Don't Get Misled By Online Ticket Resellers

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Many sites that resell tickets are misleading. Many use URLs that are similar to box-office sites and get top search engine placements with paid ads. On most reseller sites, most prices are higher than the original ticket prices, and the seats you get may differ from what you expect. In some cases, the tickets will be counterfeit or will never get delivered. It is safest to deal with the official venue Web site. Official sites that do not sell tickets tickets directly will either link to an online service agency (such as Ticketmaster) and/or provide a phone number to call for reservations.

I am not a fan of Ticketmaster because I believe that its service fees (often as much as $10 per ticket plus a delivery fee) are unfairly high. But, in my experience, they tell you clearly what you will be charged, and they deliver genuine tickets. If you can pick up tickets at the venue box office, you will save money. If this is not practical, you may be able to order tickets by phone from the venue box office.

I don't normally write about problems that are not health-related. But a few months ago, my wife and I had a bad experience that caused me to investigate how tickets are resold. The ticket resale marketplace, estimated to be $8 billion worldwide [2], involves several problems:

Official and box-office sites usually have seating diagrams that tell you the list prices of the tickets. The site that triggered this article had a seating plan with prices marked for each seat, but they did not indicate that these were not the list prices. Since every other site I had previously used had displayed list prices, I assumed that I was looking at list prices. I didn't find out that they were higher until the tickets arrived by e-mail. When my wife and I complained to VISA, the reseller claimed that because their site indicated that ticket prices may be higher than the original price, we knew or should have known that they might be higher. I argued that because they knew the price was higher, they should have said so, and that the honest way to present the information is to disclose the list price and the markup separately.

Government Action

In 2014, TicketNetwork and two of its marketing partners affiliated ticket resellers settled charges brought by the FTC and the Connecticut Attorney General by agreeing to pay $1.4 million into Connecticut's fund for education and enforcement and to refrain from deceptively advertising their services [1]. According to the complaint:

The complaint also named Charles A. Lineberry and Ryan J. Bagley, who were officers of Ryadd, Inc., and James P. Moran, who owned and managed of SBO, as defendants.

In 2016, Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS Act) to outlaw the use of computer programs ("bots") to buy the best tickets to popular events so they can be resold at inflated prices. In an article in The New York Times, Ticketmaster estimated that bots have been used to buy 60% of the most desirable tickets to many shows [2].

BBB Reports

People who feel they have been misled should complain to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB cannot force a company to behave ethically, but sometimes the fear of a poor rating will will inspire a company to fix the problem. The BBB pages also enable consumers to read other people's complaints and ratings. The nature of the complaints is often more useful than the BBB's overall rating. So if you find that a company has many complaints, be sure to read a representative selection. Here are two reports I have found for ticket resellers who had many complaints. If you find any others, please e-mail me.

Company Name BBB Rating Complaints Negative Reviews

Ticket Fulfillment Services LP
23000 Sussex Highway #232; Seaford, DE 19973

C- 153 44
Online City Tickets
27 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606
None 359 225

The Bottom Line

My advice is simple. If you are looking for tickets to an event and have no reason to think they are scarce, make sure you deal only with official sites and do not, under any circumstances, do business with a reseller. If you still want to deal with a reseller, make sure you understand that any displayed prices are likely to be higher than the original price—and read complaints in the Better Business Bureau report if one exists.

References

  1. TicketNetwork and marketing partners Ryadd and secure box office settle charges of deceptively marketing resale tickets. FTC news release, July 24, 2014.
  2. Sisario B. Congress moves to curb ticket scalping, banning bots used online. The New York Times, Dec 8, 2016.

This article was posted on April 2, 2017.

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