Is there any way to avoid ticket fees?
Fans of live performances loathe fees, and with good reason: The surcharges can boost the original ticket price by as much as 40%.
In spring 2012 members of the String Cheese Incident band paid fans to buy $20,000 worth of tickets to its show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Then they resold the tickets on their website at face value, $49.95 each.
Mike Luba, one of the group's managers, told The New York Times that they were "scalping our own tickets at no service charge."
They did this to make a point: that service fees charged by Ticketmaster and other vendors are excessive. (However, fans who bought from the website still had to pay a fee: $12 for shipping via UPS.)
Fact is, we're a fee-heavy nation accustomed to paying extra to prepay movie theater tickets or to get through airport security faster. But fans of live performances loathe fees, and with good reason: The surcharges can boost the original ticket price by as much as 40%.
As autumn drives us indoors to the concert arena, the symphony, the opera and the playhouse, we have to ask: Is there any place you can buy a ticket for the actual face value?
Sometimes. For example, the Greek Theater waived surcharges on walk-up sales of those String Cheese Incident tickets. Buying at the box office is one of the surest ways to avoid surcharges.
Not all box offices are fee-free, however, and it isn't always convenient to buy that way. Suppose you're a tween-ager from Port Norris, N.J., and the Katy Perry concert is in New York City. You don't have a license yet, and even if you did it's unlikely you'd zip up to Manhattan to pick up the tickets.
That is, assuming you could buy tickets at the box office: Plenty of concerts sell out quickly, sometimes within minutes.
Some performers use their websites to sell tickets at face value. In autumn 2012 comedian Louis C.K. sold tickets for $45 including taxes, which was about half as much as the 2011 tickets cost.
In a statement on his website, the performer said that sidestepping fees let him make the performances more "affordable." In another move to keep costs down, he reserved the right to cancel the ticket of anyone who tried to resell it at a higher rate.
As with the String Cheese Incident tickets, you might have to pony up for shipping. Still, paying for a private carrier is likely to be cheaper than paying the Ticketmaster markups.
The 500-pound gorilla
Ticketmaster, the company fans love to hate, isn't the only distributor out there, but it's certainly the dominant one. According to Time magazine, the company sells tickets for 80% of the major concert venues in the United States.
In the process the company staples on a ton of fees "to pay venues and promoters in a way that is never clearly explained during the purchasing process," Time reporter Victor Luckerson notes.
Not that those entrepreneurs are selling tickets at face value. Neither, probably, is the guy on Craigslist who can't make the concert/basketball game/Broadway show after all and needs to sell the ticket. Don't buy it -- even if he offers face value "just to make my money back" -- because you have no recourse if the ticket is counterfeit.
Sure, it's possible that honest people sell tickets on Craigslist. It's also possible that leprechauns sell unicorns on Craigslist, but it's not something you see all that often. (And no, it doesn't matter that the seller provides a phone number, because it’s a burn phone that he'll eventually toss.)
Are fees inevitable?
Back to the original question: Can you buy a ticket for face value? Locally, maybe. Your kid's high school jazz choir probably won't stick you with a surcharge. Neither will many local and regional venues.
Except when they do: If I buy a ticket for the Lisa Loeb concert at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, I'll pay $6.75 worth of surcharges through the Centertix ticketing agency.
Except when they don't: Centertix also handles other local venues, so a ticket for Cyrano's Off Center Playhouse would carry the $6.75 fee -- unless I bought the ticket at the door of Cyrano's, where I wouldn't pay any fee.
The takeaway: These days you will often pay a fee for the privilege of paying for a ticket. Avoid this when possible by purchasing at the box office.
Or try this tactic with local/regional companies: Get a bunch of friends together for the concert or play, then ask for a group rate because you're buying eight or 10 tickets tickets instead of one. It won't make the fee(s) go away, but any discount you receive will reduce the pain of payment.
Readers: What's the highest ticket surcharge you ever paid?
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