Don't Panic Travel Guides, New York City

Don’t Panic: Broadway Shows & New York Theatre for Less

No trip to New York City is complete without taking in a show, but a pair of Broadway tickets can cost as much as a hotel room, and a family pack of four – forget about it.  Don’t worry, you are not the only person faced with this dilemma.  There are plenty of ways to find discount tickets for the hot shows, especially off season or before the Tony’s are announced, and the more flexible you are about which show or where you sit, the more savings there are available.  I’ve tried them all, and I’m going to go over the pros and cons of each choice.

  • E-mail Lists and Websites: The one way to make sure you see the show you want to see is to buy tickets before you go, but being excited doesn’t mean you have to pay full price.  Check out websites that offer discounts on tickets, but be wary about offers that seem too good to be true.  Some sites I trust are Playbill (membership is free, make sure you look in the discount section) and Theatre Mania (membership is free).  These are not the lowest available ticket prices, but if you are buying in advance, they are the best you are going to find.
  • TKTS Booths: These three locations, spread throughout the city (the most centralized being in Time Square), offer discount tickets to a number of Broadway/Off-Broadway/Off-off Broadway shows.  The only way to find out what’s for sale is by going to a booth or using the iPhone app.  The exact shows offered vary from day to day and even as much as hour to hour (with some tickets released just before the eight o’clock curtain), but usually TKTS is peppered with Off-Broadway Shows and longer running or more obscure Broadway Shows.  Also, there are a limited number of available tickets to each show, so arrive early.  I’ve had great luck with TKTS, but I haven’t always been able to purchase tickets for the show that I wanted most.  I usually go with a list of shows that I would be interested in seeing and have always been able to get tickets to one of my choices. Be prepared, there is usually some waiting in line to be done, especially during tourist season.  UPDATE: TKTS accepts credit cards as well as cash.
  • Lottery Tickets: Theatres that have a lottery system generally set aside either the front row of seats or special box seats to be given out in the hours before the show starts.  The system works just like it sounds, each person writes their name on a piece of paper and X number of names are drawn from a hat.  If you are lucky enough to win, Lottery Tickets can usually only be purchased in cash. Unlike the varying amounts of waiting done in the TKTS line, participating in a Ticket Lottery means you are going to be waiting anywhere from an half-hour to an hour between writing down your name and the drawing with no guarantee of tickets.  Check with specific theaters for their lottery information.
  • Rush Tickets: ($25-$42; usually ~ $27) Rush tickets are discounted tickets sold at the theater’s box office only a couple of hours before the show begins.  Sometimes they are cancellations, sometimes they are special vacant seats, but there are always a limited number available.  Each theatre has its own protocol for selling the tickets, which can be found on its website.
  • Student Rush Tickets: ($25-$42; usually ~ $27) Dust off that old Student ID and cash in on some of that lost tuition money. These tickets are simply more selective Rush Tickets.  In general, most articles about Student Rush say one ID can buy two tickets, but I’ve found more often that one ID can only purchase one ticket.
  • SRO (Standing Room Only): ($20-$30; usually ~ $22) This is not where one might wear a tuxedo, but for the least expensive ticket price, you can enjoy the whole show.  The standing room is typically in the rear of the orchestra, but I have also stood in the rear of the balcony. Just like Rush Tickets, each theatre has its own policy for the sale of these tickets so check their specific site.  Also, most theaters only offer SRO tickets if the show is sold out.  I have seen several shows this way that I would have either not been able to get a ticket to on short notice or been unable to pay for a decent seat, and would definitely recommend it over missing a show.

A good rule of thumb is, the bigger the show is, the more expensive it will be.  It is always best to check with each theatre in advance, to find out their policies.  A great place to get an idea about what each theatre has in the way of Rush, Lottery, and SRO can be found on Playbill.com.