some sports venues, such as Wrigley Field in Chicago, and performing arts venues as well sell cheap standing room only tickets on the day of the event. Finally, don't forget to look on Craigslist, where people with changed plans often unload tickets for cheap — just take some precautions to avoid getting scammed.

What have you gotten a great deal on by waiting until the last minute to purchase?

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Guest's picture

I saw Book of Mormon front front row, center after winning the lottery. It was, admittedly, my 7th attempt, but it was totally worth it. If you're going to wait until the last minute, it helps to have flexibility, just in case things don't work out exactly as planned.

Guest's picture

Great article! I once spoke with an airline employee who told me that it is rare to find "
last minute" deals on flights anymore because the airlines can make more shipping freight, and with super accurate scales, they can just replace the person with cash-earning cargo. Plus, with less people (and no freight to replace them), the airlines spend less money on fuel... But there will always be great deals to be had to keep us coming back :)

Guest's picture

We often use your #1 tip to get the best prices at the farmer's market. When you are trying to book for a family, tip #5 is not so hot. I learned that lesson the hard way. We now book flights as early as possible.