Last year, some Taylor Swift fans paid over $22,000 (£18,000) on resale sites for tickets to the US leg of her Eras tour. On this side of the pond, Harry Styles fans saw the cost of their Love On Tour tickets double – or even triple – by the time they got to the Ticketmaster checkout. It was a similar story for fans of Lizzo, Coldplay and K-pop group Blackpink – assuming they made it through the hours-long virtual queues and website crashes before all the tickets sold out.
Getting tickets to live shows and concerts has never been more difficult, as anyone who’s ever set an alarm to join a pre-sale queue knows all too well. Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing system makes it even more challenging – and young music fans are paying the price.
What is dynamic pricing?
Dynamic pricing is based on supply and demand. If demand for a product or service goes up, so does the price. When there’s less demand, the price goes down.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because airlines also use dynamic pricing to calculate fares; the price you’ll pay for a ticket will depend on the number of seats available and how much time is left before take-off.
You’re likely to be charged less if you book a year in advance and there are plenty of seats available. Whereas if you’re buying a month before and the flight’s almost full, you may find the price has skyrocketed. Airfares often go up during peak times and seasons too, which is why it’s typically cheaper to fly during term-time than during the school holidays.
Teens who use Uber might already be aware of surge pricing, which works in a similar way. Prices surge on Uber when there aren’t enough cars on the road to take the number of people trying to book them. So if it’s pouring with rain or you want to travel during peak time, then demand – and prices – rise. Uber lets riders know when this happens by flagging it on your app. The app will tell you what the additional surge amount is or include it in your upfront price. Either way, you have a choice. You can pay the extra or wait a few minutes to see if the rates go back down.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really an option when you’re trying to buy in-demand concert tickets. As a result, devoted fans end up paying more than intended or missing out altogether.
How Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing system works
Ticketmaster’s pricing system is demand-based. So when tickets go on sale, prices are driven by demand from fans, which means prices can be two or three times higher than expected for the most popular shows. When there’s seriously high demand for tickets, if you can get on to the site to buy one, you might find there are none available by the time you get to the checkout. Or that the price has jumped sky-high. If there’s not much demand, on the other hand, prices drop.
Demand for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour was so high tickets were like gold dust – and they sold out fast. Many artists, including Swift, only partner with Ticketmaster, so there’s not even the option to buy tickets elsewhere – unless you’re willing to pay way over the odds on resale sites.
Dynamic pricing has been introduced as a way to prevent ticket touts from buying tickets and ripping off fans when they resell them. Thanks to dynamic pricing, the money goes to the artists instead of touts, but it still means that many young fans are being priced out of attending concerts. It also makes it hard to budget and easy to overspend because it’s impossible to know how much tickets are going to cost.
Some artists, including Taylor Swift, have tried – and failed - to tackle the problem by selling directly to fans through pre-sale, while others, like Ed Sheeran, have cancelled tickets sold on resale sites.
While high demand means that not everyone is guaranteed to get the tickets they want, some artists are at least trying to find ways to make their live shows more accessible to young fans – not least because the alternative is playing to corporate guests and an older, wealthier audience, just because they’re the only ones who can afford – and get access to – tickets.
How to get the best deal
It’s become so hard to get tickets for the biggest shows that Ticketmaster and dynamic pricing are facing extra scrutiny. The US state of Massachusetts has recently introduced a new bill, known as the ‘Taylor Swift bill’, which requires ticket sales companies to prohibit dynamic pricing and ensure all ticket costs are transparent.
In addition, a group of Taylor Swift fans are suing Ticketmaster, and its parent company Live Nation, for discriminatory pricing. It remains to be seen if fans will experience the same issues when Taylor Swift announces her UK tour.
However, more and more retailers are using dynamic pricing, so you might find you’re paying more than you expected for everything from sports events to limited-edition trainers (which sell for inflated prices on eBay and resale websites), travel or hotel rooms. You might even notice this when you shop on Amazon when the price of items in your basket goes up or down depending on demand.
For this reason, it pays to be aware and do what you can to avoid unexpected price hikes. The following tips might just help you to avoid paying over the odds for travel or accommodation if you do manage to get hold of some concert tickets:
Clear your cookies before you buy or book — Clearing your cookies will remove information websites hold about you that can affect the prices you’re offered
Use a different browser — If you regularly use Chrome, try using a different browser, like Safari or Ecosia. A new browser will be less cookie-cluttered
Use a different device and location — A different device and location can help. Try comparing prices using a school or work PC and a laptop at home; for example
Go incognito — use incognito/private browsing mode. Your browser won’t remember the websites you’ve visited and will forget any searches you made, so you’ll avoid cookies that can inflate prices
Mask your IP address — Companies are starting to store your IP address and price dynamically based on your location. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) masks your IP address. Most VPN services charge a monthly fee, but you can usually try one for free.
Finally, don’t forget to warn teens about dynamic pricing if they’re planning to buy tickets so they don’t end up out of pocket. Where possible, encourage them to buy tickets on pre-sale or using promotional access, as this is often the best way to secure tickets to sell-out shows without paying inflated prices.