Can We Kiss Ticket Junk Fees Goodbye?

We’ve all been there — excited when we hear that our favorite performer or sports team has just announced tickets to an upcoming show or game. We log into our Ticketmaster or other ticketing platform and madly scour the seat options, find ones we can afford and race to checkout — only to find that those seemingly affordable tickets now suddenly cost 25% more than their face value because of unexpected fees. Now, we must instantly decide whether the seats are truly worth the new price. We either reluctantly pull out our credit card and purchase the tickets, release the seats and search in a less expensive tier or dejectedly exit the site and stew in our disappointment at missing out.

And those are just primary seller platforms — reseller platforms like StubHub and Vivid Seats often sell tickets at far above face value and then tack on fees, blasting the price into the stratosphere and out of reach for most fans. Many, including the Biden administration, refer to these hidden add-on fees as junk fees because they are not displayed upfront, so consumers feel cheated. Surprise fees on live event tickets typically include service or convenience, processing, delivery and facilities costs, plus taxes. Consumers also get hit with last-minute undisclosed fees from travel industry businesses, such as resort fees, cleaning fees and other service charges.

Live event ticketing businesses, airlines, resorts and travel sites have been slapping these hidden fees onto the checkout price for years, angering consumers. Finally, things are about to change.

Are Junk Fees Going Away?

Yes, and no. Early in 2023, the Biden administration proposed legislation to reduce or eliminate undisclosed fees on live event tickets, airline fees for sitting together, resort fees and more. In mid-June, Biden met with executives from event and travel ticketing businesses to discuss the need for more transparency in ticket pricing. Representatives from Live Nation (the event promoting and venue operating arm of the business), Ticketmaster (Live Event’s ticketing sales platform), SeatGeek, AirBnb, Dice, xBk, the Pablo Centre at the Confluence and Newport Festivals Foundation attended the meeting.

During the meeting, Live Nation/Ticketmaster agreed to begin displaying the total ticket price, aka all-in pricing, across their sites starting in September. Live Nation owns or operates more than 200 venues and festivals nationwide, and Ticketmaster sells 70% of the nation’s major concert tickets, meaning the improvements will affect millions of fans.

SeakGeek, a primary and reseller platform, agreed to make similar changes. The other ticketing businesses that attended the meeting were already displaying all-in pricing. Airbnb recently added a total price display feature so vacation renters can compare prices between properties more efficiently.

We Can Expect an Almost Immediate Improved Fan Experience for Live Events

We should note, the additional junk fees aren’t being eliminated, but now consumers will know upfront the total cost before they get to the checkout page. Consumers make buying decisions based on the information available to them, so they can now make better-informed decisions. Displaying unanticipated or unknown fees in advance eliminates that unwelcome surprise. That alone will improve the entire live event experience!

More Efficient and Seamless Ticket Shopping

All-in pricing should also make the shopping process more seamless. As noted above, we typically search for tickets in a pricing tier that matches our budget and interest in the event. However, if the hidden fees push the ticket prices beyond our comfort zone, many of us must release our seats and immediately begin searching for new spots in a more affordable section. In addition to wasting time, tickets often sell fast, so even those few extra minutes can reduce the number of available desirable seats in another area.

Live Event Pricing Woes Aren’t Over Yet

All-in pricing is a step toward improving fan experiences, but the industry is still fraught with hassles and predatory pricing. Computer bots and other bulk purchasing practices drive up ticket prices by buying them at face value and then reselling them for hundreds or even thousands of dollars above face value. These “bad actors” usually configure their website to look like the venue or artists’ primary seller site, further misleading fans.

Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing, which changes ticket prices based on supply and demand, also comes under fire for being unfair. Additionally, many Taylor Swift fans are still upset over Ticketmaster’s disastrous mishandling of her Eras Tour ticket sales in November 2023. Swift’s fans are suing Ticketmaster and Live Nation because many were issued pre-sale codes but were unable to buy tickets. Most of Swift’s fans are legendarily loyal and don’t blame her, but other artists often feel cheated because fans sometimes blame them for the inflated prices.

Better Legislation May Be on the Way

If nothing else, the wildly publicized Taylor Swift / Ticketmaster debacle has shed more light on the need to improve live event ticketing practices. Legislation exists, but it hasn’t been very effective at preventing predatory pricing. In 2016, the BOT Act (Better Online Ticket Sales) passed that bans the use of bots, but abusers rarely face any penalty — and it’s difficult to enforce.

As of May 2023, legislators such as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are working on legislation aimed at protecting fans from predatory pricing. Their bill would increase pricing transparency, prohibit bot use, reduce resellers’ ability to mimic primary sellers’ sites and strengthen venue and artists’ rights. Many industry experts would like to see the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general impose hefty civil penalties on bad actors to reduce predatory pricing.

For now, we’ll have to applaud the all-in pricing improvements, but a tidal wave of support for further improvements may finally drive the needed change.

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