Buying tickets for popular musicians and theatre performances can be tricky for people in the UK.
Sought after shows tend to sell out quickly with tickets going on sale at inordinately high prices. Often ticket sales begin at inconvenient times. This forces customers to wait in online queues for hours late at night or early in the mornings.
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And for those who aren’t lucky enough to get tickets in the initial rush, there are ticket re-sellers.
Officially these companies (sometimes known as secondary ticketing agencies) buy tickets from people who can no longer attend performances and then re-sell them.
In practice many touts buy extra tickets then sell them on to re-sellers for profit. The biggest examples of such companies in the UK are Get Me In, Viagogo, StubHub and Seatwave.
The trouble with getting tickets through such companies is that often they raise the prices even further. That’s especially the case for popular performances. On top of that, secondary ticketing agencies add fees that often cost more than the original tickets themselves.
As a result of these practices, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have taken action against re-sellers.
What are people doing to combat price touting?
The ASA have ordered that re-sellers must the total ticket price, the VAT-inclusive booking fee and the delivery fee clear from the start. They hope this will prevent ticket re-sellers from hoodwinking customers into paying huge prices and massive fees.
Viagogo has also been singled out for further rulings. The ASA has ruled that the website is no longer allowed to refer to itself an ‘official site’ after it misleadingly suggested it was a primary ticket outlet.
The authority also specifically banned Viagogo from offering a ‘100% Guarantee’. The ASA claims this led customers to believe they would be guaranteed entry which would not necessarily be the case.
More broadly, individual venues and primary ticket sellers have taken their own steps to combat ticket touts. These include forcing attendees to present ID and their original payment card on the door of the venue to gain access.
This practice is particularly prevalent on London’s West End, where popular plays such as Hamilton and Harry Potter And The Cursed Child have instituted the rules.
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In addition, in November 2017, the Competition and Markets Authority, said it would take action against such ticketing websites if it suspects them of breaking consumer law. It did not make clear the nature of such action.
What have the people involved said?
The chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, Guy Parker said:
“Many of us will recognise the frustration of being happy with the initial price of tickets on a secondary website only to be stung by hefty fees when we come to book.
“The message from our rulings is simple and it’s clear: The price you see at the start should be the price you pay at the end.”
A spokeswoman for StubHub spoke to the BBC about the rulings and explained:
“As a consumer-first ticket marketplace, StubHub supports any measures which make ticket buying easier, more convenient and more transparent for fans.”
A spokeswoman for Ticketmaster which owns Get Me In and Seatwave added:
“We will continue to work with both the ASA and the CMA to further develop levels of transparency and consumer protection within the UK ticketing sector.”
How bad is the re-sale tickets situation?
We picked a performance by Britney Spears at the London O2 Arena on 24 August.
For basic, non-premium tickets in Block A2 (directly in front of the stage) the price through the official seller was between £125 and £141.
The exact same tickets cost £990 on Get Me In. That means the re-seller is charging nearly eight times as much as the official seller. However, if that sale price seems extortionate already, prepare for it to get worse.
Get Me In is only selling these £990 tickets in pairs, forcing customers to pay £1,980 minimum to get into the show. There’s then a processing fee of £359.18. The final price comes to £2,339.18.
On StubHub, the minimum price you’ll pay for the same tickets is £2,342.20. Once again, this forces customers to buy a minimum of two tickets and includes fees. In addition, StubHub applies pressure by including a countdown timer at checkout. When the timer elapsed, tickets were still available.
Over at Viagogo, customers can purchase single tickets. However, as with the previous examples, prices are significantly higher than through official sellers. The same £141 ticket costs £434 on Viagogo. On top of that, there’s a £18 delivery fee and a £145 booking fee meaning the final price for a single ticket comes to £597 altogether. Once again, there was a timer adding pressure to the customers. On Viagogo added fees are not made clear until the payment stage. Even then, fees are oblique in the corner of the screen, easy for customers to miss.
Finally, there’s Seatwave. Once again, tickets only come in pairs. They cost £350 each meaning a minimum cost of £700 before fees. Booking fees add a further £127.98 for a final total price of £827.98.