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Buying Concert Tickets Online Is a Mess. 10 Tips for Grabbing the Seats You Want

As Swifties know only too well, buying tickets is complete chaos these days. Arm yourself with our advice.

Tamara Palmer Contributing writer
Tamara Palmer is a DJ, author and publisher of the small-batch print magazine California Eating.
Tamara Palmer
5 min read
Photo of Taylor Swift in concert

Getting tickets to a Taylor Swift concert proved to be a battle for many fans.

Don Arnold/TAS24/Getty Images

Live concerts are meant to be joyous, celebratory events. But buying tickets for those concerts has become an experience to dread, up there with a root canal. Your favorite artist is on tour, but can you get the right presale code to nab tickets before the good seats are gone? Or get any seats before the scalpers take most of them? Seemingly endless fees tacked on by the ticket sales companies only make things worse.

Now, some lawmakers are considering laws to make ticket-pricing transparent, to help buyers weary of concert-ticket sticker shock. The proposed law was inspired by Taylor Swift and the recent fiasco involving sales to her Eras tour.

Even in a world with a myriad of music streaming services, the clamor for online tickets reveals that fans still love going to live shows. They're also excited for everything Taylor Swift, as shown by the recent furor about her attendance at Super Bowl LVIII, and over her upcoming album, The Tortured Poets Department, which features four editions and three different bonus tracks. But when it comes to the actual ticket buying, it seems as if fans need an advanced degree just to land a pair of decent seats.

Change could be coming

Minnesota is one of the states that is considering a bill that would require ticket sellers to disclose the full price of a ticket, including fees, early in the online buying process. State Rep. Kelly Moller's bill would also require resellers to reveal who they are, to prevent consumers from being fooled into thinking they're buying from the original seller, and require sellers to report when they detect ticket bots grabbing tickets for a show. No surprise, Moller has hard-won experience with these issues.

"The genesis of this bill was really my experience being a Swiftie and trying to get tickets to the Eras tour," Moller told the Minnesota House Judiciary Committee in February. The bill was passed by that committee and sent on to the House Commerce Committee.

The North Star State isn't alone. Current efforts to reform concert ticket sales at the state level follow earlier federal ones. In January 2023, the Senate held a hearing on Ticketmaster's dominance of the market, a session prompted by the chaos caused when Taylor Swift fans tried to buy presale tickets to the Eras tour in 2022. 

Ticketmaster wasn't prepared for the demand and rescheduled the general sale date to handle it. Still, millions of fans didn't get tickets. The company later responded to Beyoncé's concerns that her Renaissance tour would face similar problems by staggering sales and adding a verification system.

"It's truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets," Swift said of her concert presale, "but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them." 

It may not be as bad as an ursine mauling, but the ticket-buying process can be costly and frustrating if you don't know how it has changed over time. 

But there are time-honored tips -- plus lessons learned from Swift's Ticketmaster debacle -- to maximize the chances of scoring tickets to popular events. Here's a look at our top 10 tips.

1. Enter your details in advance

Set up a customer profile on the ticket site before the sale or presale date. By the time you can move tickets into your cart and purchase them, you're only going to have a few minutes to buy. Save time by entering your credit card in your profile in advance.

2. Look for presale codes

Your credit card may come with presale concert benefits -- some even grant access into special areas with amenities. Concert promoters advertise presale codes and giveaways on social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. Start by hitting up the website for your favorite act. Sign up for that artist's free newsletter or fan club in advance of the concert and then remember to check your email before tickets go on sale to see if they've sent out a presale code.

3. Check for early access packages

Some venues, like LA's Hollywood Bowl, will bundle multiple concerts together for one price. In the Bowl's case, buying a package gives you the first shot at nabbing seats to some shows even before tickets are offered for presale. If it's too pricey to buy at this level, maybe you can sell some of the seats to your friends or through the official site or a second-party site.

4. Study the venue

You likely won't have time to dawdle over seat choice. But if you know, for instance, that the Super Seats section of the Hollywood Bowl is the only place outside of the box seats where you can actually sit in a backed seat instead of on a backless bench, you can hone in on that section while shopping. 

There are a few ways to locate the best seats at a venue. Ask concert-going friends, search the web, even post in a music-themed social group. If the venue is small, try calling or emailing in advance to ask for recommendations.

5. Brace for dynamic pricing

On Ticketmaster, some tickets may use dynamic pricing, meaning ticket prices for those seats rise and fall due to demand. Think surge pricing with Uber and Lyft. Fans who tried to see Bruce Springsteen on tour in 2023 encountered ticket prices of up to $5,500, according to The New York Times

That's why certain tickets end up soaring into five figures on the resale market, as Madonna's shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City did in January. There's not really a way around it, but be aware.

6. Know your limits

Before you try to buy, make a reality check of your budget. Otherwise, you risk getting caught up in the heat of the moment and you could fall prey to that dynamic pricing. Large sites also have ticket limits that vary by show, so be warned: You may be needing four tickets and come up against a limit of two.

7. Set alarms

Use your phone to set at least two alarms: one 15 minutes or more before the sale starts and another a minute before go time. Some events generate waiting rooms that you can hop in more than a few minutes early, while others won't put you in a queue until the official kickoff. However early you get ready, just make sure you're only one click away from the sale page.

8. Team up and try multiple sites

Ticketmaster wasn't the only game in town for some stops on the Eras tour. SeatGeek also listed first-sale tickets to a handful of shows. Check the artist's social media to see if their concert tickets are sold on multiple sites. Increase your odds of getting tickets by partnering with a friend to try to buy at the same time. 

9. Have a backup plan

Consider selecting a backup date in another city if you've got the means and can't get tickets to your first choice.

10. Go offline

Tickets are sometimes released and sold at a venue's box office on event day, so consider showing up in person to check. Other IRL options include ticket contests held by local television or radio stations. You never know -- these days, your odds of winning may be better than they ever were for buying online.