San Francisco Budget Travel Tip #2: How To Score Last Minute Concert & Game Tickets

Posted by Craig Wesley on

In terms of saving money, San Francisco isn't the most ideal place. In fact, according to Expatisan, the cost of living in San Francisco is sixth most expensive in the world and second in North America.

In terms of travel and entertainment though, there is a silver lining. Travellers can get incredible deals on concerts and game tickets. How is this possible in one of the most expensive cities in the world? Economically speaking, it comes down to high levels of substitute products and direct competition.

For example, my most recent experience scoring last minute tickets is for the Gorillaz on October 8th, 2017 at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. For two tickets to the sold out concert, I paid an "all-in" price of $61.99. The face value of a single ticket is $65, excluding any Ticketmaster fees which I believe would have brought the total cost to around $80/ticket. The math roughly comes to 60% off. As I mentioned previously, that's for a sold out concert, not an undersold concert.

Meanwhile, second hand tickets for the Gorillaz in Seattle & Denver were closer to $150/ticket. If you look on Reddit, then someone paid $200/ticket for General Admission tickets on StubHub for the sold out show in Denver, Colorado.

The reason for such discrepancy is that ticket scalpers probably purchased almost 20% of the total tickets, but on the same day Coldplay is playing an undersold Levi's Stadium and Scorpians and Megadeath are at the Oracle Arena. The weekend prior, The Shins played a sold out show at the Berkeley Greek Theatre, last night Imagine Dragons were at the Shoreline Amphitheater, and Depeche Mode is at the Oracle this Sunday. The list goes on and on.

At the same time, out of town ticket brokers and amateur ticket scalpers just keep buying inventory. The large ticket brokers are still profitable overall and so losing money on tickets is just the cost of doing business, while amateur ticket scalpers are generally just losing money. It's really identical to the financial markets.

Anyway, on to the actual tips.

1. Be a Casual Fan, Find Backup Options

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was a passionate fan of a handful of bands and so I remember paying close to double the face value of ticket to see Weezer at the Fillmore. Now, in my late thirties, there are bands that I still love, but it's not the end of the world if I miss a concert.

Ticket brokers/scalper basically make their money on emotional buyers, the real fanatics of a band. These hardcore fans are the ones paying double to five times the face value of tickets. They are essentially the ones that are subsidizing your tickets and helping you get a great deal.

Even though there's obviously shows we prefer over others, it's better to come up a with a list of two, three or even four shows you don't mind substituting for each other.

In the case of my Gorillaz tickets, I had Coldplay, Depeche Mode for the weekend, and even An American in Paris at the Orpheum Theatre as a backup plan.

2. Check Total Prices Across Multiple Sites

There are five big players for online ticket reselling marketplaces. Ticketmaster, StubHub, TickPick, SeatGeek, and Vivid Seats. Ticketmaster and StubHub have the largest inventories of resale tickets, but they also have pretty high fees. TickPick has basically "no-hidden fees" and I've found it to be the cheapest if there's a lot of tickets available, which isn't always the case. I actually don't have experience buying from SeatGeek or VividSeats, but that's because I found them to be the most expensive and with not as much inventory.

Hopefully it should go without saying that you need to check the "all-in" price. It's easy with TickPick because they basically show you the total price right away, unless it's a physical ticket and requires shipping charges. In that case, you just need to add tickets to the shopping cart to view the total price. With Ticketmaster you need to go to the final checkout page to see the total price and StubHub you need to select the "show prices with fees" option. 

3. Set an Initial Target Price & Adjust

Each show has its own variables to consider, but don't be surprised if you can get 50-75% off for most large concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area, this includes places like Oracle Arena, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Shoreline Amphitheater, and Levi's Stadium. While I saved 60% off with my Gorillaz ticket at their sold out show, I could have saved 75% off Coldplay in the last few hours before the show with ticket prices for the cheap seats reaching a low of $23/ticket.

