The very best / cheapest method is to buy only across the counter at the box office itself, or on the telephone numbers listed on this website, in the London Theatre Guide - either the folding leaflet or in the press under the show title and performance times section, NOT the general small advertisement columns.
The only other reliable method is buying from authorised Theatre Ticket Agencies. Agencies are independent companies who work with theatres to sell tickets on their behalf. The reason is that theatres can only reach so many clients at a time, and agencies often have their own special market - like corporate or incoming tourists. Agencies were also historically (and indeed for weekend performances still) made to pay for tickets in advance thus taking the financial risk of unsold seats from the producer's bank balance to their own. Their profits now come from either adding their own service fee to the ticket price or from a commission paid on sales by the theatre producer. Needless to say the service fee option is the norm!
Legitimate agencies carry the 'STAR' Logo in their advertisements.
STAR can be contacted by telephone on 0844 879 4272 or click here for the Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers website. Additionally, most STAR member websites carry a further "verification" system graphic:
Simply clicking on it will open a new box confirming the website address of the page you are seeing, and verifying that it is a member of STAR.
Members include Lovetheatre.com - who operate the Theatremonkey Ticketshop, telephone 020 7420 9778 (0044 207 420 9778 if calling from outside the United Kingdom), Encore, Ticketmaster, Albemarle, Leicester Square Box Office, Group Line, See Tickets, LondonTheatreDirect, Ticket Web (a division of Ticketmaster which also sell on behalf of the Society Of London Theatres website), London Theatre Booking (incorporating Fenchurch and Rakes ticket agencies), Lashmar (part of Lovetheatre.com), Elondontickets, Ingresso (Fromtheboxoffice.com), lastminute.com (who sell via Encore) and Todaytix.
Theatremonkey.com is proud to be an Affiliate Member of the Society, supporting its work and protecting Theatremonkey.com guests at all times.
Website details (where applicable) for these agencies are given on the links page of this site.
These agents normally add a maximum 25% booking fee to tickets and are committed to the best in service. Please also be aware that if an event is cancelled, refunds may be limited to the price of the ticket only, with the 'booking fee' not refunded. This applies particularly to pop concert events.
ALSO WORTH KNOWING:
Some companies buy up of website names that LOOK LIKE, BUT ARE NOT the official theatre website. For example, the official site to buy tickets from the Prince Edward Theatre is that of the owners - delfontmackintosh.co.uk. A search engine result, though, brings up sites like "ThePrinceEdwardTheatre.com" (example, not an actual or genuine site) before the official one in the listing. Sites like the fictional "ThePrinceEdwardTheatre.com" are owned by agents - either STAR members, STAR sub-agents or even touts / scalpers. Whoever, they are NOT the box office website and you'll pay more than you would via the official site. Theatremonkey advises strongly that you check exactly who you are booking through. On its listings pages, the monkey always shows the official sites first, followed by legitimate agents. It urges all guests to take care, as this trend is trapping even the wariest in the jungle.
You will also find that many websites sell the same tickets through the same ticket agents at the same prices. For example, lastminute.com sells tickets through Encore's website. The easy way to tell is looking at the address when you click through from the original website. You'll find the website's name first, then the owner of the ticket agency they are selling through, for example lastminute.encoretickets.com. A double check is to take the second part of the address "encoretickets.com" and put it into your machine to find the original ticket agent's website.
On the street, alas, one agency looks like another. Most (if not telephone only businesses) have shopfronts in the theatre district, plastered with adverts and offers. Look for the STAR logo, and When buying, insist on exercising your rights enshrined in the Price Indications (Resale of Tickets) Regulations 1994. The regulations are available in PDF format from http://www.dti.gov.uk/ccp/topics1/guide/pricetickets.pdf. The LAW says you MUST be told the face value - box office direct price - of tickets before any fees are added. Always also demand to be shown the location of your ticket on a seating plan.
