OMAHA, Neb. — The auction price of a private lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett remained well below the record of $3,456,789 early Friday, but the bids were already higher than at the same point in the sale last year.

The top bid was a little more than $1.1 million Friday morning as the 15th annual online auction headed into its final hours. The biggest bids usually show up around the time the auction ends at 9:30 p.m. Last year’s winning bid was $1,000,100.

The winner gets to spend several hours at lunch with Buffett, who leads Berkshire Hathaway and is known for his investing prowess and philanthropy.

The auction benefits the Glide Foundation, which provides meals, health care, job training, rehabilitation and housing support to the poor and homeless in San Francisco.

Four of the previous five winners each paid more than $2 million, and the 2012 winning bid of $3,456,789 remains the most expensive charity item ever sold on eBay.

Buffett said he doesn’t think the auction would have drawn such astronomical prices if it had benefited a lesser charity. The nonprofit relies on the auction for part of its $18 million budget.

“Nobody spends the money better than Glide,” Buffett said.

Glide has a remarkable record over more than five decades of helping people rediscover hope, Buffett said. Since 2000 the investor has raised nearly $16 million for the charity through these auctions.

Past auction winners have praised Glide but made it clear that Buffett was the main reason they spent the money.

Guy Spier, an investor who paid $650,100 to dine with Buffett in 2007, has written a book due out this year that explains how that meal refined his approach to investing.

Nearly 40,000 people attended Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Omaha last month to hear Buffett answer questions.

The winners of the lunch auction usually dine at Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City, which donates at least $10,000 to Glide each year to host the lunch.

Buffett’s company owns more than 80 subsidiaries including insurance, furniture, clothing, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants and natural gas and corporate jet firms, and has major investments in companies including Coca-Cola Co., IBM and Wells Fargo & Co.