What’s behind those high fees when you order tickets for shows?

Moneyville was doing a series of articles about extra fees. So I mentioned my experience ordering tickets for the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre.

Then I heard from others who were shocked at the size of the ticket fees. Is there a way to get around them?

Seems to me there’s a trend to advertise lower prices and then zap you with surcharges. It’s hardly informed consent if you don’t learn the total cost of the transaction until the very end.

Are the ticket fees here to stay? And why do you get less and less service for the charges you pay?

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

10 thoughts on “What’s behind those high fees when you order tickets for shows?”

  1. I agree with you! I bought tickets to the Canadian Open Tennis Championships last August at York University. When I got the bill, I was charged a $24 “facilities fee”.

    I wrote the President of Tennis Canada to ask about the purpose of the fee and to suggest that it be more prominently disclosed (it was not mentioned anywhere on the main web pages and was not mentioned by the customer service rep who took my order) and he didn’t even have the decency to reply.

    Needless to say, that is the last Tennis Canada event that I will attend, which is too bad for me and too bad for them.

  2. A more outrageous example, in my view, is being charged a fee for booking and paying for tickets online, and printing the tickets at home.

    Take the Stratford Festival, for example. I recently purchased tickets online and received an automated email containing the tickets to be printed at home.

    The total cost included a handling charge (just over $7 for two tickets).

    I defy anyone to find any “handling” of my order. Everything was done online without involving anyone at the Festival.

    I suspect this type of added charge is quite common and not unique to one particular company.

  3. I attend a lot of theatre, sporting events, book readings, and I ALWAYS buy my tickets online.

    The fees that show up just before I actually buy the tickets are an irritant. If they are necessary, I wish they were included in the ticket price.

    For example, a few years ago, I ordered, online 6 tickets for a Valentine’s Day concert at Roy Thomson Hall.

    After I had clicked “6” for the number of tickets at a certain cost per ticket, I was then informed there was a $7 per ticket service fee (that’s $42 extra, for what???).

    It got better at the next step, arranging for the delivery of the tickets. I had two choices: Mail to My House or Pick Up at the Box Office.

    For mailing the tickets to my house, the charge was $3. For me picking them up at the box office, the charge was $3.

    So, I paid $45 on top of the 6 ticket costs for a transaction that took just a few seconds. If I hadn’t already invited the other people, I probably would have cancelled the order.

    I love to attend these events and I don’t live or work downtown, so can’t purchase tickets in person. I don’t like feeling like a sucker, however, when these extra fees are charged and I have to pay them in order to get the tickets.

  4. I’ve been finding the fee articles in the Toronto Star to be quite interesting lately. The unpredictability of actual bottom-line prices has long bothered me.

    I always assume the initial price quoted is incorrect (airlines are the worst for this!

    I had to pay some kind of weird ‘agricultural tax’ for recent tickets to fly into the US, but I also think it is misleading advertising for airlines to advertise one way prices for travel when very, very few in fact fly one way.

    However, I wonder if Canada could do better by taking a page from the British playbook. One of the best things about consumer life in the UK is that all taxes are built right into retail prices.

    If I see a book that is priced at 10 pounds, you actually pay 10 pounds at the teller. It is fantastic!

    Given that the HST is supposed to simplify taxes for businesses (I’m still skeptical that the HST reforms are actually going to be beneficial to the average person but I’m keeping an open mind about it), maybe the time is right to copy the British in building taxes into the sticker price.

    For those consumers that want the full breakdown, it could be mandated that a business has to provide a detailed receipt.

  5. I have an ongoing problem with Concert Productions International(CPI) and would like some help and to warn the public about the dangers of using VISA for phone orders.

    On July 29th, I attempted to order tickets for the Capital Hoedown from their website, but it was not working.

    I used the 1-866-628 9154 phone number to order 3 tickets and parking. This was a 3 day show in Ottawa. I ordered for the Thursday only, cost was to be $256.

    By Monday, Aug. 2, no tickets had arrived. I contacted customer service via email and almost immediately 3 tickets arrived in my email for the full 3 days, totalling $459.05.