Seating plans always show the 'Stalls' - "Orchestra Stalls" to Americans (the seats in the lowest part of the venue, below stage level) and any circles / balconies further up the page, divided off by thin lines. The Stalls is always the largest block of seats with the most rows in it. Row A (or a letter close to it - B or C; or prefixed by them AA, AB, BB, AX etc) is the front row in every section of a theatre, stalls or circles / balconies. Pillars show up as black dots on seating plans, and an unusual white space in among rows of seats is also a giveaway. If you are not shown a seating plan, and your tickets are not pointed out on it, walk away.
Other good signs are credit card taking facilities with the name on the machine matching that of the agency. Most agents issue their own tickets either computerised or on hand-written pre-printed vouchers which have spaces for date, seat numbers and theatre to be filled in, above a bold printed seating area word e.g. Stalls or Dress Circle etc. If they have been given actual tickets from the theatre, the name or initials of the agency will appear on the ticket, usually near the bottom of it.
A compliment slip or A4 headed notepaper leaf is NOT recognised to be a ticket! Similarly, a ticket does not live in a sealed envelope. NEVER accept tickets in one to open later. OPEN IT THERE AND THEN (see warning story), better still, walk away and leave the envelope in the scoundrel's pocket and the cash in yours. A legitimate agent in a shop will give you a ticket. Never agree to call back later or pick up a ticket at the box office before the show. Ticket prices should NEVER be blacked out by inkblots or cut off a ticket.
The major London department stores - Harrods, Selfridges etc have ticket sales desks, as do major hotels. If in doubt, use these genuine stores.
Really bad signs include handwritten notices offering tickets to major sporting events like "Wimbledon" and the World Cup finals. Such special tickets would not normally be traded on the street - indeed in Britain it is illegal to re-sell most football match tickets. Signs promising "Half Price Tickets" should be ignored too, unless the agent can prove S.T.A.R membership.
A good agency will also offer you a single seat. A ticket tout / scalper will normally refuse or charge you a "premium" for breaking up their "pair" of tickets. This is a very good way of spotting the legitimate operator - any real agency can return an unsold ticket to the box office for use, a tout cannot and must sell what they have.
Streets and around the TKTS ticket booth in Leicester Square
Ignore anyone standing outside a theatre or next to the TKTS half price ticket booth queuing line offering tickets. You will end up in the worst possible seats (if you get in at all) and pay eight times the face value for the privilege.
The major, theatre industry run, half price theatre ticket booth in Leicester Square is the large white booth standing alone near the Hampshire Hotel, on the Square itself.
Some other shops offering half price tickets as you walk from the underground station towards this safe haven may be genuine S.T.A.R. outlets (click here to help spot them), others, though, MIGHT sell you a ticket at half the price the owner thinks of, (five times the correct price to begin with) not half face value. You may also be sold a cheapest balcony seat worth £10, relying on your ignorance of theatre terms. In England 'balcony' is the fourth circle at the top of the theatre. You are duped into thinking 'balcony' means the 'Dress Circle' (the first circle, containing the prime seats worth £80+ for musicals). See First Time Tips on this website.
The TKTS Booth.
Transactions at the legitimate half price ticket booth take place from Monday to Saturday 9am to 7pm; Sunday from 10.30am until 4 pm through the little window openings facing the Odeon West End. The choice of shows is printed on laminated sheets slid into a freestanding zigzag signboard to the side of the booth, and on electronic signboards. They are removed at closing or as all seats are sold (though one reader reports that if you ask nicely, they will phone the theatre to get extra seats if they are not too busy - the monkey can't verify this will happen all the time - but felt it was useful to know.). Show titles crudely chalked on the signboard outside opening hours should be ignored, as should the gentlemen standing by the signs.
As reader Kathy Sutter, a TKTS fan says -
"Note the real 1/2 price booth all those shops on that side street are NOT even close to really 1/2 price"
Also note that on "film premiere" days at the various cinemas on Leicester Square, you may have to approach the booth from another direction. Ask a police officer for advice and be prepared to walk around the "long way" (often via an access road from Orange Street) if necessary.
www.tkts.co.uk gives an idea of what is on offer up to 7 days ahead, while their Facebook page and Twitter give updates too. Remember, though, to ignore the Twitter Twits who push their own sites on this service. Make sure you only use the genuine TKTS one.
