Not so long ago, snagging a ticket to a concert or sporting event was as simple as sauntering up to a booth with cash in hand.
Holy Hot Stub: You could buy a ticket to the first Super Bowl in 1967 for $10, and not worry about missing the action. The game wasn't even a sellout. Tickets to the last Beatles concert ever in 1966, just four months earlier? Between $4.50 and $6.50 (with more than 17,000 empty seats at Candlestick Park).
So why is it that today, if Lady Gaga staged 45 minutes of synchronized sneezing, or Miley Cyrus announced "Hanna Montana's Lipsynch Bonanza 2010," that tickets would be so freaking hard to get? Among other things, the ways people gain admission have multiplied faster than you can say "boy band." People use computers and charge cards; smartphones and ticket agencies; search engines and public auction sites. So numerous are the options, we wouldn't blame you if you thought you needed a ticket just to queue up to buy some tickets.
But really, it's not that bad. Your friends at WalletPop have done the requisite research -- manning the phones, laptops and long lines so you don't have to -- all in the name of giving you a reserved seat to the bargain hunting. Care to join the show? Join us, then: We reserved a seat just for you, and you're just in time to watch the curtain rise on another Savings Experiment.
That's the ticket: What options do I have?
To get a sense of how ticket buying works these days, it helps to know your options -- though not all of them, it's worth noting, seem either fair or attractive.
First, there's ticketing's 800-pound gorilla -- or Snidely Whiplash, if you prefer: Ticketmaster. Remember them? They're the company that arena rockers Pearl Jam famously took on for their convenience charges. Well guess what? Ticketmaster won, and Eddie Vedder still has to explain that terrible cover version of "Last Kiss" -- though that's a debate for another time.
But there's no debate that Ticketmaster's so-called "convenience charge" ranks as one of the most despicable monikers in the biz. Imagine if they called real estate taxes "public service enhancement fees," or parking tickets a "vehicle reminder certificate." A convenience, in the true sense of the word, makes you feel good -- not like you've been ripped off thanks to someone's ability to spin the language.
For every ticket Ticketmaster sells, that convenience charge amounts to roughly 20% of the total order price. On top of this, Ticketmaster also tacks on a non-convenient processing charge (less than $3 per order), and additional taxes. So all told, a $30 general admission ticket has about $9 worth of fees -- including a $2.50 printing charge. Hmmm. That must be some expensive ink and paper they use.
You might think LiveNation would offer a more viable option, but since they're part of the same company that owns Ticketmaster, you're just going to get redirected to them.
That leads us to option number 2, StubHub. Their service charges are lower -- about 10% of the ticket with a minimum of $5 -- but their shipping costs can run unreasonably high, in the $15 to $20 range. If you can print your own tickets, you're in luck. But that's only good for limited numbers of tickets, so be careful. It's also possible that certain high-demand concerts simply won't be listed there.
Additional sites do exist, among them TheTicketisRight.com, Lastminutetickets4less.com,Ticketsinventory.com and Ticketluck.com. But as with StubHub, watch out for delivery charges. Occasionally, these services will have better prices and and more availability. But you could spend a lot of time shopping around. What to do?
Ticket freak, meet Seatgeek
Seatgeek's unofficial motto is "We do math to save you money." Well, then: Since I hate math, love saving money and now have someone else to do the math for me, I think that's worth a definite look-see.
Essentially, this is the go-to search engine for finding concert tickets. Seatgeek doesn't sell tickets; rather it gives you a list of sellers from five of the most popular online ticket vendors, showing you where the seats are and how much they'll cost (with fees included in the estimate). You can even set a price range, so it will only search for what you can afford.
Also, Seatgeek has a "price forecast" that combines several market factors, as well as the history of sales, to figure out if it's worth buying tickets now -- especially if they're selling fast, or won't get any cheaper. It will also tell you whether you should hold out, as prices will likely hit a "sharp decrease." Geeky? You bet. But saving dough is way cool, thus Seatgeek has become a very popular site. We highly recommended it.
