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How to Get Last Minute Theater Tickets in NYC

October 1st, 2016 /
how to get last minute theater tickets in nyc

Image credit: Flickr user Randy Lemoine (CC BY 2.0)

After trying, and failing, to find an in-flight movie that held my attention on a trip to New York last month, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate. This gentleman was also a frequent business traveler, and so we swapped suggestions: What to do in NYC, where to eat. “I don’t bother with the touristy stuff, though,” he told me, “especially Broadway—it’s impossible to get tickets on short notice.”

Of course, I had to disagree. In fact, as I explained to him, I try to catch a show almost every time I’m in town, and I’ve found that with enough ingenuity (and enough passion for The Lion King), you can always find a seat.

How to Get Last Minute Theater Tickets

No matter what you read online or hear from the box office, never assume a show is sold out. Below are some of the tricks I’ve had the most luck with.

At the theater:

  • Go to the box office and ask about house seats (one or two days before the show): Broadway shows typically have a certain number of “house seats” that are reserved for family members or friends of the production. If those  tickets aren’t used, they go back into the pool for general sale, usually 96-24 hours before the show. If you’re getting into town on a Thursday and can catch, say, a Saturday show, try visiting the box office to ask specifically about house seats. These are usually very good seats—and not as expensive, given the short amount of time the theater has to sell them.
  • Rush the theater (the morning of the show, as soon as the box office opens). Many shows offer same-day rush tickets (some are even required by producers to offer them). Rush tickets to both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows can sell for as little as $20, but they are extremely limited and sell very quickly. Theaters vary, but some open as early as 7 AM, which means you may be able to stop by the box office as soon as it opens, inquire about tickets, and still make your morning meeting.
  • Standing room only (the morning of the show, as soon as the box office opens, or a few hours before showtime): Some shows will offer day-of-show standing room tickets, usually in a designated area behind the orchestra. These spots are numbered just like a regular seat would be. While you obviously don’t get to sit,  it might be a welcome change of pace after a marathon session of meetings. But this can be a great option for someone without theater tickets in their travel budget. Standing room tickets often sell for as low as $25-$30, but they are of limited quantity and sell quickly. Some shows sell them on the morning of the show along with the rush tickets, and some theaters sell them in the last hours leading up to the show. Your best bet is to stop by the box office and ask what their procedures are for SRO.
  • Play the lottery (the morning of the show). Most productions sell a handful of cheap day-of tickets by lottery. You can enter for free and hope to be drawn. Lotteries usually take place the same day as the show and can be done through the show’s physical theater or online through their website, social media page, app or third-party ticketing website. The rules differ from show to show, but you generally have a limited amount of time in which you can enter your name, then a certain number of names will be drawn and notified. If you are chosen, you’ll receive a call or email and have a set amount of time to purchase your ticket. I’d suggest consulting the guide at Playbill to find out which shows offer lotteries.
  • Stand in the cancellation line (a few hours before show time): Many theaters have cancellation lines which offer ticket sales on canceled (or “returned”) seats shortly before curtain time. While there’s no guarantee, there are almost always returned tickets at every broadway show. The earlier you arrive, the better your chances are—cancellation lines are first come, first served, and many people wait in cancellation lines while checking on ticket lottery results or searching for last-minute tickets online.
  • Volunteer to usher (one or two days before the show, but can be done day of): You won’t get to sit, and you’ll be interrupted a few times, but if you really want to see a show, it’s an option. Many theaters need ushers for evening performances. All you have to do is call the box office the day before (or at least several hours before curtain time) to see if they’re “hiring.” If so, you’ll need to show up for a brief training session before patrons arrive, fulfill your duties, and then enjoy your free show. This method isn’t ideal for most business travelers, but if you have a free afternoon, it becomes an intriguing story for colleagues back home.

Outside the theater:

The theater may say a show is sold out, but many of those tickets went to hotels, ticket booths, or websites and may still be up for sale.

  • Line up at TKTS (the day of the show, the earlier the better). TKTS New York is a popular Broadway ticket booth run by the Theater Development Fund. All but the biggest Broadway hits are on sale, most 30-50 percent off. You can find TKTS in three different spots:  Times Square, Southstreet Seaport, and downtown Brooklyn, each offering a different deal. Times Square is the most popular and only sells discount tickets for day-of performances, Southstreet Seaport sells evening day-of performances as well as for matinees for the following day, and Brooklyn presents the same options as Southstreet. To see what is available on a given day, download the TKTS app or visit their website.
  • Concierge and Ticket Center (the day of the show, the earlier the better). The Concierge and Ticket Center is another physical location where you can get discount tickets. It’s located in the heart of Times Square (inside the Visitor Center on 7th Avenue between 46th and 47th streets) and its representatives can offer maps and restaurant recommendations in addition to ticket advice. If you’re short on time, you can also visit the CTC website to chat with a online representative.
  • Ask your concierge. If you’re staying at an upscale hotel, a knowledgeable concierge is a godsend. They know the area better than anyone and often develop relationships with brokers or theaters so that they can better assist guests. Some productions even sell blocks of tickets to hotels for this purpose alone.
  • Find a scalper. Ticket scalpers are usually easy to find near the theater as curtain time approaches. Their typical game is to buy up lots of tickets and sell them at a premium price after the show is sold out, but if you wait until the last minute, you can often score tickets at face value (and sometimes cheaper). Buy at your own risk, though, as some scalpers produce fraudulent tickets. If you go this route, use common sense, make sure to check that the date and time of the show are correct, and walk away if the ticket doesn’t look legit.

Websites and apps:

If you’re booked solid with meetings or only in town for a day or two, getting to the box office might not be realistic, in which case ticketing sites and apps are your best option. Sites like StubHub, TicketMaster, and SeatGeek all sell Broadway tickets, but they aren’t very helpful when you’re cutting it close to curtain time, and they’re usually expensive. For more consistent luck, try one of the sites or apps below, which are Broadway-specific and dedicated solely to last-minute ticketing in the NYC area.

  • TodayTix app: The best online source for last-minute tickets in New York is the TodayTix app,which helps you find discounted tickets day-of (or up to a week in advance). The app is free to download for iPhone and Android.
  • posts deals each morning at 10 AM for shows later that day or night. You can also call their customer service number—deals change throughout the day, and one of their operators can also try to personally track down tickets to shows not listed among the day’s bargains (they accept requests up until 4:30 PM the day of the show).
  • Telecharge often receives blocks of tickets from theaters and may still have them for sale after the box office runs out. The seats aren’t discounted, but at least you’ll have a shot at scoring a ticket at face value.
  • Playbill, TheaterMania, and Rather than discount ticket sales, these sites offer promotional codes for Broadway tickets. BroadwayBox is popular because it doesn’t require you to sign up, but its selection is less varied, and I’d personally recommend the other two options.
  • Craigslist: Last but not least, the NYC Craigslist page can be surprisingly fruitful, letting you buy tickets from desperate locals who can’t attend. It’s worth checking throughout the day, up until a few hours before showtime. Use common sense about this, of course: Meet in a public place and pay in person, never digitally.

With last minute theater tickets suddenly easy to snag, there’s no reason not to enjoy your trip. And if your hotel happens to offer perks like a knowledgeable concierge team and free Internet (both of which can be helpful when searching for tickets), even better.

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