Why the Variable Pricing Revolution Is Great ... and Terrible

By Alden Wicker

NEW YORK (Learnvest) — You already know how timing a purchase right can save you money.

Plane tickets? Take the redeye.

Theater show? See the matinee.

Toilet paper? Buy it online at the right time of day.

Wait, what?

Welcome to the latest twist in the world of off-peak or variable pricing, in which, if you’re willing to do things at an inconvenient time, you can catch a real bargain. You’ve taken advantage of this if you’ve ever been lucky enough to take a midweek or offseason vacation and score dirt-cheap hotel rates. And you’ve caught the flipside if you’ve found yourself forced to pay high prices because you had to fly home the day before Thanksgiving.

Now variable pricing has begun to revolutionize how much we pay for dinner or a new TV. Read on to find out how it could help or hurt you.

When variable pricing benefits us all

When a company charges you more at certain times, it’s essentially charging you not only for the service, but for the convenience of having it when you want it — and when everyone else wants it too. After all, time is money.

Applying variable pricing to restaurants could transform the way we dine. As it stands, a filet mignon will cost the same whether you go Monday at 5:30 p.m. or Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sometimes you just can’t get a reservation for that Saturday evening spot. Normally, with variable pricing, the temptation would be for a restaurant to charge more for the more popular time. But while most of us would balk at paying more for a meal on Saturday, most of us would jump at the chance to get a discount for the same meal Monday.

A New York-based company called Savored is making that a reality, The New York Times reports. The site enables you to make a reservation for an off-peak dining time and save up to 40% on your meal. For foodies on a budget, it’s a godsend. (A friend and I tried it at a normally way-out-of-our-budget restaurant in New York by making a reservation on a weekday at 6:30 p.m. We had the waiter to ourselves, the food was delicious ... and we got a 40% discount, as promised.)