Where to find last-minute gifts, credit and holidays

Left all your Christmas preparations until the 11th hour? Don't panic – make the most of it, says James Daley
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The Independent Online

In case you hadn't noticed, there are only five days left until Christmas – which, if you've barely even started your Christmas shopping, used to be about the right time to start panicking.

Not any more, though. Many online retailers will accept orders until 23 December, while some can even provide same-day delivery on Christmas Eve. And if you're heading out to the shops, most of the big chains are open late today, Monday and Tuesday – and until late afternoon on Christmas Eve.

If you're struggling to pay for Christmas, it's not too late to get credit. Plus, if you want to get away from all the festivities or celebrate overseas, there are plenty of last-minute holiday bargains to be found.

High-street shops

If you're planning to do your shopping on Christmas Eve, beware that many stores close at lunchtime or in the early afternoon, especially smaller retailers. Amongst the larger stores, closing times tend to be between 3 and 6pm on Christmas Eve. Marks & Spencer, for example, will close most of its stores at 5pm on Wednesday. However, its flagship branch on Oxford Street in London will be open until 6pm, while John Lewis closes at 4.30pm. Once you get past 6pm on Christmas Eve, your options are limited. In London, Tesco's larger stores are open until 9pm.

Getting credit

Consumer spending on cards during December is usually more than 10 per cent higher than in other months, according to industry body Apacs.

While it can take up to four weeks to get a credit card, store cards can provide you with instant credit, and can often be picked up at the shop counter. Although many of these cards are lambasted for charging sky-high interest – typically upwards of 25 per cent a year – they can make sense if you have the discipline (and means) to pay off your debt in January or soon after.

There are a few cards which still charge APRs under 20 per cent – bringing them closer to regular credit card rates. Monsoon Accessorize, for example, has a typical APR of 18.9 per cent on its card. While the likes of Evans, River Island, TopShop and Debenhams all charge 19.9 per cent.

Most store cards have an interest-free period of 56 days, meaning that if you pay off your balance within 56 days of your purchase, you shouldn't have to pay any interest at all. An added advantage of store cards is that they often grant their owners access to special discounts.

If you don't think you're going to be able to pay back your debt within 56 days, there are cheaper ways to borrow. For example, a number of credit cards offer 0 per cent interest for purchases and balance transfers and there are personal loans charging less than 8 per cent, for people with good credit records. Sites such as moneyfacts.co.uk and moneysupermarket.com can help you find the best deal.

If you do build up a lot of store-card debt this Christmas, and you can't pay it back straightaway, it may make sense to apply for a balance-transfer deal now, to ensure your store-card balances are moved on to a better deal early in the new year.

Last-minute getaways

You could escape all the Christmas chaos by snapping up a last-minute holiday. While your choices may be limited, there are deals to be had.

Lastminute.com, for example, is offering a 10-night break in Tunisia from £319 per person, leaving on 23 December. That price includes bed and breakfast at the five-star El Mouradi Mahdia Hotel.

Lastminute also has a seven-night skiing trip to Andorra, departing from Bristol tomorrow, with prices starting at £299 per person. For an even cheaper break, Thomas Cook has seven nights on the Costa del Sol, with return flights, for £230 per person, leaving from Gatwick on 23 December.

If you are going abroad this Christmas, you'll need to be careful with your money. One pound will now buy you little more than one euro.

The best way to manage your money abroad is to pay for everything on a credit card, and then pay off your balance when you return home. Credit card companies ensure that you get the best rates, and usually do not charge you for transactions.

If you need cash, use your debit card to withdraw it from an ATM – but try to make as few withdrawals as possible, as you'll be hit with a fee each time.

Online retailers: Top deals and final order dates

The biggest online retailer, Amazon, is one of the most organised when it comes to last-minute deliveries. Although you've now missed the chance to have your order delivered for free in time for Christmas (unless you're an Amazon Prime member), you can pay for its express delivery service up to 1pm on 23 December (and to 8.30am on Christmas Eve if you live in London or Birmingham) – and still be sure to have your order by Christmas Eve. Check for the availability of the item you're ordering, however. At this late stage, it'll need to be in stock if it's going to make it to you on time.

This year, waiting until the last minute to order your presents may be advantageous too – with many stores, including the likes of Amazon, having started their January sale already.

Argos, another retailer offering great bargains this year, is accepting orders for home delivery until 1pm on Monday. You can also reserve items that are in stock at your local branch online, right up until Christmas Eve.

Fashion retailer asos.com and online perfume store fragrancesdirect.co.uk are among a handful of other companies taking online orders right up until 23 December. For other retailers who are accepting last-minute orders, see our table, above.

For extra online savings, check out sites such as vouchercodes.co.uk and voucherseeker.co.uk . These list a number of codes that give you great discounts at many mainstream retailers' websites.

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here