    Repeated emails to customer service brought no response. Calling the 1-866 line confirmed my order was for one day and someone would call to straighten this out.

    Repeated emails and calls brought no response until Thursday, Aug. 5th, when $619.45 worth of unordered tickets arrived in my email.

    Calling the 1-866 number, I was told this would be looked after and lots of others were also complaining.

    Needless to say, none of this has been looked after by CPI. I finally spoke with President Denis Benoit (613-360-8105, denis@concertinternational.com) on Aug. 11th and he assured me this would be fixed.

    He only called after I contacted radio station Y101, one of the major sponsors of this show. Nothing was fixed. Emails are now returned undeliverable and his phone says he is not available.

    I contacted VISA, but because I ordered over the phone and do not have an original receipt, they would not help with the original overbilling.

    This leaves me out $203.05. The second order for $619.45 was reversed by VISA, as I never placed this order.

    According to VISA, if you do not have the original receipt, you cannot dispute overbilling. Vendors will not even be approached to confirm orders without this receipt.

    Consumers need to be warned about ordering over the phone or internet even when using a usually reputable company.

  6. Very timely subject. I just ordered tickets from Ticketking this week for Priscilla in Toronto.
    Two 45 dollar tickets ended up being close to 120 bucks.
    13 dollars in HST.
    Each ticket had a 3.50 “service” charge even though I’m printing it out at home, using MY ink and MY computer equipment.
    (Picking it up at the theatre was also 3.50)
    Then a 6.50 “service” charge for my order!

    I actually called because I figured there must have been a double charge somewhere. Nope.
    “There should be 16.50 in service charges on your order” was the response.

    Are they taking notes from the airlines?

    Needless, to say, I guess I won’t be going to the theatre much anymore. I’ll wait and go in the US.

  7. Just buy your tickets at the box office.

    Problem solved.

    You are complaining about “service fees” and “handling fees” when buying tickets online, which are pretty much the only reason these online outlets are even selling the tickets in the first place – that’s the only way they make the money!

    They don’t get a cut off the ticket price itself (all of it goes to the venue), so they have to charge you a fee per ticket to make some profit.

    Now, obviously, in common sense world it doesn’t make any sense to charge a fee per ticket but rather per order (as they are only paying a fee per transaction – set fee + percentage of the total cost), but I guess once Ticketmaster was able to get away with charging fee per ticket issued (even if you are printing it in the comfort of your own home) everyone else jumped on the bandwagon.

    And guess what – it’s not these companies to blame in the first place.

    It’s sheeple like you and me to blame, for letting Ticketmaster get away with that idea of charging ridiculous fees per each ticket issued, without complaining or raising any hell, that allowed not only them to keep doing what they’ve been doing but everyone else to take on the same model and start their own ticket selling venues.

    Get over it. Until you get all your friends and family that buy tickets online, and they do the same, to revolt and cause a ruckus about this issue, nothing will change.

    Enjoy the rest of your capitalist infused day…

  8. I bought 2 tickets online last Friday for the Royal Ontario Museum and paid a $2 service fee for each. I could have bought them at the Museum but I was concerned about getting the time that I wanted for the Chinese exhibit; we are seniors and didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting there only to find that we couldn’t see the exhibit. $4 isn’t very much and I suppose it was worth it but it just made an expensive visit that much more expensive.

  9. I haven’t got a problem with a company charging a “convenience” fee for ordering tickets online. I think $2 a ticket is reasonable.

    What I do have a problem with is usurious rates for doing so. $16.50 for two tickets? Regardless of whether you print ’em off or pick ’em up?

    It’s also a problem when they fail to disclose these fees until after your order is submitted and your card charged.

  10. I agree that the service charges should be disclosed up front, so you know how much your ticket will actually cost.

    Not everyone can go the box office to buy tickets. Not everyone lives in the city where the shows are being held, so it is a price we have to pay for this service.

    Just put the true cost up front like the airline ad were forced to do.

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