Tickets for sold out events, notably concerts, are often offered for sale on online auction / marketplace sites. While sellers may well be legitimate, and abiding by the trading site's purchase codes, you have no way of telling who they are. Inadvertently you could be buying from a tout / scalper. Prices are also very high. "Let the buyer beware" is the motto here.
Theatremonkey does not endorse buying from these sources. It does not sell tickets itself except via legitimate fellow S.T.A.R member agencies, and does not participate in any form of online auction. Links from auctions to this website are not made by Theatremonkey and Theatremonkey.com DOES NOT take responsibility for the legitimacy of the seller or tickets being offered. Please do however use the data on this site to make up your own mind about each deal.
A true reader's story... and one from a box office manager...
On a short visit to London it is tempting to pay anything for a ticket to a SOLD OUT show. If you are desperate, a tout or scalper promising seats is inviting. If you have cash to burn and a head for heights, a love of a gamble, eagle eyes which can see through a pillar or a face at 200 feet away, and truly, truly, want to just be in the theatre where the show is playing: Try a scalper. Someone has to get lucky, even playing 'Three Card Monty' or 'Russian Roulette.'
Just remember, you are contributing to a world of clerks attacked in the street as an encouragement to supply tickets, thieves stealing from tourist or employer, money laundering, etc.
Your action also helps keep you out of the theatre by making it worthwhile for touts to buy tickets to sell on. Theatremonkey has attended hot shows with empty seats - caused by touts buying ahead of ordinary people. This time, no one bought from them. If this happened EVERY time, the crime would end as the market ceased to exist. Poor left out you could have bought that ticket first.
Still want that ticket now????
P.S. Don't bother expecting the police to help you. They will be brilliantly sympathetic of course, but the chances of prosecution are minimal. The theatres and producers have disclaimers to rely on, and so there is little sympathy going. Like we said… Still want that ticket now???
Very sadly, in March 2003 the monkey received this genuine story from a reader. The person asks that this be posted here as a helpful warning to others who might be tempted by the many shops around the theatre district:
"We had our first visit to London for many years to meet friends there. We booked one show at a ticket office in Leicester Square (The middle booth of three within a few yards of each other) and got four tickets for 'Mamma Mia' at the Prince Edward Theatre.
We didn't know that the "Grand Circle" was, in reality, the Upper Circle and the man in the booth certainly didn't tell us. He never told us either that we were paying a premium for the seats, £30 for seats at a face value of £20; and we finished with four seats that we later found Theatremonkey labelled on your web site in RED.
The tickets were waved in front of us and then put into an envelope with the receipt and the envelope was sealed. Neither our friends or ourselves thought to look at either the tickets or the receipts until later that day at the theatre and found we were unable to see the faces of any of the cast, nor was I able to hear more than a few words of the dialogue. So much so that I decided to leave the theatre at the intermission but only stayed because I didn't want to spoil the evening for the other three any more than it had been already spoiled.
Stupid? - yes we were. Gullible? - yes. But we are not regular theatregoers and, sadly, I still tend to trust people. It was bad enough being ripped off (we checked with a large number of people at the theatre and found that they had all paid face value for the tickets) but a very rare evenings enjoyment was totally spoiled."
In May 2007 the following was passed on by a prominent West End theatre Box Office Manager*:
*note that the above company is referred to specifically, and is not to be confused with any other bearing a similar name. Any co-incidence or confusion is not intended and cannot be implied. Opinion expressed is that of the reporting person of an actual event only.
www.eventandticketexpert.co.uk focuses on attending, organising and getting tickets for events, and has great advice and articles on the subject of tickets and their resale too.
PLEASE, PLEASE BE CAREFUL!