How to get discounts on London theatre tickets

If it costs less, the experience is better

It’s human nature to want to pay less and get more – even if you feel that the price in the first place is quite acceptable.

Who doesn’t gain extra satisfaction from getting a flight you know should cost about £500 for £350? A meal with 20% off seems even tastier than the full-price version. Chipping a fiver off the price of an item at a car boot sale makes it all the more a bargain.

And so it is with theatre tickets – especially London theatre tickets.

If we were to conduct a poll with only one question – are London theatre tickets expensive? – we are fairly sure the majority would say “yes”, they are.

But the good things in life are rarely free and often not even cheap. And there is the consideration that London’s shows are the envy of the world. The only real competition is New York’s Broadway.

How you view the price of London theatre tickets depends on your outlook of life in general. Are you a “you get what you pay for” type? Do you subscribe to the “cheap no good, good no cheap” philosophy? Or are you an “everything has its price” person and that price had better be lower than shown on the ticket?

If you are the latter, maybe this article is for you.

We are going to suggest some ways to see Les Miserables without felling miserable; to watch Only Fools and Horses – the Musical without feeling a fool (for paying too much); to experience the upcoming Mary Poppins without needing a spoonful of sugar afterwards.

The fact is that, if you are willing to sign up for a particular card, do a bit of digging, or take a chance … you need not pay top dollar to experience great theatre.

On the cards

Within the past fortnight I have received two discount offers through my email – one from my rail card, the other from Barclaycard. The rail card headlined savings of up to 44%; Barclaycard spoke of a more conservative 5%.

I pretended to buy a ticket for Les Miserables from each. The rail card route for a specific date offered tickets from £33 up to £209. Note that the lowest price was for a restricted view. In the upper stalls there are seats where up to a fifth of the stage is obscured; at the back of the (ground floor) stalls the upper circle above blocks out elements higher up the stage.

Barclaycard said there was no availability.

Digging deep

You make savings this way, but a fairly cursory “survey” told us that the offers, while worthwhile, are all pretty much on a par. In the order they came up on screen we found:

londontheatredirect.com, london-theatre-tickets.com, wowcher.co.uk, eveningstandardtickets.co.uk, and lastminute.com.

Again, using Les Miserables as our “test” three of the first four mentioned above offered prices from £33, Wowcher produced no result and the last one said the price was from £36.

To give these prices some context we visited the official website for Les Miserables. This advertised tickets from £27.50 but we struggled to find one! When we typed in a date four days away the cheapest availability was £60+. When we pitched it on a Saturday in June the cheapest figure was £47.25 rising to a maximum of £177.25.

These figures would seem to indicated that the sites we mentioned are offering real discounts but, to us, it seems they are much of a muchness in terms of who is the best. 

Take a chance

If you are happy to see a show, pretty much any show, in Leicester Square you will find a TKTS booth offering discounts of up to 50% on the day or up to a week in advance.

Of course, if you have your heart set on a particular show your chances of being lucky may be reduced considerably. Much depends on the day of the week (as you would expect the weekends are the most popular) and, to some extent, how long the show has been running.

For example, the rail card offer mentioned earlier did little to bring down the price for Only Fools and Horses. But this has only been running since mid-February 2019. Les Mis, in contrast, has been on since 1985.

Our conclusion is that you don’t need to dig too deep to get a discount but you need to keep an eye (pun intended) on the restricted view caveats. However, you do need to be flexible!

If you have no flexibility on dates, say for a loved one’s birthday, be prepared to bite the bullet and pay full price. The quality of the offering means you will almost certainly  still get value for money. 

Remember, London’s theatre (to steal a line from Tina, the Tina Turner Musical) is simply the best!

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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