Ticket firms grab the lion’s share

Hidden extra charges of up to a third of face value have left the public and some performers distinctly unamused, writes Richard Lloyd
Some who bought tickets for the Lion King faced extra charges of up to 32 per cent. Picture: ContributedSome who bought tickets for the Lion King faced extra charges of up to 32 per cent. Picture: Contributed
Some who bought tickets for the Lion King faced extra charges of up to 32 per cent. Picture: Contributed

Must-see shows and events sell out in minutes these days, with frantic fans flooding to online booking sites to snap up tickets before they go. However, you could find that you end up paying more than you bargained for when you realise how much additional charges, such as “booking” and “delivery” fees, can bump up the price.

Eight in ten people who booked tickets online in the last year told us at Which? that they felt ripped off by the level of compulsory fees that they were charged.

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In addition, two-thirds of people who were charged a booking fee told us that the level of fees seemed expensive in relation to the ticket’s face value and the overwhelming majority of people, 93 per cent, agreed that companies should always show any extra compulsory charges upfront.

As more and more struggle with the rising cost of living, people need to feel confident that any fee they pay is a fair reflection of the service provided.

Clearly this is an issue that is frustrating people, performers and consumers alike.

We have seen comedians like Sarah Millican, Dave Gorman and Jason Manford speaking out publicly against the high level of extra charges added by certain venues and companies.

Last month, we launched a campaign calling on all ticketing companies to Play Fair on Ticket Fees. It has become one of our fastest growing campaigns with more than 36,000 consumers pledging their support within days.

We want to see all compulsory charges displayed upfront with a clear explanation of what they are for. We also want these fees to be set at a fair level. This is reasonable when you consider how much these fees can vary.

In a recent investigation, we uncovered extra charges of up to more than a third of the ticket’s face value when booking online. We found examples of additional fees of up to 32 per cent of the face value of a ticket to see the Lion King at the Edinburgh Playhouse. It was a similar picture when booking for Dolly Parton at the SSE Hydro arena in Glasgow, where we found additional charges of up to 18 per cent.

We also found people are even being charged “delivery fees” for printing tickets out at home or picking them up from the box office.

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The highest charge we found was £3 to go in person to pick up tickets and £2.50 to print from the comfort of your own home.

Nine in ten (91 per cent) people told us they think it’s unfair to be charged for printing their tickets out at home and a similar number (89 per cent) thought the same about being charged to collect tickets from the box office.

Aside from the cost, these fees can often be hidden and unclear, with some companies only revealing the level of additional charges later on in the booking process. This means people are paying over the odds, and are unable to find the best deal, allowing the ticketing companies to operate without competing on price.

We understand that the ticketing companies need to cover the costs of running their websites, printing and distributing tickets and, of course, make a fair profit.

However, companies should already be clearly displaying these charges upfront in the booking process, under the rules enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

In fact we believe that failure to do so could also be unlawful under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Since the launch of our campaign we have been encouraging companies to change their practices and we’ve already heard some positive noises. For example WeGotTickets has echoed our call for greater transparency and believes that fees should reflect the service that’s provided.

But there’s still a lot more that needs to be done.

If we don’t see any evidence that these companies are changing their practices, then we will consider the most effective course of action. 

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It seems that people are willing to vote with their feet. In our survey half of consumers said that additional compulsory charges had put them off from buying tickets for an event altogether.

With consumer frustrations running high, companies may find they have no choice but to Play Fair on Ticket Fees.

• Richard Lloyd is executive director of Which? www.which.co.uk