Note that Seatgeek can take a little while to load, but it's worth the wait, since it's a one-stop shop on the Internet for finding the cheapest concert ticket, or exactly where you want to sit for the big game. Also Seatgeek's estimates of how much a ticket costs do not include shipping, so beware, as most concert tix don't have an online printable option.
Craigslist: Worth sticking your toe in for a stub?
I continue to be an outspoken critic of Craigslist for many reasons. My personal experiences have been flaky, to say the least. One woman offering a couch refused to part with it until I and other interested parties answered a quiz: Most right answers wins! (Huh?) Another man listing a piano refused to return my calls. It simply fails to inspire the same kind of accountability in sellers that eBay does, and stories about people being victimized via Craigslist now seem to make headlines with increasing frequency.
Make no mistake: To work Craigslist, you will need patience, keen negotiating skills and a nose for sniffing out bargains as opposed to scams. But if you're a savvy shopper, it's a pretty decent option for scaring up tickets. Make sure to use a secured payment method such as Paypal, and beware of any after-dark rendezvous in a parking lot.
Comparing the ticket vendors head to head
We chose a double bill of Arcade Fire and Spoon at two venues: in Nashville (at the Ryman Auditorium) and New York (at Madison Square Garden). Here's what we found:
Ryman: $49 + $11.09 in taxes/fees (for lower level) = $62.59 ... or $39 + $10.49 taxes/fees (for balcony) + $2.50 printing fee = $51.99. Ticketmaster sold out as of July 26.
MSG: $49.50 (standard admission) + $10.70 taxes/fees (per ticket) + $2.50 printing fee = $62.70. Best seat: 200s
Ryman: No tickets available.
MSG: $32 (sec. 340) + $6.40 service fee + $4.95 printing fee = $43.35 (cheapest option) ... or $75 (floor seating) + $7.50 (service fee/ticket) + $4.95 printing fee = $87.45. Cheaper than Ticketmaster (if you have option to print online), but seats are not as good (one section higher).
Ryman: $167 + $5.00 delivery = $172
MSG: $45 (100s sec.) + $9.00 service fee + $5.00 delivery = $59
Ryman: $110-220/ticket (sold out show, no tickets on Ticketmaster or StubHub)
MSG: $50-60 each (prices negotiable)
You can see that Craigslist does offer the option of buying tickets sold out elsewhere, and that where you buy tickets for other shows depends on a number of variables, including where you'd like to sit.
Taking a swing at sports tix
Two key differences exist between sporting events and concerts: 1) sporting events have season ticket holders who, depending on the city and team, are often happy to sell their unused tickets for a reduced price, and 2) tickets can almost always be printed at home (from Ticketmaster and StubHub only) which saves a bundle on shipping ($10-15).
StubHub is the uncontested winner for sports. Printable tickets are not an issue for sporting events; season ticket holders always have that option, so it's likely available on StubHub, and for prices below face value. Remember that StubHub gives people the option to sell their tickets, so it's become a popular destination for folks trying to unload passes for games they won't get out to see.
Comedy, tragedy, seats for me: Scoping out theater events
In the theater world, it's the Big Apple, and everything outside it. Let's look at New York first.
TKTS Booths: There are three of these around the city, each usually open from 3-8 p.m. These provide discounts between 20-50% off full price of select Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, for performances that day (or next- day for matinees). There's a $4 service charge per ticket, but some downsides: Long lines (with only three booths), limited availability and hit-or-miss selection of shows. Plus, it's cash only.
Student rush/lottery: This offers the best discount to Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Check a show's website to make sure that this is an option; often shows will hold a lottery for tickets a couple of hours before the show (see sites, time of lotteries vary). Since this is a crap shoot, resist making ironclad plans until you know what you can scoop up. But if you do get in, you'll pay about $20 a ticket.
