Attempts at stacking a deal on event tickets

21

I don’t attend a lot of concerts or sporting events these days, but every now and then we attend something with our kids like Monster Jam or Disney on Ice, etc. When those things come up, I am always reminded just how much I hate buying event tickets. It’s not just the cost (though cost has gotten out of control, particularly in the “mandatory fees” department), but rather my incessant need to stack a deal. I hate knowing that I didn’t get the best price. Event ticket shopping always feels like there is so much shopping around to be done to compare prices after considering portal payouts and card-linked offers, etc, that I’ve often given up on the comparison shopping and just bought the tickets somewhere, annoyed at the legwork. This time around, I decided that I’d do the full shop around so I could write about it. So here’s my comparison of the myriad of ways I could come up with to buy tickets to see Blue Man Group in Las Vegas with the hopes that it answers some questions for me about which places might give me a deal, whether miles matter, and what I can ignore in the future.

The event and comparison parameters

We’ve got an upcoming trip to Las Vegas for the latest casino status matching shenanigans and we want to have some non-gambling fun with the family in Vegas. One of the things we’ve decided to do is to bring the kids to see Blue Man Group. We’ve seen most of the Cirque shows over the years and we love them, but most of them didn’t have timing that would work with the kids (we’ve seen The Beatles LOVE and we started out thinking we’d get tickets to see that again because I think the kids would flip over the roller skating in that show, but alas the timing is awful for young kids). Blue Man Group has a 5pm showing that should work out for us.

Blue Man Group performs at Luxor in Las Vegas, once the undisputed champ of cheap Las Vegas mattress runs (I miss you, $3-per-night Luxor stays that yielded Hyatt elite night credits and 3,000 points every 2 nights for a while last year!).

We decided on a general area of the theater where we wanted to sit and for the purposes of this post, I compared either the same exact seats (which were available on numerous different platforms) or in cases where the same exact seats weren’t available, I compared against seats one row directly behind, which were priced identically on sites that had both rows available for sale. In other words, I made an effort to make sure the comparison was as apples-to-apples as possible across multiple platforms.

MGM Rewards (not logged in)

To get a baseline price, I first went directly to the Luxor / MGM website to search for ticket prices directly from MGM without logging in to my account. The six seats we wanted and that I compared against at sites where they were available came to $992.22.

MGM Rewards (logged in to account)

Over the years, MGM conditioned me to always log in to my MGM Rewards account to find incredible room deals like those $3-per-night Luxor and Excalibur stays. I therefore wasn’t surprised to find better pricing when logged in to my MGM Rewards account. For six seats in the area we wanted (front row balcony), it would cost $811.74.

That seemed….not as cheap as I’d like. Still, I fully expected to find worse deals elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there would be any way to stack portal rewards. MGM Resorts are on Rakuten at 2.5% cash back / 2.5x Membership Rewards points, but terms specifically state that cash back is not available on shows.

Ticketmaster

Much to my surprise, Ticketmaster offered an ever-so-slightly better deal than booking via MGM.

Ticketmaster had a better deal on a bundle-priced “Me+3” pack of tickets, but that could only be purchased in a quantity of 4 tickets. I could therefore buy 4 tickets together to save about $20 per ticket and then 2 tickets separately and the total came to $802.86.

I could further stack with a shopping portal, going through Rakuten to earn 1 Amex Membership Rewards point per dollar spent.

I’d only expect to earn 1x on the ticket cost before various fees, which would be $632.42 in this case.

AAdvantage Events

A while back, American Airlines AAdvantage launched a white-labeled version of Ticketmaster called AAdvantage Events, essentially offering miles with event ticket purchases without the need to click through a shopping portal. That actually seems kind of smart of them given the potential tracking issues when clicking from a portal to an external site. Just baking the miles and Loyalty Points into the checkout flow under one branded-version of the Ticketmaster site seems like a very customer-friendly way to do things.

Of course, at 1 mile per dollar spent, the return here isn’t huge for most of us. However, much to my surprise, buying six tickets via AAdvantage Events was even a smidge cheaper than buying directly from MGM!

As you can see, the six tickets would cost me $795.96 (and I would earn 632 American Airlines miles and Loyalty Points on top of my chosen credit card rewards).

In fairness, I think the difference here is just in the processing fee. When ordering directly via Ticketmaster, I couldn’t order six tickets and get the “Me + 3” pricing for four of them, which forced me to set things up as two separate orders. That means paying Ticketmaster’s $6.90 “processing fee” twice. AAdvantage Events beats out Ticketmaster on pricing int his case only because it was able to bundle the “Me +3” pricing for four tickets with two additional tickets in one order.

Unfortunately, there is no additional portal cash or card-linked offers available for AAdvantage Events as far as I know.

SeatGeek

Lately, I’ve been seeing one ad after another for SeatGeek on Youtbe extolling the virtues of booking via SeatGeek. Furthermore, there is a current Amex Offer for $50 back on $250 or more. And SeatGeek is on a number of shopping portals, although only at 1x / 1% back.

