Tips For Buying Event Tickets Online

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Your wedding anniversary is coming up and your wife is dying to see Clay Aiken in Spamalot. Unfortunately, tickets are sold out on that special night.

The Yanks and the Mets are tied in the Subway Series, and you must go to the final game. The only seats left are nosebleed.

Madonna's going on tour?! Ticketmaster.com is flooded with fans, and all three shows sell out in less than five minutes.

Many consumers facing these dilemmas have flocked to Web sites like StubHub, TicketsNow, RazorGator, TicketLiquidator, and TicketExchange, where fans and professional brokers resell excess tickets. Forrester Research projects that the $2.6 billion online business will nearly double by 2012.

However, the opportunity can come with a hefty cost -- sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars more than the original face value of the tickets.

"It can be a tricky game," says Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports. "If you don't know what to expect it can leave you feeling ripped off."

Consumer Reports, which is published by the nonprofit Consumers Union, tested the sites to figure out how to score the best prices. The strategy involves a game of waiting for the right moment while gauging demand.

Just a week before a Yankees-Indians game, Consumer Reports found first-row seats behind home plate for $22 less than face value. But, at the time, the Yankees were in a slump.

On the other hand, a Santana concert ticket would have cost $232 -- more than twice the initial face value -- three weeks before the May 20 show at the Filmore in San Francisco. Those who waited in line at the box office a half-hour before the event got a much sweeter deal: $92 per ticket, just $2.50 more than the original value.

Here are some tips to getting the best deals:

Be realistic about the market. If it's a popular artist, big game or hyped-up theater performance, you're less likely to get a bargain. Big venues and small cities tend to have lower prices. If you live in New York but can drive a few hours to see the band play in southern New Jersey, you might have better luck finding a ticket. Also, try for matinee or weekday shows and avoid holidays.

Visit several sites and keep tracking prices. Consumer Reports found that prices can fluctuate and vary from site to site. If an artist adds more dates, prices often drop. Resellers can also overestimate demand, posting high prices at first, then lowering them as the event nears.

Be patient. If prices are simply too high in the weeks and days leading up to the event, they might drop the day-of. Sellers become eager to get tickets off their hands once the event begins, since they are worth less at that point. Consumer Reports found that some tickets to Super Bowl XLII dropped to $1,000 on game day.

Check out other options. Before going to the reseller sites, sign yourself up for pre-sale notices. Artists, venues, teams and promoters often send out e-mails with a password for early ticket sales. Check out PresalePassword.net or Presalenow.com as well.

The day tickets go on sale, start at the box office. You may have more luck waiting in line than online. If you're buying tickets on Ticketmaster.com or TicketWeb.com, keep checking for availability. Customers have a few minutes to decide whether to buy the tickets they've clicked on. During that time, those tickets are locked up, but if the shoppers decide not to buy, the tickets become available again to other fans.

Credit-card promotions from American Express (AXP), Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) offer first dibs, preferred seats and discounts to certain events as well.

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