Buying theatre tickets (3)

It’s the third time I’ve blogged on this topic. Things change so fast on the internet these days so I thought it time for yet another update.

Most people booking theatre tickets, including me, begin with Googling the show’s title. Fortunately Google now makes it clear which items are paid ads and which aren’t, as invariably the first sites to appear will be ads and are more than likely to be tickets agents. Tickets agents are perfectly respectable organisations (so long as they are members of STAR – see my earlier blog here.) and just occasionally  have special offers. Every outlet has its own allocation, but generally speaking you are better off booking through the official site.

Taking two ‘hot’ shows currently running in the West End as examples, this is what happens when I try to book two mid-price seats for Thursday 21 April:

The Book of Mormon

Googling The Book of Mormon, the first four sites that crop up are ads, three of them for ticket agents and one for the Mormons themselves. You have to scroll down to the fifth item before you reach the show’s official site, which is www.bookofmormonlondon.com

The Book of Mormon

(atgtickets.com)

When you click on the official site it shows you a seating plan and you get to choose your seats. For some reason however when I tried to click on the seats I wanted most of the apparently available tickets appeared not to be available, which means either their site is faulty or my mouse. I did manage to get two tickets in Row L of the Stalls for £50 each plus a booking fee of £4.50, totalling £104.50.

On theatrepeople.com  you are given a selection of tickets available on your chosen date and two tickets in Row K of the Stalls will cost you £64 per ticket, face value (ie before their markup) £50. This transaction will cost you a total of £128.

lovetheatre.com only offers ‘Stalls 1st price, 2nd price’ etc., though once you’ve clicked on them you are told the seat numbers. A ticket here in Row M is £75 + £3.50 booking fee, making it a total of £157.

This is what I think they call a no-brainer.

People Places & Things

People Places & Things

(nationaltheatre.org.uk)

Four ads come up here of which the first is the official site at Wyndham’s: wyndhams.fromtheboxoffice.comTickets in Row J of the Stalls will set you back £74.50 each, a total of £149.50 for two. (Yes, this is a hot ticket.)

On lovetheatre.com Row M in the Stalls costs £62.50 plus a socking great booking fee of £13.80 per ticket, making a total for two of £152.60.

You can also book this show through the National Theatre (it was an NT production) – www.nationaltheatre.org.uk. Stalls seats for this same date are sold out but you can grab a couple of tickets at the back of the Dress Circle for £62.50, totalling £125 (no booking fee). You can also buy tickets at £15 sitting on the stage, if being up that close appeals.

Of the ‘legitimate’ tickets agents some are transparent and helpful – like theatrepeople – and offer you specific seats, so you can see exactly where you’re sitting and what the face value ticket price is, others just charge you a lump sum and say ‘tickets will be allocated at the box office’, which is pretty poor show in my opinion.

Fringe theatres do not charge a booking fee, nor does the National Theatre.

Enjoy your visit to the theatre and if you have any questions about booking theatre tickets in London do email me on patsytrench@gmail.com.

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The ticket-buying jungle (updated)

I first blogged about buying tickets for West End shows a year ago (see here). Recently ticket touts have been in the news for charging outrageous sums for sell-out shows so I thought it was time to take another look at what’s on offer.

As I said before as a theatre tour organiser I am usually booking group tickets, generally for students. This way I not only get special deals, depending on the show obviously, and availability, but I get to avoid booking fees. I also know who to deal with: I know that if you Google show tickets the chances are the first sites that come up will be sponsored ads, paid for by agencies who may charge a big mark-up fee. As a tour booker I deal exclusively with the theatre owners or with ticket agents such as See Tickets.

Last year I featured two long-running West End shows, Phantom of the Opera and The Woman in Black (both of which, as it happens, are still running). This time I’m going for two other hot shows, The Book of Mormon and the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon (atgtickets.com)

(atgtickets.com)

As it happens the first site (sponsored) that comes up on Google is the official show website: http://www.bookofmormonlondon.com/home.php. For Monday 3 February a premium seat in Row G of the Stalls will set me back £127.25, which includes a booking fee of £2.50 per ticket. In Row P it’s only £49.75 (including the booking fee). The booking agents are the theatre owners, delfontmackintosh.com.