Of course, neither of those things matter much when the cost of tickets is more than 50% more! The same seats came to $1,258.80. Wow!

VividSeats

VividSeats partners with Capital One to run its Capital One Entertainment ticket sales, including the Major League Baseball cardholder exclusives. Unfortunately, as I have long warned in that post, anything other than the 4 specific Cardholder Exclusive tickets to those games has been outrageously overpriced via VividSeats.

If you saw some cheap outfield tickets to a baseball game and figured that maybe VividSeats isn’t so bad, you might wanna price shop those cheap outfield tickets elsewhere. The markup via VividSeats is insane.

Again, I wasn’t looking at better seats with VividSeats — in fact, in this case, I was looking at the seats in the row behind the ones I could buy for $795 via AAdvantage Events….and VividSeats wanted $1,440.24 for them.

It doesn’t matter that VividSeats is on shopping portals and there is a current Amex offer for 10% back on a single purchase (up to $50 back) and that there are a couple of 10% off coupon-codes out there — the price is so much higher than via AAdvantage Events that all of the stackery just doesn’t matter.

Citi Thank You Portal

The Citi Travel portal had Blue Man Group tickets available via its “Activities”. Sadly, there were no tickets available in the pricing category we wanted (Category B) for the 5pm show.

Six tickets in the Category B pricing band for the 8pm show came to more than AAdvantage Events before adding whatever fees would inevitably get added during checkout — but, again, we couldn’t get the performance we wanted so I didn’t move forward through checkout.

Viator

I was surprised to find Blue Man group tickets available for sale via Viator. Unfortunately, like the Citi Travel booking engine, Viator had no availability for the 5pm show.

However, this is an option I’ll keep in mind for the future. Viator’s price was the same as Citi’s, but we sometimes see shopping portal payouts of up to 20% back for Viator and we occasionally see card-linked offers for Viator. While I have very mixed feelings about Viator, show tickets like these are exactly the type of thing that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy through Viator.

I didn’t actually proceed through checkout, so I’m not sure what the final total would have been with fees, but with the right stackery I imagine that Viator could at least compete with AAdvantage Events.

Event Ticket Center

I’m not familiar with the site “Event Ticket Center”, but when I went to our Current Amex Offers page and searched for the word “Tickets”, I found an Amex offer for 2% back up to $250, so I figured I’d hunt around for portal rates and opportunities.

I got a little excited when I saw that EventTicketCenter was available at 15x on Rakuten right now and there is a coupon code for 10% off.

My excitement was rather quickly muted when I got to the checkout page and realized that even the $129 I could save with the coupon code and the 17,496 Membership Rewards points I would expect to earn (based on 15x the price of just the tickets ($1296) minus the 10% off ($129.60), so 15 * 1166.40 = 17,496 points).

I guess if you valued Amex points at 2c per point, that’s like a value of $350 worth of points. But even that value combined with the $129.60 that came off later with a 10% off code wouldn’t make a sizable enough dent in the $1,720.67 sticker price for the same 6 seats that I could get for $795 via AAdvantage Events to even make it worth busting out the calculator (but I did it for you, dear reader, and came to a “net” cost of $1,241.07 if you account for the points at 2c per point, which is generous accounting!).

StubHub

I was somewhat hopeful for StubHub to be competitive for a few reasons.

First of all, there is often portal cash back for StubHub. Current rates top out at 8% back. Second, I can get StubHub gift cards with Capital One Shopping cash back, which means not spending cash out of pocket.

Unfortunately, even after 8% cash back, the price here only comes down about a hundred bucks to $1,089.28 — and that’s assuming 8% back on the total with fees (in reality, portal cash may only be based on the $145 per seat ticket price, meaning the net cost may be about $10 higher).

Either way, StubHub was a no-go.

TicketSmarter

TicketSmarter is another site where we’ve seen past Amex Offers good for 6% back, so I figured I’d check it out. Current shopping portal rates for TicketSmarter are about 6% back. Even if you were able to stack both, it sadly wouldn’t be any smarter to pay $1,350.97 for the same six seats.

Bottom Line

I didn’t cover every single ticket sales website on the Internet in this post, but I wanted to run through a bunch of the vendors frequently covered by either increased shopping portal rates or card-linked offers and compare against buying directly from the venue. Much to my surprise, AAdvantage Events came out to be the best deal (only narrowly ahead of buying from the non-AAdvantage branded Ticketmaster). I suspect that results would vary drastically for a sold-out event rather than one that is still available via Ticketmaster, though with today’s dynamic event pricing even through Ticketmaster, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I did buy my Disney on Ice Tickets via AAdvantage Events a couple of months ago, and after running these comparisons, I’m glad to know that I probably didn’t get ripped off.

I’m still no more enamored with the ticket buying process and particularly with the really opaque pricing models that in many cases seemingly required entering an email address (I just made one up) and billing information in order to see the final tally. I got around entering credit card information while comparison shopping for prices by choosing the “Affirm” (“buy now / pay later”) payment option on several sites — that brought me to a final checkout screen that showed the price without needing to enter my name / address / personal info.

