Dear Ace: I ordered tickets to the “Wetlands Revival Tour” concert at the Pavilion, but the show has been canceled because Wynton Marsalis has an inflamed lip. I got an e-mail from the ticketing company saying they would refund the cost of the ticket, but not the service charges. I paid for these services to attend a concert that is now not being presented —why should that cost me money?—Nick L. N. Dimed
Dear Nick: What an excellent query! Ace has a long-standing hatred of these so-called “service fees”—especially those levied by concert-sales behemoths such as Ticketmaster, which can run to 30 percent or more of the actual ticket price.
Having said that, Ace also understands that running a ticketing agency costs money, and he doesn’t begrudge these companies their right to levy a modest charge. MusicToday, Coran Capshaw’s company that handles ticketing for Coran Capshaw’s Pavilion, tends to charge (in Ace’s experience) a more reasonable 8 to 15 percent fee, which, while annoying, doesn’t rise to the level of highway robbery.
But keeping this fee when the concert is cancelled? That just doesn’t seem right, so Ace rang up the company’s COO, Del Wood, to get an explanation.
“The bottom line,” he told Ace, “is that we’re all hugely disappointed when there’s a cancellation. But the service fees cover the cost of many things: the hardware, the software, the service staff… There is a free shipping option, and the service fee covers that. Tickets are fulfilled by people. These are costs that are incurred no matter what.” Wood also pointed out that MusicToday expends considerable resources to help curb ticket brokering, and Lord knows, fighting scalpers ain’t cheap!
But if you’ve shelled out big bucks for a concert that isn’t happening, doesn’t it seem fair that you should get back every penny you paid? On this point, Wood acknowledges the injustice, but says there just isn’t much a company can do. “The industry, as a general rule, does not refund service fees,” he says. “There’s no trick behind it: There’s a user agreement up front [on the website] that explains that the service fee will not be refunded in case of cancellation.”
This much is true, as Ace discovered by clicking around, but it’s not quite as clear as it could be. When buying tickets, the user is greeted with the standard “By clicking continue, you acknowledge that you have read and understand the user agreement.” But this “user agreement” is only accessible through a small, blood-red-on-dark-blue link at the bottom of the page—not exactly full disclosure, if you ask Ace (which you did!).
In the final analysis, Ace must admit that he can see both sides of this argument. But, at the very least, it would be nice if there were at least one outlet where people could buy tickets at face value, thereby avoiding service charges altogether. But, as of now, such a place doesn’t exist. “It would really be up to the outlet,” Wood says. “They could make a business decision not to follow industry standard procedure and waive the service charges.”
Well, if anyone’s up for the challenge, I’m sure you’d be the first one in line, Nick. And Ace would be right behind you.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 18 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.