Which? puts ticket companies on deadline to defend practices

New Which? research has revealed that online ticket companies are still charging a huge range of often high additional compulsory fees, so we’re giving ticket companies one month’s notice to justify their practices or we will take our evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Six months since we launched our Play Fair on Ticket Fees campaign and with almost 50,000 people pledging their support, the majority of ticket companies are now displaying all their additional charges upfront.

However, Which? is concerned that the ticketing market still isn’t working well for consumers as we reveal further evidence of often high additional charges like booking fees and delivery costs. Previously eight in 10 ticket buyers told us that they think the level of compulsory additional fees are a rip-off and we know that the market is dominated by a handful of large players.

In our latest mystery shopping investigation we looked at the compulsory booking and delivery fees charged for music, theatre and comedy events by 17 ticket companies, across five different events.

We found that across all 85 bookings compulsory fees added on average 18% to face value ticket prices, with the level of fees varying between events for all companies. See Tickets charged the widest range of fees, from 5% of a ticket’s face value for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, to 31% for Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre, both in London.

At the time of our research, the highest individual fee came from Stargeen, who charged 37% on top of the face value ticket price of £25 (£9.25 charge made up of a £7 booking fee plus £2.25 compulsory postage) to see Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre in July 2014. However in response to our campaign Stargreen has now added an option to collect theatre tickets from the box office for free.

At the time of our investigation, of the events we looked at:

  • Six companies (Ticketmaster, Ticketline, Eventim, Gigantic , BH Live and Stargreen) offered no free delivery option;
  • Three companies (Ticketmaster, See Tickets and Eventim) charged consumers a delivery fee of up to £3 for going in person to the box office to pick up tickets;
  • Four companies that offered consumers the option to print their tickets at home (BH Live, Eventim, TicketWeb and Ticket Line) charged a fee of up to £2.50; and
  • Only two companies (AXS and Ticket Factory) offered print-at-home as a free option, we want to see all companies doing this.

Several ticket companies told us that they don’t have control over all the factors that influence the level of fees, however they are responsible for the prices they charge, which is why we want them to justify them.

If the ticketing industry can’t offer an adequate response, we will take our evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd said:

“Consumers can often feel ripped off with widely varying and often high ticket fees so we’re putting companies on notice to step up and Play Fair on Ticket Fees. They need to justify their fees and treat their customers fairly, or we will take our evidence to the Competition and Markets Authority.”

 

Kelly Wood, Live Performance Official, The Musican’s Union said:

“Rising booking fees represent a significant problem to the live music industry at all levels – from grassroots venues where the fees can be disproportionate in relation to the ticket price, to arenas where additional fees can push ticket prices into unaffordable territories.

“Large and unexplained fees can damage the artist/fan relationship as consumers don’t necessarily understand who is setting the level of fees and subsequently who profits from them. It’s vital that fees are proportionate and transparent in order that fans aren’t deterred from attending events, as this could have a devastating effect on artists and the future of live music in the UK.”

Notes to editors:

1. We launched our Play Fair on Ticket Fees campaign on Tuesday 17th December, calling for ticket companies and entertainment venues to:

  • End hidden fees – show all compulsory charges upfront
  • Justify their fees – give a clear explanation of what they’re for and set them at a fair level.

Find out more and sign our petition here www.which.co.uk/ticketfees

2. Ticket fees are the compulsory additional charges that ticket companies charge consumers for purchasing tickets online.  These fees fall into two main categories ‘booking fees’ which can apply per ticket or transaction and ‘delivery fees’ which relate to how you receive your tickets.  These fees are often described as ‘fulfilment fee’, ‘transaction fee’, ‘service charge’, ‘handling fee’ and ‘administration charge’.

3. The amount the ticket companies can charge for these fees isn’t restricted by the regulations that protect consumers from excessive card surcharges.  Rather, the rules that relate to these charges are found in the Committee of Advertising Practice Code (or CAP Code) which is administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The rules in the CAP Code reflect the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which require all compulsory fees, whether fixed or variable, to be clearly disclosed at the outset when the ticket price is first displayed.

4. Methodology: Between March and May 2014, Which? Money looked at ticket prices and extra costs charged by 17 ticketing companies for music, theatre and comedy events. We went through the online booking process for five different events with each company – a total of 85 bookings. Where possible, we chose the same event with a range of companies.

5. Below is the full list of 17 ticketing companies that we looked at for our latest research:

  • ATG Tickets
  • AXS
  • BH Live
  • Delfont Mackintosh
  • Eventim
  • Gigantic
  • Lastminute
  • London Theatre Direct
  • Love Theatre
  • See Tickets
  • Stargreen
  • Theatretickets.co.uk
  • Theatre Tickets Direct
  • Ticket Factory
  • Ticketline
  • Ticketmaster
  • Ticket Web

6. Below is a table of the highest mark-up of the five events we looked at with each of the 17 companies:

Ticket company

Highest mark-up of the five events we looked at with each company

Which event did this mark-up apply to?

ATG 28% (£4 transaction fee plus £3.90 per ticket fee on top of £28.50 ticket) Lee Mack, Edinburgh Playhouse, 11.11.14
AXS 22% (£3.25 service charge plus £2.75 standard mail on top of £27.50 ticket) The Saturdays, BIC Windsor Hall, 22.9.14
BH Live 28% (£4.25 booking fee plus £7.50 special delivery on top of £42.50 ticket) Tom Jones, Osborne House, Isle of Wight, 27.7.14
Delfont Mackintosh 9% (£2.25 booking fee on top of £25 ticket) Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre, 26.7.14
Eventim 23% (£3.75 booking fee plus £2.50 print at home on top of £27.50 ticket) Lee Mack, London Eventim Apollo, 24.10.14
Gigantic 22% (£3.85 booking fee plus £2.20 postage on top of £27.50 ticket) The Saturdays, BIC Windsor Hall, 22.9.14
Lastminute 16% (£4.00 booking fee on top of £24.50 ticket) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre, 21.6.14
LondonTheatreDirect 20% (£8.00 booking fee on top of £39.50 DRS ticket)(£14 booking fee on top of £70.00 CATCF ticket) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre, 21.6.14 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 21.6.14
Love Theatre 22% (£6.50 booking fee on top of £29.50 ticket) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre, 21.6.14
See Tickets 31% (£4.75 booking fee plus £2.75 box office collection on top of £24 ticket) Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre, 26.7.14
Stargreen 37% (£7.00 booking fee plus £2.25 postage on top of £25 ticket) Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre, 26.7.14
Theatretickets.co.uk 29% (£8.50 booking fee on top of £29.50 ticket) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre, 21.6.14
TheatreTicketsDirect 28% (£16.29 booking fee on top of £57.50 ticket) Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Gielgud Theatre, 08.08.14
Ticket Factory 21% (£3.42 booking fee plus £2.50 fulfilment fee on top of £28.50 ticket) Lee Mack, Kings Theatre, Glasgow, 29.10.14
Ticketline 19% (£2.60 service charge, £4.40 card processing fee, £5.95 secure delivery on top of a £70 ticket) Robbie Williams, LG Arena, Birmingham, 06.07.14
Ticketmaster 22% (£2.40 booking fee plus £3.00 box office collection on top of £25 ticket) Shakespeare in Love, Noel Coward Theatre, 26.7.14
TicketWeb 24% (£1.92 booking fee plus £1.95 postage on top of £16.00 ticket) Pete Firman, Lowry, Manchester, 13.9.14

7. You can find the results of our consumer research and original investigation here

8. You can find more information about hidden ticket charges on the Which? Consumer Rights website here

 

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