Grab top-secret theatre tickets from £4, including West End shows... but only if you can keep your mouth shut
It's the top-secret trick that theatres don't want you to know exists. Welcome to the hush-hush world of last-minute seat-filling, where it's possible to watch a show from as little as £4. Theatres do it because they quite literally need bums on seats – but you must agree not to say what you get so you don't upset people who pay full whack.
There are a few different sites that do this (see more below), but we're focusing on Central Tickets, as it's the biggie which is free to sign up to and is accepting members right now, if you go via our special link by 11.59pm on Saturday 31 August 2019. (It was originally due to close on 14 August, but Central Tickets extended it due to its popularity in our weekly email.)
Sadly we can't give you full info on exactly what tickets are available – because members themselves are forbidden from giving details, and because the site's only given us a link to let you sign up on the condition we don't spill the beans. So the shows you can see are hidden away on the site until you join.
But we can tell you they include some top West End shows (which sell out quickly), plus lots more fringe theatre, dance shows, opera, ballet, concerts and cinema. Shows are mainly in and around London, and usually at very late notice.
In a nutshell, you register to join the site, scroll through the list of available shows and usually pay £4 to £7 per ticket. The idea is you get the tickets at a super-low price in exchange for helping to create an atmosphere at underfilled performances.
How good are the deals?
The price you'll pay varies, and there's no way of seeing what's on offer until you join, but tickets are often drastically reduced – in the vast majority of examples we've seen, these are really good deals.
When we checked, we saw a London musical for £5, when tickets usually cost £13-£47.50, plus an opera for £4 (usually £25) and a talk from a business figure for £4 (usually £57). In the past, we've seen tickets for a big West End show from as little as £4, though you'll have to move quickly to grab deals like that.
This is the first time we've covered Central Tickets, and there's little feedback on it online currently – probably because those who use it are actively discouraged from sharing details on social media. But our very own resident theatre guru MSE Rosie has used it and had some luck...
I've seen a fabulous West End show for a fiver through Central Tickets, sitting in a great seat in the stalls. Even with other discounts out there, I could easily have paid at least five times that for the same seat through other sellers. Popular shows sell out very quickly.
How to sign up – and skip the waiting list via our link
To see what cheap tickets are on offer, and be notified as more become available, you'll need to join as a member. It's free to do so and you don't need to give your card details or commit to buying anything – though it's worth reading on first to understand how it all works.
The best bit is you can skip the queue. The site is currently closed to new members who apply directly. Those who try will be put on a waiting list and usually get in in a few months. But go via our special Central Tickets link and until 11.59pm on Saturday 31 August 2019 (or when a massive 500,000 people have signed up, whichever is first) you can join straightaway without waiting.
Once you've signed up you'll get a welcome email within a couple of hours, and will be able to log in after that.
How seat-filling works
Here are our key tips on getting the most out of Central Tickets:
- The first rule of seat-filling is... you do not talk about seat-filling. Before we get into it, remember, you're on a covert operation. After all, the woman next to you might not be too thrilled to hear you paid £4, when she paid £50.
Central Tickets says: "Our event organisers rely on us for discretion. Make no mention of the cheap tickets – either at the theatre or on social media." So keeping schtum is a must – otherwise your account will be closed.
- Once you've joined, check often – and subscribe to its emails. It pays to scroll through listings regularly. Popular West End shows sell out faster than a speeding bullet. As well as checking the Central Tickets site, you can choose to subscribe to up to four daily emails. Go to 'My Preferences' to choose how many you receive.
It's worth being aware that once you're in you'll see a tab on the site for 'West End offers'. Don't click on this if you just want the cheap seat-filling deals – the 'West End offers' page is entirely separate, offering standard theatre discounts.
- You'll need to be flexible – performances can be that day, or up to a fortnight ahead. These are last-minute deals, so while you can choose the date you book tickets for, most of those on sale will be for shows within the next week. This isn't for those who need to book tickets months in advance: you'll need to be able to go in the next few days.
- It's pot luck which seats you get. You only find out the exact seats you've been allocated when you arrive at the box office – you won't know at the point of booking. Some do report getting good seats in the stalls though, so don't assume you'll be stuck behind a pillar.
One more tip: keep an eye out for 'general admission' shows, where seats are first come, first served. Rock up early and you should bag a great spot, however little you paid.
- Always double-check prices before booking. While seat-filling tickets we've seen are nearly always less than the cheapest ticket price, it's always worth doing a quick comparison with the venue's price to make sure it's really a good deal.
- You collect tickets from the box office. You usually need to take your booking confirmation (printout or screenshot) to the box office at least 30 minutes before the event starts. Read the instructions carefully, as it can vary.
Be friendly and always collect tickets yourself. Central Tickets says you should always accept the seats you are allocated graciously – so no cheeky requests for an upgrade.
- You need to go to one show every three months. Central Tickets is free to join, but if you don't attend one event every three months you'll be asked to pay £20 a year to be a member. (It doesn't take the money automatically though. You need to visit the site to pay and can always choose to stop being a member instead.)
This rule doesn't apply if you live outside of London (defined as the M25 boundary).
- Only book if you're sure you can go. Tickets are non-refundable. What's more, if you need to cancel a booking, you must tell Central Tickets at least five hours ahead or your account may be closed. You can cancel up to three bookings a year, but only after your first three bookings – new members who cancel any of their first three bookings will have their accounts closed.
- The site may get a mass of traffic this week. This is because it's featured in our weekly email. Tickets may sell out quickly, so if you don't see anything you fancy, check back in a few weeks' time.
Do read its full terms before booking.
Which other sites do this?
There's another seat-filling site, Audience Club, which works in a similar way. Audience Club currently says it's full and to check back in a few months but, unlike Central Tickets, you must pay £5 to its chosen charity to join before you can see what shows are on offer.
Another site worth a look is the free-to-join Show Film First. While its focus is films, it has the occasional play or gig for just a £2ish admin fee.
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