Tens of thousands of music fans have descended on Glastonbury this weekend, for the UK's largest annual arts festival. Tickets for the full three days would have set you back £155. However, if that didn't seem expensive enough, there's then the £5 booking fee as well as a further £4 transaction fee, taking the total to an eye-watering £164.
When it comes to Glastonbury, the face value is so high that the additional charges only amount to around 6 per cent of the original price. However, for many events, it's now commonplace to pay fees of 20 per cent or more to the booking agent. And if you're brave enough to try and buy tickets from one of the growing number of secondary ticketing companies – such as Viagogo or Seatwave – who sell tickets to "sold-out" events, you could pay a mark-up of as much as 50 or even 100 per cent.
Mark McLaughlin is the chief executive of Ticket-text.com, a newly launched agency which pledges to send people their tickets to their mobile phones. He became so angry about the level of fees being charged to gig-goers that he started up his own agency to bring down prices. With Ticket-text, customers receive their tickets via a text message, which contains a unique bar code. This can then be scanned at the door when you arrive at your gig.
"The big two ticket agencies, Ticketmaster and SeeTickets, have made millions out of hard-working Brits by charging astronomical fees for event tickets. How can they justify charging booking fees sometimes in excess of 20 per cent? As if that's not enough, we then have the ludicrous situation where consumers are charged as much as £3 to print out an email ticket using their own printer at home – this is daylight robbery by any other name," says McLaughlin.
But Nick Blackburn, the managing director of SeeTickets, angrily rejects the suggestion that ticket agencies like his are a rip-off. He points out that his booking fees include VAT, and says the company is forced to charge almost £5 for postage for many tickets because they have to be sent by special delivery, as many venues are unable to reissue them if they're lost in the post.
"Our average [profit] margin is about 12 per cent," he says. "What other business runs on a margin as low as that and provides 24/7 service, a lot of technology and large call centres?"
Chris Edmonds, the MD of Ticketmaster, echoes Blackburn's comments, adding that its fees allow it to continue investing in the company, and help it to provide a good service.
The good news for consumers is that the launch of services such as Ticket-text are likely to help drive prices down. For example, if you're thinking of going to see the Sex Pistols in London on 2 September, SeeTickets will charge you £40 for the ticket, a £4.50 booking fee and a £4.80 transaction fee – a total of £9.30 in fees. Ticket-text, however, charges only a £2.50 booking fee and a £1.50 card processing fee, a saving of £5.30.
The cheapest way to buy tickets is to avoid the booking agent altogether. If you're able to travel to the venue, you should be able to buy tickets at the box office, without a booking fee – although you may be charged a card processing fee if you elect to pay by debit or credit card.
Before you take cash along to pay for your tickets though, consumer group Which? says it's worth remembering that paying by credit card gives you additional protection, if the price of your tickets is over £100. If your event is cancelled, or the promoter breaches their contract, the credit card company will have joint liability, and will have to ensure that you are fully refunded. If you're booking through an agent, the additional protection is particularly valuable, as some agents – such as SeeTickets and Stargreen and Gigantic – will not refund booking fees, even if an event is cancelled.
Beware the secondary market
If you find that tickets for your dream event are sold out, it's almost always still possible to get your hands on a pair for the right price. Many people head to eBay, but be careful to check the seller's reputation, and insist on seeing a photo of the tickets as proof that they really have them.
The alternative to auction sites is to use a secondary ticket agent, such as Viagogo or Seatwave. But beware that these sites will often charge a very large mark-up. For example, a set of tickets to the Wimbledon men's final next weekend, from Viagogo, will set you back over £2,000 – for a ticket that has a face value of just £91.
Sites such as Viagogo and Seatwave are at least legitimate. However, there are many other sites which boast they can get you tickets to sold out events, some of which are much less reputable. Blackburn says that many of these secondary agents – which he says are merely another type of ticket tout – do not even have the tickets at the time they sell them. Instead, they try and attain them elsewhere, once they've got a paid-up customer – or in some cases, they simply disappear with their clients' money.
If you are buying from a secondary agent, check who the company is owned by. If there isn't a UK phone number you can call, you should avoid them.