Go Ahead

Y ou paid top dollar for your tickets, but your seats are in the third row of the first balcony. Sitting right behind you are people whose tickets cost $15 less. Meanwhile, many charmed souls who paid the same ticket price as you are high-fiving it up near the front. What's up with this? And what--or who--do they know that you don't?
       When it comes to getting great seats, some people are meticulous planners, a few get lucky, some have connections, others pay a lot, and then there are those who've learned how to work the system. Here are some shrewd strategies you can employ to get good seats.

Plan ahead
The early birds often catch the better seats, so plan on doing your homework. And do it well in advance. Jeff Hall, telemarketer for the Minnesota Twins, says they start selling next season's baseball tickets about a month after the current season ends in October. By calling or visiting a box office early, you'll be able to find the best seats for tickets in your price range.
       Strategy: Find out when season schedules are available and the date tickets go on sale for sporting and entertainment events. Decide what and when you want to attend, and buy your tickets as early as possible. First take a look at the seating plan available at the box office. Otherwise ask if they can mail you a copy, or if the seating chart is available on a web site.

Learn the system
Standing near the front of a line for hours doesn't always guarantee you a great seat for a popular concert or game, at least according to one ticket agent. Her theater's box-office windows open two minutes before all tickets also are released for other outlet or phone sales; only the first four people in line have the best shot at getting the tickets they want. After that it's the luck of the draw. If you're fifth in line, you're competing with everyone else who's trying to nab great seats. Ticketmaster processes all ticket outlet, box office, and phone sales through the same system, says Mike Flynn of Ticketmaster's marketing department. The best seats for each ticket price go to those who get through first.

       Strategy: Research how the agency handles ticket sales at box offices, local ticket outlets, and over the phone in your area. Flynn says your best bet may be to get in line at a ticket outlet with low foot traffic. The transaction happens faster, in part because Ticketmaster outlet sales are cash-only propositions. Your credit card is good only for phone sales. Be sure you know the rules ahead of time.

Get on mailing lists
Your best chance to secure great seats to touring Broadway shows might be right in your backyard. A sales agent from a tour company located two hours from Chicago says the big theaters notify tour groups well in advance when a hit show is coming. This allows the tour company time to buy a group of good seats on the main floor and put together a theater package that includes transportation and sometimes a meal. The tour companies then first notify the people on their mailing lists; those who respond fastest get the seats closest to the front. Besides getting good seats this way, you're freed from the hassles and expenses of driving and parking.
       Strategy: Check the yellow pages and call tour groups and entertainment and sports box offices in your area to ask about their schedules and prices. If you like what you hear, ask that your name be added to their regular mailing list. Book your space quickly when you see something you like.

Work the networks
Season ticket holders and major sponsors generally get better seats, but with some effort and luck you might be able to snag some great seats.
       Strategy: Check with your employer to see if your organization holds season tickets to or sponsors any sporting or entertainment events. Ask if your name could be added to the list of those interested in buying unused tickets. Also consider posting a notice on your office bulletin board and tell all your friends and business acquaintances you're looking for tickets. If all goes right, your name might pop up when tickets become available. If your organization sponsors an event, get on the volunteer team and do whatever needs to be done. Your reward might be great tickets.

Work only with legitimate ticket brokers
Many people who use ticket brokers are too busy or too spontaneous to get the kind of seats they want by the time they realize they want them. Ticket broker services range from acquiring seats to planning entire event-related trips, including transportation, tickets, lodging, and entertainment. You pay a premium for the privilege of having someone else do the work--very often at the last minute--to score great seats for you.
       Strategy: If money is a deciding factor, first try to find seats through the ticket office or Ticketmaster, says Barry Lefkowitz, executive director for the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB). If you're willing to pay for good seats but they're unavailable, contact an established ticket broker in your city or state. If necessary, they'll even hook you up with a ticket broker in another state. "Only do business with legitimate ticket brokers who are in good standing with a national or regional ticket brokers trade group," cautions Lefkowitz. You can call NATB's toll-free line at (888) 239-1527 to verify a broker's standing or to report problems.

Stay flexible
If you're flexible and savvy, sometimes you even can find good seats to events that are sold out.

  • If you're willing to break up your group, you might acquire several excellent single seats--maybe right in front of each other.
  • Sometimes good seats become available a day or two before a show because the stage setup is modified and doesn't take as much space as planned, says Ticketmaster's Flynn.
  • Promoters may drop any tickets they haven't distributed at the box office at the last minute. To discourage scalpers from buying up all the open seats, Flynn says this practice isn't publicized.
  • Tour groups may have unfilled seats you can snap up at the last minute, sometimes at a bargain.
  • "Some brokers may sell a ticket for less if they're faced with eating the cost of unsold tickets," says ticket broker Mark Halpern, whose Florida organization, Front & Center Entertainment Group, usually donates its extra tickets to local charities.
       Strategy: Listen to the radio or watch the newspaper for notifications of last-minute seating availability. Get on the phone, call every place you can think of to see if any good seats have opened up. If you get lucky, be prepared to pay the ticket's regular cost; consider any discount an extra bonus.

Columnist Franny Van Nevel is a consumer advocate and writer. She formerly was director of consumer information for the Wisconsin attorney general's office for 12 years, and is a frequent contributor to Woman's Day.

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