How to Get Show Tickets When Traveling

Hundreds of tourists and New Yorkers line up at the TKTS booth daily to buy same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
Hundreds of tourists and New Yorkers line up at the TKTS booth daily to buy same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

One of the joys of traveling is seeing live plays and musicals that aren't available in your hometown. Unlike movies, live shows don't necessarily come to a theater near you, and unless you live near a large city like New York or Chicago, chances are that your choice of plays and musicals is fairly limited.

But how do you get tickets to shows in other cities, especially while you're on the road? Fortunately, the Internet has made this process fairly painless. You don't have to go the box office to buy the best seats in the house and you don't have to wait for your tickets to arrive by mail either. All you need to do is boot up your computer and log on to a Web site that offers theater tickets. If you're already out of town, you'll need to use your laptop or smartphone and have an Internet connection, too. Consider getting a 3G adapter for your computer if it doesn't already have one and subscribing to a wireless service. Or you can use the WiFi available from your hotel or the nearest coffee house. Of course, if you have a phone you can always call the box office, but an Internet connection makes the process much easier.


Here are some places you can buy theater tickets while on the road:

From the theater itself -- Even if you don't have time to go to the box office, some theaters make tickets available online. For instance, New York's City Center has tickets available from its Web site.

From a theater Web site -- Most major cities have at least one Web site that sells tickets for shows in that city. For instance, the New York City Theater Web site sells tickets to shows on and off-Broadway. (It also links to the Web sites of the individual theaters.) In Chicago, the Hot Tix Web site offers tickets for Chicago shows. Other large cities will have similar sites. Try using a search engine with the keywords "theater tickets" or "show tickets" and the name of the city. The TheaterMania Web site sells discount tickets for shows in quite a few large cities, as does Goldstar.

From a ticket booth -- Several cities have public booths where you can purchase tickets to shows, often at a considerable discount. Probably the most famous of these are New York's TKTS booths, which can be found in Times Square and two other neighborhoods, but a keyword search will turn up booths in other cities, too.

Now that you know where to buy tickets, how do you get the best seats or find tickets to sold-out shows? We'll talk about that on the next few pages.


Getting the Best Seats to a Show

Pedestrians walk near the marquee of the Broadway show "Spring Awakening" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York.
Pedestrians walk near the marquee of the Broadway show "Spring Awakening" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York.
AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

Nobody wants to get stuck in a corner seat with a bad view of the stage simply because all the good seats were sold out. Fortunately, there are ways to get the best seats in the house:

Buy in advance -- If you buy tickets for a show as soon as they go on sale, it's often easy to get great seats to a show. Be warned, though, that this method doesn't always work. Some theaters make tickets available to subscribers before they make them available to the general public, so the best seats may be sold out by the time you get an opportunity to buy them. You could become a subscriber, but this usually doesn't pay; that is, unless you live near the city where the theater is located. In addition, some theaters deliberately hold back blocks of tickets until shortly before the date of a performance, so you may want to keep checking seat availability just in case.


Use a ticket broker -- Ticket brokers buy blocks of tickets and resell them. This practice is carefully monitored by law, because sales to ticket brokers can make it difficult for legitimate customers to buy tickets from the theater itself -- in fact, if this is done in front of the theater it's called scalping and is often illegal -- but legitimate ticket brokers make it possible to find good seats for shows even when the best seats are no longer available from the box office. The best known ticket broker in the United States is probably Ticketmaster, but Web sites like StubHub (see StubHub coupons) will sell tickets from users who no longer plan to use them. The Web site Front Row Tickets specializes in finding you exactly what its name promises.

There are even Web sites that specialize in helping travelers find tickets to entertainment events. For instance, Travelzoo has a special entertainment section where you can pick up last-minute theater bargains while you're on the road. TravelZoo links you to sites where you can make the purchases, and like a few other sites, they'll give you promo codes that can be used to get discounts. These codes can be entered at the Web site selling the tickets for an instant reduction in ticket price. Another site that frequently offers promo codes is Playbill, though you'll need to sign up for a (free) membership in its Playbill Club to find the best bargains.

If you're using a smartphone (an excellent way to browse the Internet while you're on the road), there are free apps that will streamline the process of finding and buying tickets. For instance, if you have an iPhone you could use the TheaterMania app, the New York City Tickets app or the BroadwayWorld app.

Another question travelers frequently ask is when the best time is to see a show, so that they can plan exactly when to take a trip. We'll answer that question on the next page.


Best Times to See a Show

Theatergoers in New York line up for tickets to see the Broadway musical "Chicago."
Theatergoers in New York line up for tickets to see the Broadway musical "Chicago."
AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews

What are the best times to see a show? And when are tickets relatively easy to get? If you want to see a play or a musical, the performances are traditionally at 7 or 8 in the evening. Not surprisingly, performances during the week can be easier to get tickets for than performances on the weekend, and they're often less expensive during the week, too. Most theaters also have matinee performances, usually around 2 p.m. on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. If this appeals to you, check the theater listings to find out when there's a matinee for the show you'd like to see.

