Face the music: It’s easy to overpay for concert tickets. Here’s how to avoid it


Many years of ticket stubs. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The other night I was with some friends and the March 22 State Theater show Psychedelic Furs was on. I had bought a pair of tickets weeks ago and a friend decided on the spot to buy a pair as well.

She pulled out her phone and seconds later said something about the price, which was at least $10 more than the $35 I had paid. I stopped her and referred her to the State Theater website, which in turn led her to the actual ticket seller for that show: Ticketmaster.

The fact that my friend nearly paid more, but not much more, than she should have from a third-party seller was a sobering reminder that this practice is so widespread that it’s been almost normalized – and that I’m passionate about keeping my music-loving friends from falling victim to it.

Third party sellers have been around for decades and unfortunately what they are doing is legal. But the only person who benefits is the seller; not the artist, venue or anyone else involved in the show itself. Before giving you my advice on how to avoid overpaying for concert tickets, here is an even more glaring example.

Tori Amos performs at Merrill Auditorium on May 15, her first in Portland in nearly two decades. Amos fan Neil Skillin of Madison said tickets for the day went on sale, his friend, Lisa, Googled “Merrill Auditorium Tori Amos”, and the first few options all looked like Merrill links and even included Merrill Auditorium in the domain address. However, the prices showed between $190 and $390.

“We were devastated and thought Tori was abusing the public,” he said. But then Skillin remembered the presale password he had received when signing up for the PortTix mailing list.

PortTix handles ticket sales for most Merrill Auditorium shows, including this one. Skillin used the link he received in the email from PortTix (like me) and saw that the actual ticket price was $59.50-$109.

“If I hadn’t asked Lisa what website she was looking at when she went shopping, we wouldn’t have seen Tori in May,” Skillin said. He added that scalpers are getting really crafty and using sponsored links in Google search. “Their creative use of page titles when creating the links makes them look completely legit.”

As I write this, there are tickets for this show on sale on two third-party sites at prices massively higher than face value – in one case, a price of $678 per ticket on a pair of seats from second row and many more in the three and four hundred dollar range. It’s not correct.

Music fan Johnna Major, formerly from Scarborough and now in New York, said she too was nearly sucked into the vortex of a third-party site.

“When you search for a site on Google, third-party sellers often come out on top, and their site design makes it look like you’re on the site’s site,” she said. Major nearly paid double for tickets to a Broadway show recently.

In 2016, the BOTS (Better Online Ticket Sales) Act was signed into law by President Obama. Its aim is to combat the use of ticket bots to pick up large amounts of tickets. In other words, it has become illegal for people and organizations to use computer programs to purchase tickets.

That’s all well and good, but did it really help? I do not think so. Giant third-party ticket sellers have the capacity to employ countless employees, and if you have tens or even hundreds of people all buying tickets for you, hundreds or even thousands of tickets will end up in the hands of third-party sellers. which, in turn, charge the general public far more than face value. In particular, the law required that the websites of third-party sellers be clearly marked as such. But, frankly, it’s cold comfort.

I contacted Lauren Wayne, promoter of State Theater and Thompson’s Point in Portland, and Bill O’Malley, marketing director of Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, about this issue. Both stressed the importance of starting the ticket purchase process from the venue’s website. This ensures that you can clearly see what the actual face value is and that when you click “buy tickets” you will be sent to the actual ticketing platform for those venues.

“Don’t click on anything else if you’re buying tickets to one of our shows,” Wayne warned.

She and O’Malley also said that if tickets are purchased on third-party sites and a show is postponed or canceled, your chances of getting a refund are slim. Not only that, Wayne said that some resellers are selling duplicate, or essentially counterfeit tickets, and these will not be honored on the site.

“Basically, if a ticketing situation feels weird or ‘abnormal’, trust your instincts because it probably is,” Wayne added.

So what can you do to improve your chances of getting tickets at face value? Here’s a list of pro tips from someone who’s been buying tickets for a very long time. So long, in fact, that I once slept outside on a sidewalk in Lowell, Massachusetts, to get tickets to see David Bowie. It was worth it, and sometimes I miss those pre-internet days.

1. Always start your ticket purchase process from the venue’s website. This allows you to know with certainty the price of tickets and the ticket sales platform used.

2. Since many sites (but not all) are Ticketmaster partners, make sure you already have an account established with them. This makes the checkout process smoother and faster.

3. Be ready a few minutes before tickets go on sale and I strongly suggest, if possible, that you do so with a computer or laptop rather than a phone. You can see things better, open multiple tabs to be clear on seating plans, and you’re less likely to make a mistake.

4. Join the mailing list for each place you visit regularly. Often they will send emails telling you about an upcoming show and when tickets go on sale and sometimes, as in the case of Tori Amos and PortTix, they will send you a pre-sale code so you have the option to buy tickets before they go on sale to the general public.

5. Join the mailing list of all the groups you like. You can usually register directly on their websites.

6. If you really like the band, join their fan club if they have one. I belong to Brandi Carlile. It costs me $40 a year (which goes to his charity) and gets me into pre-sales for all of his shows.

7. Follow every place and act you like on social media platforms. This is another good way to stay up to date with upcoming shows.

8. Don’t wait to buy tickets “later”. Buy them as soon as they go on sale. The longer you wait, the more likely the show will sell out. If you can’t end up doing a show, you can sell them (at face value, of course) to a friend, and with Ticketmaster, it only takes a few clicks to transfer tickets.

9. Don’t give up if there is a lot of “traffic” when tickets first go on sale. Keep trying. And if you’re kicked out of a presale, try again when the show goes on sale to the general public.

10. If a show is sold out and you’re really desperate to go, consider waiting as long as possible before giving your business to a third-party seller. They don’t want to eat tickets, and prices sometimes go down the closer you get to a show.

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