TDF (Theater Development Fund): This members-only option provides newsletters and huge discounts for various shows and performances. More than 80,000 qualified theater lovers who enjoy discounts of up to 70% on admissions to hundreds of Broadway, Off Broadway, music and dance productions each year. To qualify for TDF membership, you must belong to one of the following groups: full-time students, full-time teachers, union members, retirees, civil service employees, staff members of not-for-profit organizations, performing arts professionals, the armed forces or clergy.
Box Office purchases: Broadway tickets online cost an additional $7 per ticket plus a handling fee. Eliminate these costs by walking to the theater and buying your tickets there.
Outside of New York, try these options for cheap seats:
Goldstar.com: Most helpful in major cities: Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. It lists events going on in the area and provides significant discounts to those events with a (free) membership. Sometimes events are free, too.
TKTS-type programs: These exist in cities around the U.S. in various forms. Search for non-profits in the area that support theater and the performing arts to find locations near you. One example is Atlanta Performs' AtlanTIX.
Youth discounts: Many local theaters and organizations have special discounts for young theatergoers, but info on such programs must be found on the theater's/organization's websites.
Making the ticket schtick stick: Our best ticket advice condensed
As you try to make sense of shopping the best ticket prices, remember that you'll do best weighing several options, and jumping into the fray early rather than later in the sales cycle. That said, you can do well for same-day theater tickets, for example, provided you're flexible with what you see and where you'll sit.
For small concerts, small bands, small venues and medium/large venues that will not sell out, it's usually best to simply buy your ticket at the door, or pick it up at will call. There are no printing or service charges and hopefully, this can be done without Ticketmaster and their fees. It's possible to find tickets on Craigslist for a discounted price (if it's a non-returnable ticket that the seller doesn't intend to use), but it's only a shot in the dark. Keep in mind concerts that cost $15-$30 aren't going to have major bargains anyway.
When a show is big/popular enough where tickets are severely limited on Ticketmaster, a better option will be StubHub and/or Craigslist. Ticketmaster will have the price to beat -- that is, if tickets are plentiful -- but StubHub will have more options if seating arrangements can vary.
Craigslist is the best place to search for hidden gems. People often buy too many tickets, expecting to sell at a profit when the concert sells out. But if it doesn't, these people will be left desperate to sell their extras, probably at face value or cheaper; most people in this situation are willing to negotiate a price. Always check Craigslist; it's worth a shot, often people are friendly and willing to negotiate. That said, exercise proper caution when dealing with strangers here.
StubHub will likely have better sections and seating options (unless it's general admission). But these come with StubHub's burdensome shipping issue-- if there's no printable option, expect $15-$20 in shipping fees, on top of their 10% service fee. Don't expect to find too many bargains on StubHub.
For sold out shows, Ticketmaster is usually not the answer. To them, a sold out show is a sold out show. But do keep in mind that in some cases, tickets go back on sale -- if a person's credit card, for example, denies the charge after they've "purchased" the tickets. Your best bet, though, is to check out StubHub, Craigslist, eBay, or sites suh as lastminutetickets4less.com or theticketisright.com – you won't get a discounted price, but you will find a ticket to the show.
For those with nothing to lose, show up at a concert venue and hour before the show and see if a last-minute pool of tickets has been released. Bands often hold tickets for industry big shots, media or friends; if those tickets go unclaimed, they're released for last-minute sale. As you might've guessed, these seats are usually the best in the house.
For theater events, check out the show/theater's official site first. Details on how to receive discounted tickets are spelled out for most shows. Local non-profits that support the performing arts could also have discount ticket initiatives that are well worth checking out.
For sports, look to StubHub for a healthy market on tickets being unloaded by season ticket holders who want to get rid of seats to events they can't attend.
Check out Seatgeek.com as you begin your quest for the best ticket price.
And so, we bring the curtain down on this version of the Savings Experiment. We hope that you enjoyed the show, and that the next time you stand in line, get on the phone or fire up the web browser to land a ticket, you'll think of us and the splendid time we spent together in search of entertainment bargains.
You might even say that all the world's a stage, and all the men and women are merely savers.