It pays to procrastinate: 5 ways to score big on last-minute purchases
The early bird gets the worm is a timeworn saying.
But it's not always true when it comes to shopping or booking travel. Certain retailers will discount items that don't sell, so with patience – and a willingness to lose that item if it sells out at full price – you can actually find a better deal by waiting.
Here are smart strategies for consumers willing to procrastinate to land a bargain.
Sign up for promotional emails. Many retailers and deal aggregators share sales via their email list, so that's a great way to stay on top of promotions. If you're worried about receiving an avalanche of email or being tempted into buying something you don't need, set up a separate email for promotional emails that you only check when you're in the market to buy something.
Mike Catania, co-founder and CTO of the savings community PromotionCode.org, says the site sees coupons for ticket sellers such as ScoreBig and Ticketmaster that are only good for the day of the event and offer savings of up to 60 percent. "If you're looking for a ticket for a particular game, simply sign up for [alerts from] the ticket vendors and you'll get information ahead of time about which deals will be offered so you can get the day-of deal," he says.
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Likewise, if you need a vacation, sign up for notifications about last-minute deals on flights, hotels or cruise getaways. According to Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of Cruise Critic, cruise lines typically discount unsold cabins around the time that final payments are due. "That tends to be about 90 days out," she says. "That's when the cancellations happen and cruise lines have a better idea of what they have [in available cabins]." Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean International, do not discount unsold cabins, but many others do, McDaniel says.
Be flexible. If you're willing to make travel plans on the fly, you can snag a heavily discounted getaway. "Travel websites such as Expedia have a Last-Minute Deals page where your procrastination or sudden change of plans can pay off," says Jon Lal, frugal shopping expert and CEO and founder of cashback website BeFrugal.com. "Often, if you can be flexible for departure times, you will get flights for a much cheaper price," adds Lal, who is also a U.S. News contributor.
Last-minute cruise deals often require an open mind, too. "You need to be flexible in a number of categories: where you're cruising to, what kind of cabin category are you going to end up with [and] how many nights that itinerary is," McDaniel says. "If you live close to a port city, you might have some flexibility built in," she adds, since you won't need to budget for flights to your departure port.
And if you're looking for a last-minute deal on consumer electronics or other goods, you likely can't be picky about the brand, model, color or other specifications, as sale cycles tend to be cyclical and the exact item you want may not be on sale at the moment you need it.
Choose the ship to store option. If you need a last-minute gift or other item, shop online but choose the ship to store option rather than shipping to your home to optimize savings. "This way you can still reap the benefits of shopping online – earning cash back, finding online coupon codes, searching easily for deals – but you don't need to pay for shipping," Lal says.
Retailers make more frequent deliveries to the store and, in some cases, your item could be ready within hours if it's already in stock. Plus, this option could also mean less time driving around to different stores in search of a specific item.
Consider using apps for last-minute travel. A number of apps – among them HotelTonight and Booking Now (travel booking website Booking.com's app for last-minute travel deals) – specialize in helping consumers secure last-minute travel deals, so those are worth checking out if you need accommodations without much notice.
Go straight to the source. For last-minute flights, Catania says your best bet is calling the airline directly rather than using a booking agent. "The commission on third-party bookings is between 5 and 10 percent of the ticket price, so if you need to get out of town soon, there is going to be much more flexibility dealing directly with the airline," he says.
However, when it comes to cruises, McDaniel says travel agents are "really up-to-the-minute on deals." Another benefit of using a travel agent to book a last-minute cruise is that they may have access to bundled packages that provide greater value by including free beverage packages, gratuity or on-board credits.
Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report