In the future, I’ll probably still shop around lightly, but I’ll be more likely to start out at AAdvantage Events if the event isn’t sold out — and I’ll probably skip many of the resale sites altogether as the fees just make the pricing ridiculous.

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MSK

Adding a DP…I bought show tickets this week through Rakuten/MGM and it tracked through despite what the terms say.

Travel Enthusiasts

This year I have bought multiple baseball tickets and hockey last month. I found Seatgeek to be the best for the all inclusive tickets. I forgot to stack with a portal. Are you guys booking or buying anything via pc? I find portal stacking a pain to recall on my phone, which I do 99.9% of all shopping on.

Pierre

I’m surprised that Ticketmaster won this comparison. I’ll have to give them another look next time I have to buy tickets. Thanks!

Andrew

I had a similar experience booking Cirque tickets last month – Viator would have been a nice portal stacking option but they did not have the earlier show time I wanted with our kid, so booking direct ended up being the best option. I’ll have to remember that AAdvantage tickets matches TicketMaster as they often are the best option for any shows or events that aren’t sold out.

I’m giving Viator a few more chances on upcoming tours to see how they work out. Our one use so far the actual tour booked went without a hitch but they denied the 3K in AA miles I should have earned, and despite having receipts and a valid click through with screenshots they shrugged and went “oh well, we aren’t paying”.

Groupon doesn’t have high portal rates but can be nice to get a bit on local entertainment options. I was surprised to find one of our daughter’s favorite play places available through it with a nice $5 off coupon over the in store price.

Rob

Hey Nick I’m also doing a status run this month! Care to share your Vegas dates so I can buy you a drink if we cross paths?

Brent

I’ve had good luck with Vivid Seats for baseball games and Stubhub for football. Ticketmaster is usually still the best bet. But yes, pricing on all the platforms varies wildly from event to event, and the fees are very much opaque. This is an industry ripe for some kind of regulation. I find SeetGeek and Events Tickets Center (which seems to have a permanent Chase 10% offer on almost every card) to be not worth the time.

Mary

I do this for every show we attend in Las Vegas, and frustratingly, the cheapest sources are never consistent. On a recent 3-night trip we went to 5 shows (yeah, we’re nuts) and I found the best deal for the specific seats I wanted on a different site for each one! Dita von Teese was cheapest on Groupon; Awakening from a special deal direct from Caesars through their Ticketmaster link; Piff the Magic Dragon through Vegas4Locals with code PFAFF (but cheaper through Groupon when the performance you want is there); Mad Apple by getting the $25 (+$20 in fees!) tickets through the MGM link to Ticketmaster; and Mac King through an MGM offer.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t taken your kids to see Mac King, do it! Simply one of the best shows in Vegas, inexpensive, family-friendly and a 3:00 show!

Last edited 15 days ago by Mary
Mary

Yay! You’re going to love it. I just saw Mac King for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Like you, I had been wanting to see him literally for decades, and just somehow never made it. My brother, who is a very good amateur magician and a bit of an expert on magic, says Mac King is probably the best in the business.

Mary

Oh, and Nick — if your wife is going to one of the spas at an MGM hotel, all of the MGM spas accept SpaFinder e-gift cards, which are $79.95 for $100 worth at Costco.com, or can be purchased directly from SpaFinder.com with frequently-available promo codes for 20% off. I always do this. The spa front desks are very aware of these gift cards and I’ve had zero issues using them. They can even be applied to the standard 20% gratuity they auto-charge.

GEORGE

which spa do you recommend for any of the MGM hotel? I only being to the one in Venetian

Mary

I’ve been to Bellagio, Aria and Vdara spas, always on weekdays. They are all extremely nice. Aria has the biggest facility with the most options in the wet area (hot tubs, sauna, steam, etc). It attracts large groups such as bridal parties and can get noisy, however. Bellagio is also well-equipped and usually feels a little less busy. Vdara is much smaller with fewer facilities, but very quiet.

Andy

FYI, they go on sale occasionally for $69.99. And they’re actually on sale for that price right now.

Mary

Nice!

jerry

Have you ever tried TickPick ? I find their prices very competitive. They don’t charge any fees, but seem to build their fees into the price of the ticket. Just keep in mind that the original tickets need to be transferred by the owner like other resale sights. I’ve used them dozens of times and I had only one mishap where I bought very last minute Yankees Legend suite tickets at an insanely low price, but the owner did not send the tickets until the 6th inning. However, Tickpick made it right and refunded me as well as gave me a $75 goodwill credit.

Josh

In nyc- blueman is available very inexpensively. I buy tickets through Tdf.org- which you need to join- for $35. But they are available through lots of discount sites and TKTS for 50-60.

Susan

For shows that are semi permanent or abundant dates/moderate demand (comedy, Cirque touring in our city, Blue Man in Chicago, etc…) we often find them on Groupon for similar pricing and use 5x Groupon gift cards from office supply plus a portal. For concerts this post is more like our struggle to shop around. The fees are brutal.