Updated 20 Oct 2015
Want to see a show at the theatre, party at a gig or cheer on your favourite team? You’ll need a ticket. This is a step-by-step guide to grabbing the best deals, including beating booking fees, spotting special offers and hunting out bargains on ticket exchange sites.
In this guide...
Pick your strategy
The way to get the ultimate bargain depends on what you’re looking for.
Know exactly what you want?
Whether it’s the Sound of Music, the British Athletics Championships or a Metallica gig, first benchmark your price by finding the cheapest standard tickets.
While promotional deals will be rare for the hottest events, there are also special websites where people who no longer want their tickets can sell them cheaply. See the cheap theatre tickets and cheap concert tickets sections.
Just looking for a fun night out?
It may be you can have a day out for the same price; check out the full list of Cheap Days Out promotions.
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Beat booking fees
Sadly, when booking tickets, you can struggle to get them at face value. Promoters slap on booking fees, postage fees and even have the front to charge for printable tickets sent by email.
Yet there are ways to slash these extra costs. First, you need to find out the face value, so you can see exactly how the price is broken down. Then you need to understand that there are four ways of booking tickets, and some are vastly cheaper than others.
Go via the venue, in person - usually zero fees
If the venue’s close by, the in-house box office should be your first stop as usually it won’t charge booking or postage fees. Call the venue and check whether this is possible. Even here though, try to pay by cash or debit card, as there may be a credit card fee.
The venue’s booking line - cheap-ish fees
The next best bet’s the venue’s own website or booking line as fees are likely to be cheaper or the same price as the best agency. Yet some events will only sell via agencies.
Ticket agencies - compare to find the cheapest fees
Many big venues will direct you immediately to an agency, such as Ticketmaster* or Seetickets*. These are ‘primary’ tickets sites, which flog tickets on behalf of the venue and take their cut through booking and service charges, typically adding up to 15% of the ticket price.
Even if you can't buy from the venue, it's still possible to shave ££s of the total price, because fees vary widely between agents. As a rule of thumb, compare at least three ticket agencies, checking how they break down fees and postage. Other big booking sites are Ticketline*, Gigantic* and Star Green.
Never take their front page price; compare based on the final screen, which shows all hidden extras.
Ticket comparison sites - great concept, poor delivery
Ticket price comparison sites, which promise to do the legwork for you, should be the answer. Yet many don't cut the mustard: coverage of agencies is limited and they usually don’t include the venue’s own price and miss postage and delivery fees. Often it quite simply defeats the purpose of using them, and is better to compare yourself.
Ticket resellers - don’t touch with a barge pole!
Type the name of your tickets into Google and it’ll come up with a blizzard of ‘secondary’ ticket booking sites, purporting to sell tickets to ‘sold-out’ shows.
These sellers buy tickets from the other agencies then resell them at massive mark-ups, commonly 100% to 150% – dwarfing the others’ booking fees. Unless seeing One Direction is your life’s dream, it’s not worth it.
What if ticket agencies go bust?
The shaky financial climate means many firms may struggle or collapse, yet while many want to protect themselves, it’s not that easy.
If a single ticket costs over £100 excluding fees, the easiest way is to book on a credit card (repaid in full so there’s no interest charge), as due to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act the card company's equally liable if something goes wrong, so you could get your money back from it.
Yet for lower value tickets, that doesn’t work, and protection will be limited. One option is to buy on a Visa card (debit or credit), as then there is a chance that you can use what’s called the ‘Visa chargeback’ rules; a lesser protection, but it may help. For more info on that, read the full Section 75 Refunds guide.
Concert ticket cost-cutting
Whether you’re into pop, rock, classical, grunge, country or skiffle-board, concert-going can really eat into your wallet. Yet there are still ways to score cheap tickets.
Buy from eBay or Gumtree
Auction site eBay* and classified site Gumtree are worth a look, especially when an event isn’t sold out. Normal fans often offload tickets via these sites when they can’t make it, and non-sold out events often go for less than face value.
Though be very cautious and read feedback when buying tickets this way; there are loads of dodgy sellers about. For a full how to, read the eBay Buying guide.
