Unfortunately, it has become increasingly commonplace to be charged extra fees when buying theatre tickets, tickets to music events or tickets for seasonal leisure activities. 

Although you might be able to avoid some or all fees by booking at the venue in person and paying in cash, some venues will still charge you a fee to use a debit or credit card.

The typical way that most ticket sellers and secondary ticket sellers earn money is through the additional fees they charge their customers. 

These extra charges create a contract between you and the ticket seller, so the seller is obliged to make sure you receive your tickets in time for your event.

It's not only ticket agents that charge service fees though. Theatres can also add a service charge if you buy tickets online or over the phone. 

The same applies when buying tickets for a lot of major event venues.

Top tips

  • A service charge can be called different names. Look out for processing fees, commission, transaction fees, or order processing fees
  • Don’t rely on promotional advertising to give you the full price you’ll pay when you buy tickets
  • The best chance you have to avoid extra service charges is to turn up at the venue’s box office
  • If you choose to go to the venue’s box office, pay cash as some venues will charge you a fee for paying by credit card

But you might wonder if these extra charges are legal and, if they are, how much can companies charge? 

The amount the ticket companies can charge for these fees isn't restricted by regulations that protect consumers from excessive card surcharges. 

Rather, the rules that relate to ticket charges are founded in the Committee of Advertising Practice Code (or CAP Code), which is administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The rules in the CAP Code reflect the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. 

These regulations require all compulsory fees, whether fixed or variable, to be clearly disclosed at the outset when the ticket price is first displayed. 

But these rules don't say how much a company is allowed to charge. 

There are typically two types of extra fees charged by ticket sellers on top of a ticket's face value:

  • a booking fee or service charge for every ticket in your order
  • a postage charge for each complete order

There is no standard way to calculate a service charge for particular tickets. Promoters and agents simply agree on the fees for each individual event.

Even opting to collect your tickets at a venue's box office rather than having them delivered to your door often attracts a charge from official ticket sellers, as does email delivery of tickets where you print them out yourself, such as Ticketmaster's TicketFast service.

Often, the first a consumer hears about a ticket seller's service charges is when they go through to a sales site or phone line to book the tickets, so don't rely on promotional advertising to give you the full price you'll pay when you buy tickets.

There should always be an option to buy tickets at face value without paying extra service charges. 

For many events the only way to avoid paying any extra charges is to turn up at the venue's box office. Even then, pay cash to avoid a service charge, as some venues will charge you a fee for paying by credit card.

The term used to describe extra charges varies among different ticket sellers. For example, a booking fee or service charge can also be a processing fee or commission. The delivery fee can be known as a transaction fee or order processing fee.

Which? wants the ticket industry to play fair with all charges being displayed up front, set at a fair level and with a fair explanation of what they're for. 

Research carried out by Which? found that eight in ten people who booked tickets online in the last year said the level of compulsory fees charged were a rip off. 

Our research also found that these fees can often be hidden and unclear. In our mystery shopping investigation, we found examples of consumers being charged to print tickets out at home or to pick them up from the box office. 

If you want ticket companies to play fair, then sign our petition to make sure fees and fair and shown upfront.