The biggest piece of advice I have for buying tickets is plan ahead, especially if there’s a show you really would like to see. If you’re in NYC for a weekend don’t expect to be able to walk-up and get tickets to the new hot show. Friday through Sunday are the prime theater going times and shows sell out all the time. During the week you may have better luck.
For advance ticket sales you really only have two options, going directly to the theater box office or purchase them on-line through an authorized ticket vendor. Unfortunately most of the box offices will not sell tickets over the phone anymore; there may be a few exceptions.
One thing you’re going to have to understand and accept is that Broadway shows are expensive and the “cheap seats” aren’t that cheap. Plays will typically be cheaper than musicals because the production cost are usually lower and, to be honest, they typically aren’t as big a draw as musicals. I long ago decided that it’s worth the extra money for the better seats. Average ticket prices for plays are around $97-110 while musicals are $125-$145.
Typically the theaters are broken down into three pricing areas. The “cheap” seats are usually the last few rows of the mezzanine or balcony. Most Broadway theaters are pretty small so the cheap seats aren’t many and they will sell out quickly. The next level ticket price is the regular priced or “best available” seats and usually consist of the side orchestra, the first few rows of the center orchestra and the mid to rear orchestra areas as well as some of the mezzanine (usually not the first two rows). The center orchestra seats are considered the “premium” seats and these seats depending on the popularity of the show can go for anywhere from $250 to $450 per ticket. To get these tickets you have to check on the button for “premium seats”.
Check the discount tickets pages for hints no how/where to buy less expensive tickets.
At the Box Office
This really is the best and cheapest way to get full price tickets. Besides the ubiquitous $1.50-2.00 “theater fee” there are no ticket handling charges and you can pick the best available seats. The ticket agents are usually helpful if you have questions about which seats are better. Also in the hour before a performance there are no advance tickets sales, only sales for the performance that’s scheduled to start.
Of course, buying tickets at the box office requires a certain proximity to Manhattan that most of us outside the tri-borough area lack. For the rest of the country the only other option is buying tickets on line.
The two main online ticket agents are telecharge.com and ticketmaster.com. Because of agreements between the theater owners and the ticket sellers there isn’t any cross over between the two sites, if a show is on sale on Telecharge it will not be on sale at Ticketmaster and vise versa. That being said, the majority of the shows are available on Telecharge and a much smaller number are available on Ticketmaster.
I actually prefer Telecharge’s website to Ticketmaster’s. Telecharge is really geared towards theatrical performances and Broadway shows. The web site is very user friendly; it allows you to search for shows by city, venue, or show name. It also lets you search for the best seats available by a specific date, a series of dates or a range of dates. When it gives you first selection of seats you able to reject the seats and look for the next available seats without having to restart the entire search. That’s one of the best features of the site. I have in the past based when I’m going to NYC by finding which date will net me the best seats.
One thing you can’t get around is the online ticket handling charges. Tickets are expensive as it is and this adds another $10-12 per ticket (not per order) to the face price of the ticket. There’s just no way around this, it’s still cheaper than making a special trip to the box office (for most people).
Believe me when I say that the seats you have will impact your enjoyment of the show. When it comes to selecting your seats I’m a big fan of center orchestra. Luckily most Broadway theaters are moderately sized so you’re typically going to have descent view of the stage from most seats. When ordering tickets take a look at the seating charts before you click the purchase button to get a good idea where your seats are. I typically will sacrifice proximity to the stage to be more towards the center, if it only costs me a few rows. I think one mistakes people make is trying to get as close to the stage as possible. Especially for musicals I don’t like to be any closer than the 5th row. When you’re closer than that it’s a little too much like watching a tennis match and you can miss the broader aspects of the show. If you can get front row mezzanine these are typically great seats.
One method I havefor trying to improve my seat location is to look for single seats. You can often get a more central and closer seat to the stage if you’re willing to break-up groups into single seats. My opinion is I’m not paying $100+ dollars to talk to my friends, you shouldn’t be talking during the show anyway, so who cares if you’re sitting next to them during the show. You can always chat during intermission and after the show or any other day of the week for free.
One feature that is appearing on-line ticket web sites is allowing you to select your seats from an interactive seating chart. This is a fantastic feature and you can see what seats are available to choose from (and really helpful in spotting scatterings of single seats). I hope Telecharge gets this feature soon. Some sites even allow you to see photographs of your view of the stage from the approximate area of you seat. Ticketmaster does have this for some venues as does the Kennedy Center here in DC and BAM in Brooklyn. It’s the obvious next step in user friendliness that should be added to on-line ticket purchasing experience.
BEWARE the far side orchestra seats! If the seat selection is the last 2 or 4 seats of the row these seats may end up being partially obstructed. I’ve ended up in these seats a couple of times and was quite livid that they had been sold as full price tickets when quite clearly I did not have a full view of the stage and actually missed some of the action. Side orchestra seats are fine but try and stay towards the aisles.
BEWARE the difference between the mezzanine and the balcony! I’ve been to shows where my seat mates thought they had scored really great seats for the $$ only to find that they were on the mezzanine level while their seats were actually on the balcony level. I try and stay away from the balcony whenever possible, you’re usually up in the rafters and pretty far back from the stage.
Third Party Ticket Vendors
In general I stay away from third party ticket sellers such as Stub Hub. They will have tickets to sold-out shows but you’re going to pay a premium for them. When I’ve looked at it the ticket prices are easily 25% higher than face value. You’ll end up paying more for worse seats. I’m a big advocate of planning ahead, if you plan in advance you shouldn’t need to resort to these sites. For shows that I’ve really wanted to see or I anticipated being sold out I’ve bought tickets as far as six months in advance.