Ticket Refund Update

[There are two earlier posts that you might want to read before this one]

I mentioned yesterday that See Tickets customer support were trying to get hold of me. I spoke to them in the early afternoon. It was their customer services manager and she wanted to apologise for the way I had been treated over my ticket refund. She said that she would be having a word with the support rep who had threatened to ban me from the site if I tried to make a chargeback against them.

Most importantly, she said that she would be happy to give me a full refund for the cost of the ticket and all the extra fees.

So that’s nice. My immediate problem is solved I’m no longer going to be out of pocket for not going to a gig.

But the wider problem still remains. See Tickets haven’t changed their T&Cs. They still believe that it’s fair to retain booking fees in cases like mine. As far as I can see, they made an exception in my case because I caused a bit of a storm on Twitter on Wednesday. And that’s not a solution that scales well.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m no longer convinced that See Tickets are the main problem here. I think that they’re probably just a symptom. They are doing what they are doing because they can get away with it. And they get away with it because the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers has such a weak code of conduct. On the front page of their web site (and in an image, so I’ve had to retype this!) it says:

STAR members comply with a Code of Practice designed to help protect customers. You can be sure that a STAR member will always:

  • Clearly identify the face value of any tickets purchased and any additional booking fees
  • Refund at least the face value of the ticket if an event is cancelled and the promoter agrees to refunds
  • Handle bookings politely and courteously, giving the highest standards of professional service
  • Highlight any terms and conditions, including transferability, cancellation and viewing restrictions.

It’s the second of those items that is causing the problems here. A STAR member is only expected to refund the face value of a ticket. And even then, only when the promoter agrees. How is that designed to “protect customers”? Looks to me like it’s designed to protect the profits of STAR members.

So I think I’ll try to have a conversation with STAR. To see if I can get them to admit that their code of practice is, to say the least, disappointing. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get them to change their code of practice so that it does actually protect customers.

Of course, not all STAR members are determined to get away with as much as they can. Some of them go above and beyond STAR’s code of practice. TicketWeb, for example, say this in their T&Cs (point 18):

Occasionally, events are cancelled or postponed by the team, performer or Event Partner for a variety of reasons. Contact us for exact instructions. Unless indicated otherwise in relation to a particular event, if an event is cancelled, ticket holders will be offered seats at any rescheduled event (subject to availability) up to the face value of the tickets or, if the ticket holder is unable to attend the rescheduled event or the event is not rescheduled, a refund. Refunds for tickets purchased prior to the date of the original event will be given up to their face value plus the relevant per ticket booking fee. [Emphasis mine]

So what advice can I give for buying tickets? Well, read the T&Cs carefully. Try to avoid any company that wants to just refund the face value of the ticket. And if you get caught in the same situation that I was in, then my best advice is to write a blog post and kick up a stink on Twitter.



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]