For whatever reason, Berkeley's Greek Theatre is rather difficult to get a good deal on a sold out concert, but of course with an undersold concert you can easily get 25% off without much hassle. For example, Father John Misty is playing this Saturday and is so far an undersold concert. If I were to buy tickets directly from Ticketmaster, then the total price for two tickets would be $111.80. On StubHub, two days out, the total price is $89 for a pair. With about 180 tickets left on StubHub for a show that isn't even sold out, smart scalpers are going to dump tickets rather than experience a 100% loss on investment.

Even though most of my life I've gone to smaller shows at the Fillmore, Warfield, Slim's, Great American Music Hall, and Bottom of the Hill, I don't have much experience buying resold tickets from these venues since prices are fairly affordable for the shows I attend. I imagine sold out shows are pretty tough to get a good deal since supply to begin with is fairly limited, but I could be wrong.

If you track tickets for about a week, then you'll get a feel for where the bottom price will be. For example, Gorillaz had about 1,200 tickets listed on StubHub 10 days out from the show and every time ticket prices hit $35/ticket one or two hundred tickets would be sold that day. Five days out from the show, a seller would drop prices to $30/ticket and those would be gone in about 10 minutes and then you would see tickets for $40, but there was still about 500-800 tickets left. I then saw ticket prices for $28, but those were sold in probably 2-3 minutes. For the next few days, prices really never hit $28 and hovered around $37-40, but there were still about 300 tickets left. One to two days before the last day of sales, I targeted $25/ticket, but I can say now that even until the last minute it never hit that price. With about 150 tickets left, I finally hit checkout at $28/ticket. Prices never went lower and actually rebounded back to $60/ticket because inventory finally shrunk enough.

I know it sounds like a lot of work tracking tickets, but it's actually not because just about every app, including StubHub and TickPick, allows you to set price alerts. Simply set alert for maybe 20% above your target price and check prices whenever you're set an alert.

Game tickets are actually the easiest, wait until the very last minute you can buy tickets. If you don't mind missing the first 30 minutes, then you can wait even until after some start times. Stubhub and TickPick stop Oakland Athletics sales 2 hours before game time, but I know Raiders will let you basically buy tickets even when the game is pretty much over. I believe the cut-off time for the Warriors is game time.

4. Be Ready To Checkout ASAP

If you're aiming for the maximum price reduction, then the window of opportunity is actually quite small. From my experience, the cheapest tickets only last from a couple of minutes to maybe an hour. Basic economics take over and in this day and age there is always someone looking for a deal. Once that superior deal is gone, the supply of tickets has shrunk enough to demand a higher price than before and so you may never see the price drop again.

Make sure you setup an account, save your payment information, and have your credit card handy. If you have a decent memory, then memorize the 3-digit code on the back of your credit card or "copy & paste" it.

I personally think that using the mobile App to checkout is the fastest way to go, so be sure to download, sign-up/sign-in, enter payment information, etc.

5. Calculate Transportation & Parking Cost

About a month ago, I scored two tickets for the last place Oakland Athletic's vs the Texas Rangers for $15/ticket, which included a $6 concession voucher. It was my first time going to any type of game in over 10 years. I was shocked to see that for even a last place team like the Oakland Athletic's, the parking is $20 for a car. That's actually considered cheap. Oracle Arena Concerts, Levi's Stadium, and AT&T Park all charge $40.

For the most part, unless the show goes late, we park at a free & relatively safe location, such as the BART station and take public transportation. When you have 3 or more people, then paid parking becomes the cheaper option.

At the same time, public transportation saves a lot of headaches in terms of traffic, especially after the concert is done. Traffic personally stresses me out and so even for equal money, I'll still drive and BART to the venue.

6. Look For Discount Codes 

Everywhere, except for Ticketmaster, has a discount code, usually $10 or 10% off, for first time users. As usual, TickPick wins because they'll offer $10 off regularly as a promotion, even if you're not a new customer. 


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