This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in July 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Early birds don't get only worms anymore. They're eligible for discounts on all kinds of stuff. Later risers needn't feel slighted, though: They'll probably find other deals.
Especially in times like these, with merchants scrambling to get customers in the door, time-of-day discounts are plentiful. We asked our staff and our secret shoppers across the U.S. what they've spotted lately. Here is a roundup of timely bargains:
The cheapest time to fly depends on your route and other factors, though you'll often find that seats are least expensive on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday flights. The best time to buy is a different question. Generally, you can take advantage of competition among airlines flying the same domestic routes if you start your seat shopping after 3 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesdays (and continuing through Thursday), according to Rick Seaney, CEO of the Web site FareCompare.com. The worst days to fare shop are Saturday and Sunday, he adds.
Go before 9 or 10 a.m. or sometimes after 9 p.m. for the best rates.
Deals can be had if you drive in early, before 8 or 9 a.m.
Some wireless plans offer reduced rates or free unlimited calling after certain hours and on weekends. For example, Verizon Wireless's unlimited night hours are 9:01 p.m. through 5:59 a.m. weekdays. On weekends, 12 a.m. Saturday to 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
The sellers rarely want to haul their bounty back to the farm, so look for deals near closing time.
Tee off by 7 or 8 a.m. or after 3 or 4 p.m. (sometimes called "twilight golf").
Some offer discounted memberships if you work out during off hours, such as before 11 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
Matinees, usually in the morning or early afternoon, are a traditional money saver. The national AMC Theatres chain also has a program called A.M. Cinema that offers discounted tickets (typically $4 to $6) before noon on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
You can often save a few bucks by dropping off your car early—say, between 8 and 11 a.m.
At some big-city garages, you'll qualify for a better rate if you pull in before 9 or 9:30 a.m.
Even some high-end places now offer early-bird specials and other tasty inducements. Look for lunches starting before 11 a.m. and dinners at 4 or 5 p.m. Not hungry yet? Night-owl specials often begin around 9 p.m.
They sometimes discount their services before 3 or 4 p.m.
Some grocery stores mark down baked goods, meat, rotisserie chickens, produce, prepared sandwiches, salad bar items, and other perishables in the evening near closing time. Others do it first thing in the morning.
You'll often save by starting your game as early as 6 or 7 a.m. or late, such as after 9 p.m.
Matinee performances, often at about 2 p.m. on weekdays, are typically less expensive. Unsold tickets for other performances often go on sale a couple of hours before curtain time; ask at the box office. You might have to pay cash.
Find out whether your utility offers off-peak or time-of-use rates for electricity. Then run your dishwasher, for example, when kilowatts are cheapest. For Con Edison customers in the New York City area, off-peak hours are basically anything but 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays.
If you decide to treat yourself to a trip with all the money you've saved, consider booking excursions at special times. Our bargain scouts turned up early-bird whale watching at 9 a.m. in California and 7 or 7:30 a.m. in Hawaii. And as far as we know, you'll enjoy the same high-quality whales as people who pay full price.