By Samantha Chapnick
With orchestra seats going for $300 (more than the cost of some New York hotels) even half-price TKTS tickets seem outrageous. It’s time to get drastic. These are the tried-and-true tested techniques real New Yorkers use to get the goods for far less.
1. Win the lottery
Several shows, for example Wicked, offer great unsold orchestra seats at a steep discount (under $30/per person) to 20 or 30 lottery winners. Each winner is entitled to two tickets. Be there at least two or three hours before the performance. Usually no more than 100 people line up so the odds are with you. Or at least better than getting hit by lightening.
If you absolutely, positively need to see the show, have a back-up plan.
2. Get rush tickets
Some shows will sell the remaining seats to either students or the general public at deep discounts ( about $20) an hour or so before the performance. Get to the box office VERY EARLY (at least 2 hours in advance) and expect lines. Most of the seats will be in the less desirable areas, but occasionally you get lucky and hit a nice orchestra seat. DO NOT EXPECT TO SIT TOGETHER in a good section. Most of these seats will be singles unless they are in the upper tiers or with a blocked view.
3. Become a member
Even if you only plan a New York vacation once a year, becoming a member of free or steeply discounted ticket brokers is well worth the price — if you are flexible. TDF.org, AudienceExtras.com, BroadwayBox.com, and Goldstar all offer members free last-minute tickets to both major and minor shows, and discounted tickets to future shows.
For example, a membership to Audience Extras is $99/year and entitles you to two tickets per performance free ($4 service charge per ticket). In the past, I have gotten tickets to both excellent, popular shows and really terrible one-person shows. This week they are offering "To Be or Not To Be" (Broadway), Dolly Parton in concert, Branford Marsalis, and "The Tempest" with Broadway actor Mandy Patinkin.
The good tickets go fast. Sign up to get the e-mail notification when a show is available and pounce on it. If you can’t go to a show, don’t get the tickets. They are doing these freebies to fill up the audience. If you don’t show up, you may lose your privileges and hurt others: if the theater gets too many no-shows it pulls the offer from these sites.
4. Bring a minor.
One of the main reasons New York vacations are so popular with families is because of the unprecedented affordable cultural opportunities the city offers young people. If you have a teenager or college student, especially one who attends a local NYC college, or a friend whose child you could borrow for a few hours, there are some remarkable discounts to be had out there.
First, try High Five Tickets. Anyone accompanied by a teen (13-18) from anywhere in the world can get two tickets for $5 a piece — one for the teen, one for the adult. Currently there are over 80 shows available including the Broadway show "39 Steps." Oh and as a nice bonus, High Five also gives museum entry for $5 for two to most of the major NY museums. (Again, the person picking up the tickets must have a valid student ID but can be accompanied by one adult.) Extra Bonus: There are no booking fees or service fees. Who-ho!
Next, do the student rush if the regular rush is not available.
Visit School Tix to see most family-friendly Broadway shows for about half price. Go to the "Shows Available" page and click on the icon for the show you want to find the coupon code offering the discount and book the tickets.
Finally, if your young friend goes to Columbia University, NYU or one of the other major schools in New York, get them to use their university Internet connection to get tickets. Many have sites accessible only to people with school IDs and logins that provide tremendous discounts to theater — and free entry to local museums as an added bonus.
5. Go Off-Broadway
For every one big Broadway blockbuster, there are a hundred theater companies providing a more intimate and unique experience — a much better value for your dollar in this current economic climate. Going to see a show at places like the Public Theater, Cherry Lane, Playwrights Horizons and Manhattan Theater Club rewards with brand-name bankable stars, a more intimate experience and extensive set design, without the high ticket price.
If you still want more tips, visit the ne plus ultra ultimate guide to cheap theater tickets and up-to-the-minute info: The Frugal Theater Goer’s Guide to Discount Tickets.
Oh, and next year, book one of your favorite New York hotels for mid-October when Free Night of Theater Day is held. This organization gives away 8,000 tickets to performances across the city. For more information about discounted theater tickets, visit Playbill.
Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn’t been found.