The days of wandering> the stadium parking lot hoping to score tickets from a scalper are long gone. Now, if you want to see your favorite band perform in a sold-out show, all you have to do is go online.
Online ticket reselling has ballooned into a $2.6-billion-a-year business, one that's expected to double by 2012, according to Forrester Research. However, since most states very loosely regulate the industry, the market isn't without risks for consumers.
According to Better Business Bureau records, 1,220 consumer complaints were lodged against the ticket sale and resale industry last year. Earlier this month, the bureau warned consumers against using ticket site TicketsMyWay.com, run by Las Vegas-based Event Tickets LLC. Their chief concern: more than 250 consumer complaints, ranging from late or nondelivery of tickets, invalid tickets, worse seats than originally purchased and cancellation difficulties. The BBB says Event Tickets LLC has thus far failed to respond to 194 of those complaints. To put that in perspective: Of all of the complaints against the industry last year, only 255 were not settled. "If it had been just one complaint then it might be a disgruntled consumer, but that many is a pattern," says Sylvia Campbell, president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada.
In response, Event Tickets LLC spokesman Andrew Sims says the company has resolved more than 90% of the complaints -- it just hasn't involved or informed the BBB. The company claims that remaining unresolved complaints are either currently being addressed or haven't been resolved because the firm is having a hard time contacting the customer. "We strongly disagree [with] the Better Business Bureau's warning and feel that it will be retracted in a short time once all the facts are reviewed," says Sims.
Considering that most consumers who shop on the secondary market pay more than face value for tickets, according to Forrester Research, it's important to do some homework before buying. Try these five tips to protect yourself -- and get a great deal in the process:
Track price fluctuations
Buy too early and you'll probably overpay. Most tickets become progressively cheaper as the event date approaches, with the best deals coming into play on the same day as the event, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a consumer advocacy site. Tracking prices for a Yankees-Orioles game in New York on May 20, Consumer Reports found the $65 face-value tickets jumped to $82 three weeks before the game, then dropped to a low of $32 on game day.
Spending $295 apiece for two orchestra seats may seem like small change for diehard Hannah Montana fans aching to see her perform in Los Angeles this month, but that ticket price is just part of the final tab. Commission, delivery fees and other charges can add significantly to your final bill, notes Tod Marks, senior editor for Consumer Reports. To get the best deal, compare the total costs for similar seats at different sites. RazorGator.com tacks on a 10% commission, for example, while TicketsNow.com charges 15%.
Assess buyer protections
A reputable site will protect you if purchased tickets arrive late or turn out to be fakes, says Steve Cox, spokesman for the Better Business Bureau. StubHub.com for example, says it will attempt to find comparable or better seats at no additional cost to you. If no seats are available, they promise to extend a full refund. Most sites advertise their fan protection policy on the home page, but you can also find details in the help sections for buyers.
Read the fine print
Almost all tickets purchased online are nonrefundable. "You can resell the ticket, but you can't send it back," says Marks. Read the site's policies section to find out under what circumstances you can cancel your order -- and what, if any, fees you'll incur.
Pay with plastic
The Fair Credit Billing Act lets you dispute charges on your credit card for the wrong amount, for goods not received or for goods not delivered as agreed (such as worse seats or counterfeits). It's your best protection against unscrupulous sellers and ticket-broker sites alike, says Cox. "If you're being asked to pay any other way, consider it a red flag," he warns. (For more on filing a dispute, click here
Avoiding the Resellers
It's not always easy, but there are ways to snag tickets for face value or less without relying on a reseller. Here are some avenues to try:
Join the club. Members of sports team and performing artist fan clubs often get special deals on tickets or access to them before they go on sale to the general public.
Tap into credit card perks. Plenty of credit-card issuers offer ticket-related discounts. Citibank (C),
Be persistent. If at first you don't succeed in buying tickets on a site like Ticketmaster or Telecharge, try, try again. Such services have continuously shifting inventory, due to temporary holds as consumers browse.
Visit city discounters. Entertainment ticket newsletter GoldStar.com offers discounts of 50% or more on local entertainment, including concerts, sports, comedy and theater for certain cities. In person, visit city discount ticket booths like Boston's BosTix and New York's TKTS, which slash prices by 50% or more for that day's theater events.
Head to the box office. It's one of the few ways ticket buyers can avoid delivery and convenience fees, says Marks. You may even get better prices. Broadway musical "Wicked" holds a daily box office ticket lottery shortly before the show, offering the chance to snag first-row orchestra seats for $25 apiece.