Ticket touts, or scalpers, are the scourge of the West End. They may be as obvious as street sellers hanging around outside the box office of the more popular shows in London, or they could be masquerading as reputable theatre ticket websites. The temptation to buy off them may be great, particularly if you desperately want to see a sold out show, but the truth is if people didn't buy from them they would cease to exist. Street vendors may well use stolen or forged tickets. These will not be valid for entry as well as being grossly overpriced, way over their face value.
The face value of a ticket is the price you would pay if you walk into the theatre box office itself. It may not logistically be an option for you to go to the West End in advance in person so an online booking agency may well be an easier and speedier alternative. The price you pay for this service is the booking fee. Theatre ticket agencies will add to the face value of the ticket or it will be incorporated into the overall selling price if the tickets are sold as special offer tickets less than the original face value.
Most theatres themselves will still charge a booking fee or service charge for booking online or by phone. This may be less than that of an agency but it can sometimes be very difficult to get hold of the theatre's box office directly. They are often busy with counter trade or the incoming of a matinee performance so do not want to encourage continual direct phonecalls, therefore their number is often not over-advertised.
To increase sales theatres allocate tickets to agencies. Deciding which agency to us can be a minefield. Reputable theatre ticket agencies will be a member of STAR, The Society Of Ticket Agents & Retailers. This is a self-regulatory body designed to protect customer rights by ensuring fairness and openness in the sale of event tickets. It's members are required to comply with a code of practice. If an online agency is not STAR approved it is very much a case of buyer beware. Not only may the tickets not be good value for money, they may not even be a valid bookingat all.
Alarm bells may ring if you see ticket offers that appear to be too good to be true online. The selling price could be anything up to half price or more off the face value of the tickets. This is not necessarily a red flag. Many of the larger agencies have established a good relationship with the theatre and been able to negotiate a discount, particularly for long running theatre productions. However be aware that there are a number of smaller agencies that have very similar names to the reputable ones, so if in doubt check to see if they are STAR registered.
Remember when buying tickets for theatre - beware of the ticket touts who can come in all shapes and sizes!
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