Theaters have a longstanding tradition of being dark on Mondays -- that is, theaters tend to close on Mondays to give the actors and crew a day off. This is because Monday is the day when people are going back to work or school and audiences tend to be smallest. However, this tradition is changing, and in recent years some theaters have chosen to go dark on other days of the week, usually Sundays. Once again, check the theater listings to be sure there's a show on the day you plan to go.


Some shows run for long periods of time, often for years on end. For example, the musical "The Phantom of the Opera" has been running at the Majestic Theater on Broadway since January of 1988. Others have limited runs of just a few weeks. So the question is this: Is there a point in a show's run when you should plan to go? For instance, should you go to see a show when it first opens or wait until later? That's not an easy question to answer. If a show is a hit, the early performances may be sold out and tickets difficult to come by. Waiting until later may make it easier to get tickets, especially if you buy them well in advance. But this is also risky because the show may close before you have a chance to see it. Most shows have a preview period of several weeks before the official opening. It can be easier (and sometimes cheaper) to get tickets for a preview because word of mouth about the show hasn't gotten around yet. There's some risk that early previews may be a bit rough because the cast and crew haven't fully learned the show yet, but in most cases previews are every bit as polished as "real" performances.

If you wait too long to see a show, the original cast may have moved on to other projects and have been replaced by lesser-known performers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The replacement casts are sometimes better than the originals and often feature well-known stars. Still, if you're determined to see a certain performer in a show you should move quickly to catch them before they're gone.

What if you're determined to see a show while you're in town but the box office tells you that it's completely sold out? Well, the good news is there are still ways to get tickets, though it can be expensive and sometimes risky. We'll talk about that on the next page.


Getting Sold Out Tickets

Theatergoers line up for tickets to see the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys."
Theatergoers line up for tickets to see the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys."
AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews

If you're buying your theater tickets while traveling, then you're probably getting them at the last minute. What if there are no tickets available? If a show is popular, there's a good chance that seats will be scarce and you could be turned away empty handed by the box office or the Web site where you planned to buy tickets. Is it possible to get sold out tickets?

Yes, but it's going to take some initiative on your part and it may cost you more money than you intended to pay. It's common for people to sell tickets for popular shows on Web sites like eBay and Craigslist, but if the show is sold out the price is likely to be high. There's also some risk that the tickets will be counterfeit or otherwise unusable. For instance, an unscrupulous seller could report the tickets as lost or stolen and get new ones, causing the theater to cancel the old ones before you have a chance to use them. Fortunately, eBay sellers have a feedback rating that will give you some idea of how reliable they are, but no such ratings exist on Craigslist. The principle of caveat emptor is very much in effect here -- let the buyer beware.


If you don't want to take the risk of buying tickets from an individual, you might be better off trying StubHub, a Web site that brokers deals between tickets sellers and buyers. StubHub guarantees the tickets that you buy through its service, so you won't find yourself out several hundred dollars if the tickets you purchase for your family turn out to be bogus. And even though the tickets are guaranteed by StubHub, you could still find yourself turned away by the theater. The chances of this are slight, but it's something you may want to take into account.

If all of this makes you nervous, consider getting in the standby line. This is a special service that many theaters offer for sold-out performances. If ticketholders cancel at the last minute, the theater will resell the tickets just before the show. Visitors in the standby line can purchase these tickets and can often get terrific tickets for popular shows at regular theater prices rather than the inflated prices imposed by some resellers. Some theaters have a policy called lottery rush where a certain number of tickets to sold-out performances are given out by random drawing at showtime. If you're feeling lucky, go ahead and try for these lottery tickets. Just be sure to check with the theater first, because lottery rush tickets are sometimes restricted to students. Either way, you'll still have to pay for the tickets, but they may be discounted.

And if even standby tickets aren't available, as a last resort you may be able to get standing-room-only (SRO) admission. As the name implies, you won't have a seat, but many theaters allow last minute ticket buyers to stand in the back of the theater or in the aisles for sold-out performances. Contact the theater in advance to see if SRO tickets are available. In some cases, standing room may be restricted to students or other special groups. If standing room is available (and if your family has the stamina for it), you may be able to attend shows that you otherwise wouldn't have been able to see.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Blank, Matthew. "Broadway Rush, Lottery and Standing Room Only Policies." Playbill. May 7, 2007. (May 17, 2010)
  • Front Row Tickets. "Find Front Row Tickets at Front Row" (May 17, 2010)
  • Goldstar. (May 18, 2010)
  • Hot Tix. (May 17, 2010)
  • New York City Center. (May 18, 2010)
  • New York City Theater. (May 17, 2010)
  • Playbill. (May 18, 2010)
  • StubHub. (May 18, 2010)
  • Theatre Development Fund. (May 18, 2010)
  • (May 17, 2010)
  • Ticketmaster. (May 18, 2010)
  • "Best Entertainment Deals." (May 17, 2010)