You can save on summer concert tickets

Market for purchasing has grown, prices vary widely, so know how to shop

May 18, 2008|By Carolyn Bigda | Carolyn Bigda,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

The summer concert season is about to kick off. Ticket prices aren't cheap. But if the rising cost of, well, just about everything is making you rethink a real vacation, a concert could be a worthy indulgence.

Over the last few years, the market for ticket sales has expanded beyond just Ticketmaster, helping to provide a wider range of prices. (If you remember back in the 1990s, the band Pearl Jam canceled a summer tour in protest of Ticketmaster's monopoly on ticket sales, which included surcharges.)

Here's the scoop on budget-friendly strategies to see your favorite bands:

*Ticket prices

Between 1996 and 2003, ticket prices for bands listed in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll climbed an average 11.1 percent a year, according to a Princeton University study published in 2005.

Tickets bought on the secondary market, from scalpers or brokers who buy and resell tickets, could be significantly more expensive than if you bought directly from the box office.

But fans possibly could save a bundle if they waited until the last minute, picking up tickets below the face value from sellers desperate to get rid of their inventory.

*Get the inside scoop.

Today, the dynamic is largely the same. If you buy a ticket directly, you pay the face value, plus any fees.

The problem, however, is that many of the best seats are sold through presales, or before tickets are released to the general public. And once tickets are released, most sales are done through the Internet, meaning the hottest shows can sell out within a few clicks of a mouse.

So, if your heart is set on seeing a particular band this summer, you may want to consider joining (for a fee) the affiliated fan club.

Also, check with your credit card. Issuers such as American Express ( www.ticketmaster.com/americanexpress) and Citibank ( www.privatepass.citi.com) give cardholders access to presale and discounted tickets for select concerts and events.

*Shop the secondary market.

If you are not privy to a presale, it's time to shop around. Depending on the concert, you could save money by using marketplaces such as StubHub.com and TicketsNow.com. TicketsNow was acquired in February by Ticketmaster, while StubHub is owned by eBay Inc.

On these sites, brokers and individuals resell tickets, generally for a fixed price. Tickets are displayed from the lowest to highest price, along with location of the seats and a seating chart.

The format creates competition, said Sean Pate, a company representative for StubHub, because sellers are unlikely to inflate prices if seats of an equal value are listed for less.

Supply also can push prices down, along with timing.

At StubHub, listings for sellers expire within four days of an event. So, if you wait until a week before the concert, you may be able to pick up discounted tickets from sellers anxious to get rid of their supply.

Meanwhile, tickets that are listed a few months before a concert date tend to be the most expensive. Those tickets are aimed at die-hard fans willing to pay any price, especially for exclusive seats.

*Beware the fees.

Even if competition has helped push down some ticket prices, it is still a good idea to shop around.

Take Neil Diamond tickets, for example. The songwriter is scheduled to perform in St. Paul, Minn., this July as part of his tour. On StubHub, the cheapest tickets were $95 each. The service charge fees for a pair were $19, plus $11.95 for shipping. Grand total: $220.95.

On Ticketmaster, similar seats for the same day are $53 each. The service charge for a pair is $23.90. Standard mail shipping is free. Total cost: $129.90.

Which one do you think is most likely to get you singing "Sweet Caroline"?

yourmoney@tribune.com.

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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