Five Pounds and Twenty Pence

[New readers should probably read the background before proceeding]

The figure of £5.20 has come up in some of the discussion of this issue. It’s the difference between what I paid for the tickets and what See Tickets want to refund me. It’s come up in two ways.

Firstly a couple of people have said to me “It’s £5.20, why bother?” Actually it’s not £5.20, remember they want me to pay to send the ticket back to them by recorded delivery too. That’s going to cost another £1.50. But, yes, there’s a point here. The amount of time I’ve spend on this is completely disproportionate to the amount of money involved. I can afford to lose a fiver. Why do I bother?

I bother for two reasons. Firstly, it might only be a fiver, but it’s about 25% of the money I paid out. That’s a large chunk. If that happened whenever I got refunded for stuff, I’d soon start to notice the impact. And secondly, I bother because (as far as I can see) no-one else has. These people get away with it because people say “oh well, it’s only a fiver” and don’t do anything about it. I don’t think that’s right. It’s become a matter of principle.

Then people have said “I hope See Tickets think that £5.20 was worth all this bad publicity”. Of course, the numbers aren’t right there either. The Union Chapel seats about 500 people. If 10% of them can’t get to the postponed show and need a refund then See Tickets pocket £250. And how many gigs get postponed every week? Some in far larger venues. This is quite a nice little earner for See Tickets. When they resell the ticket they’ve made the booking fees twice over.

Let’s be clear here. I’m not saying for a second that ticket agencies shouldn’t make money. I like the convenience of being able to buy tickets online and I’m happy to pay for that service. I just think that when shows are rearranged, the fans shouldn’t end up out of pocket. The ticket agencies would say that they have printed and posted the tickets therefore they are entitled to be paid for that service. But when fans end up paying because they aren’t able to go to a show then something is wrong with the system.

Someone took the choice to rearrange the dates and they should be the people who pay the ticket agents costs. The ticket agencies should be chasing the promoters for this money, not taking it from the fans. I suspect they’re just taking the path of least resistance here – they’ve already got the money from the fans, it’s easier to just keep that rather than trying to get it from the promoters.

Unfortunately it seems that See Tickets business practices are endemic in the industry and even supported by the industry’s major organisation. See Tickets are a member of STAR (the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers) so I contacted them this morning to see if they would like to censure See Tickets in any way. I was told that as See Tickets were acting in accordance with both their own terms and conditions and the society’s code of conduct then they would be taking no action. I pointed out the unfairness in this system and the reply told me in no uncertain terms that they considered the matter closed.

I’m still considering applying for a chargeback from Visa for the amount. In fact that looks like my best chance of actually getting my money back. But I’m starting to see this as a wider issue. The whole ticketing industry needs a shake-up. It can’t be right that fans can potentially be left out of pocket as I have been. Perhaps we need a change in the law to force ticket agencies to treat fans fairly. Perhaps we need an organised campaign.

p.s. See Tickets customer support have been trying to get in touch with me today. I picked up a voice mail where a customer service manager wanted to apologise for the way I was treated yesterday. Which is a start.

[The story continues in the next post]


See Tickets

Anyone who buys tickets for gigs, plays or sporting events will have horror stories about how a reasonably priced ticket suddenly became a lot less reasonably priced once booking fees, transaction fees and postage fees had been added on. I’ve often wondered why the face value of tickets doesn’t just include a fixed amount that goes to the ticket agency as their cut rather than them being left to make up figures themselves.

Today I found out why the booking agencies like things how they are.

A month ago I bought a ticket for a Kathryn Williams gig at the Union Chapel. I bought it from See Tickets. It cost me £24.70. That figure was apparently made up of the following:

  • £19.50 – Ticket price
  • £1.95 – Booking fee
  • £2.25 – Transaction fee
  • £1.00 – Insurance (I think I forgot to uncheck a check box there)

The show was supposed to take place next Tuesday. But today I got an email from See telling me that the show had been postponed until 8th October. That’s a slight problem as I already have a ticket to see Radiohead that night. So, reluctantly I am going to have to return the Kathryn Williams ticket for a refund.

The email contained details of how to claim my refund. I had to post the ticket back to them (“by secure mail”) and they would refund the face value of the ticket.

Yes, just the face value. That’s £19.50. The rest of it – their fees – they want to hold on to. And they want me to post it using recorded delivery. That’s going to cost about £1.50.

I emailed their customer service to confirm this. It seemed really unlikely that I would lose about 25% of the money I’d paid just because I couldn’t get to the rearranged date. But their customer support confirmed that as they had done their part (by sending me the ticket) they had earned their money and weren’t going to give it back to me.

I discussed this a bit on Twitter and someone pointed out that I could probably get the money back from the Visa card that I used to buy the tickets (as I understand it, Visa can then claw the money back from the vendor). I’ve sent a message to First Direct to see how that might work. I also asked See Tickets to confirm exactly how much they planned to refund me and mentioned that I planned to see if I could get the rest back from Visa.

I got an email back from the confirming that they plan to refund me £19.50 and that they wouldn’t refund the postage. The email then finished with this:

If you proceed to claim the money back from your card provider you’ll be banned from using See or any of our affiliates in the future.

Up to that point I was happy to debate the finer points of the transaction and try to persuade them that their T&Cs were unfair. But I can’t really see the point now. They obviously aren’t reasonable people. I tell them that I’m planning to use legal methods to recover as much of the money as possible and they respond with threats.

It’s not much of a threat to be honest. After what has happened today, I’m not planning to use the company again. I’m sure my gig-going won’t be hampered too much if I stop buying tickets from See.

Perhaps you’d consider doing the same.

Update: Here’s are the details of the insurance that I inadvertently bought. Notice that there’s a list headed “we will not provide a refund where” which includes the item “the booked event is cancelled, abandoned, postponed, curtailed or relocated”.

Update: One nice thing to come out of this. Kathryn Williams heard about it on Twitter and was as appalled as any reasonable person would be. She has offered to send me a copy of her new CD to make amends (even though none of this is even slightly her fault). What a lovely person. You should all buy The Pond when it comes out next week.

[There are two follow-ups to this post. You might find those interesting too]