Through www.ticketmaster.co.uk there is very limited availability for that date, but I could buy a ticket in Row G of the Stalls for £140, which is £125 plus a booking fee of £15. Box Office collection is another £2.85; so the total comes to £142.85, which is £15.60 more than I’d be paying through the official site.

The only other site I could find with availability on that same date was www.seatwave.com. Here it costs £159.29 for an unspecified seat somewhere in the Stalls, which is £134.30 plus £24.99 booking fee. (They do say the ‘face value printed on ticket excluding fees: £125’.) There may be further fees on top, I didn’t want to go as far as having to log in.

Conclusion: Stick to the official site at delfontmackintosh.co.uk – the owners of the theatre. It’s the cheapest option and they have the best availability. In fact this is such a no-brainer I am surprised some agents can find enough customers to keep them in business.

Coriolanus

Tom Hiddleston (tomhiddlestononline.net)

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus (tomhiddlestononline.net)

It was this show that was on the news recently because according to the BBC one agent was charging £2,015 for a couple of tickets whose face value was £35 per ticket.

For Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse the official booking site is www.atgtickets.com where you will see every performance is sold out. If you’d been quick enough you could have bought the most expensive seat in the house for £35 plus a £2.50 transaction fee, or the cheapest at £7.50, plus the transaction fee.

I couldn’t find any sites offering tickets for this show, not even for £2,015, which according to the BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-25849543 – is what one site was charging for two tickets whose face value was £35 each. I did find a couple of sites that both buy and sell tickets, which I won’t name because I wouldn’t want to give them publicity. They are completely legitimate, unfortunately, but bearing in mind the Donmar is subsidised by the tax payer, and the top price is £35, and virtually every production there is sold out within minutes of the booking period opening, it does seem iniquitous that anyone other than the theatre itself is profiting so much from its own success.

The moral of the tale overall is ALWAYS BUY YOUR TICKET FROM THE SHOW’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE.

Or if the show is sold out, GO TO THE THEATRE and ask about their returns policy, or whether they offer TICKETS ON THE DAY. The Book of Mormon for instance has a daily ballot so if you turn up at 10am you can put your name on a list and if you are lucky you will get a front row stalls seat for £20.

As I said before most ticket agencies are not breaking the law, even the ones with 1000% plus mark-ups. But except in exceptional circumstances there is no need to have anything to do with them.

Ticket-buying international

A few months ago, in response to some baffled queries from overseas students, I investigated the ticket-buying jungle in London and turned up some rather interesting results.

As a group tour booker I realise I am extremely spoilt: I get some fantastic deals on shows, especially if my clients are students, I am given up to a month to pay and there is no booking fee. For the individual however it’s not that simple, and while people complain about West End ticket prices – with some justification perhaps – a quick look at what’s available, and how, in other English-speaking countries is a bit of an eye-opener.

The Book of Mormon NY

For my (admittedly not particularly scientific) survey of the international theatre-booking business I chose three cities: London (West End), New York (Broadway) and Sydney (where I happen to be at the time), and  five shows currently running or opening soon: The Book of Mormon (London and New York), War Horse (London and Sydney) and three ‘straight’ plays: Driving Miss Daisy (Sydney), Orphans (New York) and Passion Play (London). I picked the most expensive and least expensive seat available on random dates in March and April.
Driving Miss Daisy

The results in full are at the end of this blog, but suffice to say:

WE LONDONERS ARE EXTREMELY LUCKY.

Admittedly the low pound helps, but the most remarkable discoveries I made were:

  • a premium seat for The Book of Mormon in New York costs more than three times the equivalent in London, at $487.75 (£325.16) compared with £97 in London.*
  • the cheapest seat for the same show is likewise, at $262.75 (£175.17) in NY and £51.50 in London (restricted view).
  • apart from Mormon, which is a bit of a special case, most West End shows do offer affordable seats: you can see see the London War Horse for £16.30 (restricted view, including the booking fee) and Passion Play for £18 (ditto).
  • booking fees in both Sydney and New York are three to four times as much as in London: up to AU$11 per ticket in Sydney (£7.64) and US$10.75 in NY (£7.17) compared with between £2 & £3.50 in London.
  • all booking websites are not the same. The US site for instance – telegraph.com – was not very customer-friendly. It was almost impossible to find the cheapest seat for anything and every time you make a minor change you have to enter another verification code (the jumbled numbers or letters to prove you are a human being), some of which were so impossible to decipher I had to have several goes. None of them however was as clear and easily navigable as the excellent National Theatre site.
  • a premium seat for Driving Miss Daisy in Sydney (with a cast of three) is one and a half times as expensive as the top price for a show in the West End, and considerably more expensive than the top price ticket for the Sydney production of War Horse (cast of dozens, human and non-).

