Exclusive: West End audiences face booking fees of up to £12.25

Natalie Woolman

Audiences are being faced with additional booking charges costing up to £12.25 when buying tickets for West End shows online, The Stage can reveal.

Fees imposed on top of the initial price quoted to customers when buying a ticket online range from nothing for shows including Chicago and War Horse to £12.25 for We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre.

Although people buying tickets for We Will Rock You in person at the venue do not have to pay a booking fee, online buyers must pay a “service charge” of £8.25 if they are buying a top-price, £64 ticket. This fee varies depending what ticket is bought – the fee is £5.50 for a £34 ticket.

British audiences must then pay a further £4 to either have the ticket posted or emailed to them because box office collection is not an option for UK residents online. This brings the total top price for We Will Rock You to £76.25 for online customers in the UK.

For the £12.25 cost of the booking fee levied on the top-price tickets for We Will Rock You, customers could buy tickets to see three other West End shows including fees. These were War Horse, Noises Off and Les Miserables. Audiences could see any of a further five productions at subsidised venues for this price.

There are three other shows with booking fees costing £5 or above – Wicked, Ghost the Musical and Top Hat. The official online retailer for Wicked, Top Hat and We Will Rock You is Ticketmaster.

A spokesman for the company said: “Ticketmaster is a founder member of STAR [the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers] and we look to ensure that there is complete transparency on all associated fees at the time of booking. We try to be as competitive as possible with all our fees, but it’s important to note that Ticketmaster does not unilaterally decide on the level of fees to be charged. There is still a fundamental lack of consumer understanding about why ticket agencies charge per ticket service charges. In many instances, these fees are the sole revenue stream to a ticket agency. However, these fees do not just relate to the cost of processing the consumer’s booking and the distribution of the actual tickets. In many cases, they cover the cost of Ticketmaster providing a broader range of services to our clients, including retail, customer service, marketing and technology support.”

The average booking fee for shows in the West End is £1.96. Broken down, the average fee at commercial theatres is £2.21 and £1.17 at their subsidised counterparts.

Jonathan Brown, secretary of STAR, said: “Booking fees paid to primary ticket agents enable shows to be widely sold through a wide range of markets across the UK and the world, and across the full spectrum of audience budgets – making the West End available and affordable, locally and globally. STAR members, all of whom are authorised agents of the producers and theatres, contribute hugely to the protection of the theatregoing public by taking the leading role in initiatives against the unscrupulous dealers who do so much damage to our theatre in the UK – a role that has been recognised and hugely welcomed by the UK government, the Office of Fair Trading and the Society of London Theatre.”

In December last year, the government announced its decision to ban excessive debit and credit card surcharges. Consumer rights organisation Which? claims this will ban companies making excessive card surcharges on all forms of payment. However, companies will be able to add a small charge to cover their actual costs. Which? claims this should be about 20p to process a debit card payment, and no more than 2% of the transaction value for a credit card.

A spokesman for Which? said: “Which? has long been campaigning for companies to put an end to hidden and disproportionate surcharges. The government’s decision to ban excessive fees was a victory for consumers but this is just a drop in the ocean.

“About 50,000 people supported our campaign to see these “rip-off” charges stamped out so the government must stick to its commitment and ensure the ban happens by December 2012.”

For full results of The Stage’s investigation into West End ticketing, see this week’s print edition of The Stage.

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