Grab tickets before they sell out
It's an all-too-familiar story: tickets for your fave act go on sale, only to sell out in seconds. Moments later they're changing hands on eBay for £100s. The best way to fight back is elbow yourself to the front of the queue, by thinking like a tout:
Join the fan club. If you’ve got a favourite band or venue, sign up to their website - often they have priority booking periods for fans, and send out ‘presale’ codes. They may also dish out discounted tickets in return for a small joining fee.
Beat the touts. As well as the newsletters, it’s worth checking Beatthetouts, a hobbyist website that lists advance tour dates.
o2 Priority booking. Mobile company o2 gives customers priority booking for gigs at London’s o2 venue, through its o2 Priority. If you or a mate has an o2 phone, just type in your mobile number to grab presale tickets.
Damn it! It’s already sold out
If you’ve already missed the boat, don’t immediately rush to eBay with your credit card, there are still ways to save.
If you can contain yourself, wait until nearer the time to buy as bands often release extra tickets or new dates closer to the time. Monitor fan forums for whispers of new dates.
Volunteer for free festival entry
If you’re a festival fan, volunteer as a steward and you can get in for free. Charity Oxfam has volunteer stewards at all the major festivals, including Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading and Bestival.
You have to pay a big deposit, to stop you doing a runner once you get into the grounds, and work three eight-hour shifts, usually staffing gates and checking tickets. Applications for summer festivals usually open in January. Read more on volunteering at festivals in our Free festivals guide.
Cheap theatre tickets
As well as the general ticket booking tips above, within the theatre world, there are many more techniques to try. Some need doing a few days before, others are on the day.
Special offers if you're booking in advance
The quickest way to slash the price is with 2for1 and 50% off offers. While it’ll take a few minutes, it’s worth quickly running through all the tactics here, before booking direct; savings could add up to £100 for a family.
Yet always check the face value first, so you don’t end up thinking you've got a deal when you haven’t.
A quick tip: if you have an offer from a newspaper or magazine that requires you to quote a code, keep schtum about the special offer till later. First see which seats they offer you, then mention you've a deal. This way they won't try and offload the cheaper seats.
Check for dirt-cheap tickets
Any super-cheap promotional theatre tickets will be included in the special Days Out Vouchers daily deals note.
See Theatre monkey for a wide range of special offers
If you know exactly what you want, a great resource for bargain theatre tickets is Theatremonkey.com, which collates hundreds of current promotions and discounts from newspapers and other sources. Simply scan the ‘special offers’ page for the show you’re after. The site also gives reviews of theatre layouts, so you'll know exactly which seats to choose.
London 2for1 theatre loophole. For 2for1 deals to big shows
National Rail's Go By Train scheme gets you 2for1 tickets for some London shows. The catch is you need that day's valid train ticket, yet as the savings can be up to £50, buy a cheap single for £2-ish (even if you don't use it), and you can still grab the offer. The deals include some big West End shows, including The Woman in Black and The Railway Children.
Lastminute.com. For 50% tickets and meal deals
For half-price and tenner tickets, Lastminute.com*’s worth a look. There’re also dinner and a show deals. Do be aware that they sell at normal price too; not every ticket’s a steal.
Shakespeare for a fiver
If you’re in the capital, Shakespeare’s Globe has 700 £5 standing tickets for every performance. Not bard!
Ditch the big shows
Ditch popular shows and musicals for off-West End and pub theatre, and you can often have a really enjoyable, cheap night out, with tickets from £2 to £10. For up to date listings, visit the fringe section of the Theatremonkey site or check local papers.
On the day theatre bargains
Get ‘em half-price on the day
If you’re after London’s West End, and don't mind waiting till the last minute, head over to the Half Price TKTS Booth in Leicester Square. Each morning at 10am, theatres send over lists of leftover seats for that day. Though do ensure you're at the official Society of London Theatre one, opposite the smaller Leicester Sq Odeon, as there are several overpriced imitations nearby.
Grab a day seat
Some theatres keep a few seats aside and release them on the day for cheap. Queues usually start outside the theatre at 8am, thought check with the theatre before you arrive with your flask of tea!
Check concessions or standby
If you're over 60, unemployed or a student, many theatres give up to 70% off for tickets sold in the last hour before the curtain goes up. These are usually cash only, though of course it’s always luck whether you can get in.