*Using current conversion rates of US$1.5 to the £ and AU$1.44 to the £.

Of course there are reasons for some of this, not least – in the case of Sydney – the population, which at 4.6m or so is just over half the population of London, and means that ‘hot’ shows like Daisy (with Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones) is only on for four weeks, before moving on to Melbourne. (And their beaches are better than ours, not to mention the weather.)

CONCLUSION:

  • It confirms my (unscientifically held) opinion that London is the theatre capital of the world. Not only do we have the greatest variety and diversity of shows, in the West End and elsewhere, but most important of all we have
  • AFFORDABLE SEATS. As a teacher and tour organiser and theatre lover it pains me to think that anyone, young or old, rich or poor, should be excluded from being able to see the best shows in the world.
  • for our American cousins it is worth considering a trip to London if only to save on the cost of theatre tickets.

~~~~~

My findings:

SYDNEYSydney Opera House

DRIVING MISS DAISY

Ticket agent : Ticketmaster.com.au
Booking fees: Per transaction ‘handling fee’ $6.95  plus processing fee for credit and debit cards 2.3%.
Website: Floor plan with available seats, identity code fairly easy to decipher (except for irritating Facebook popup).

Thursday 14 March:
Premium: Row A (3rd row Stalls) $199.90 + 4.42 + 6.95   =   AU$211.27 (£146.72)
Cheapest: Back row Circle $119.90 + 2.58 + 6.95   =   AU$129.43 (£89.88) 

WAR HORSE

Ticket agent: ticketmaster.com.au
Booking fees: as above

Tuesday April 9:
Premium: Row A (3rd row Stalls) $124.90 + 6.95 + 2.65  =   $134.50 (£93.40)
Cheapest: Grand Circle $89.90 + 6.95 +1.85   =   $ 91.75 (£63.72)

~~~

Broadway 2NEW YORK

THE BOOK OF MORMON

Ticket agent: telecharge.com.
Booking fees: Service charge $8 + ‘Handling charge’ $2.75
Website: Not user-friendly. Asks for identity code every time you make a change, which is often unreadable,  seating plan available only on request and cheapest tickets hard to find.

Thursday April 11:
Premium: Row E (Orchestra) $477 + 8 + 2.75   =   US$487.75 (£325.16)
Cheapest (that I could find): (Mezzanine) $252 + 8 + 2.75   =   $262.75 (£175.17)

ORPHANS,  starring Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster & Tom Sturridge

Ticket agent:
telecharge.com
Booking fees: as above

Thursday April 4:
Premium: Row H (Orchestra)  $200 + $8 + £2.75   =   $210.75 (£131.72)
Cheapest: (back row Mezzanine) $67 + $8 + $2.75   =   $75 (£50)

~~~

LONDONShaftesbury Avenue

THE BOOK OF MORMON

Ticket agent: delfont-mackintosh.com
Booking fees:  £2 + £1 optional donation to Comic Relief
Website: easy; no identity codes.

Thursday 13 June: (first available seats)
Premium: Circle (1 remaining) £95.00 + £2   =    £97.00
Cheapest: Rear stalls (restricted view due to sound desk) £49.50 + 2   =   £51.50

WAR HORSE

Ticket agent: Warhorse.seetickets.com 
Booking fees: 
from £2.30 – £3.50 transaction fee
Website: Okay – no codes, seating plan too small to decipher

Thursday 4 April:
Premium: Row G Stalls £84 + 3.50   =   £87.50
Cheapest: Row A Circle (restricted view due to safety rail) £14 + 2.30   =   £16.30
Cheapest unrestricted view £24 + 3.20   =   £27.20  

PASSION PLAY

Ticket agent: Atgtickets.com
Booking fees: £3 transaction fee
Website:   Floor plan, no code, but you have to begin again from scratch when you make a change.

Thursday 9 May:
Premium: Row J Stalls £75 + 3    =   £78
Cheapest: Upper Circle (restricted view, lose front of stage) £15 + 3   =   £18