Ticketmaster on hidden fees: “We get it” — is the travel industry next?

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By Christopher Elliott

To get an idea where this nonsense with hidden fees is headed, consider what just happened at Ticketmaster.

The ticket broker, which has been harshly criticized for not featuring an “all-in” price for its tickets, announced to the world yesterday that it would rebundle its prices.

“We get it,” wrote Ticketmaster’s CEO, Nathan Hubbard. “You don’t like service fees.”

He continues

You don’t like them mostly because you don’t understand what the heck they are for.

All of the research we’ve done, and all of our conversations with fans like you tell us that the way we present these fees in the check out process is a huge frustration for you and hurts ticket sales. You simply want to know upfront, during the buying process, how much of your hard-earned money you are being asked to pay for a given seat.

If we are as transparent as possible with you sooner in the purchase process, you can make the decision about how much you want to pay to go to an event.

The problem is that historically we haven’t told you how much you have to pay for a given seat until very late in the buying process. And our data tells us this angers many of you to the point that you abandon your purchase once you see the total cost, and that you don’t come back.

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The data also says (and this is the important piece) that if we had told you up front what the total cost was, you would have bought the ticket! Perpetuating this antiquated fee presentation is upsetting fans, and both we and our clients are losing ticket sales as a result.

This is interesting on a few levels

First, it suggests Ticketmaster has long known that service fees were making its customers crazy. Just as the travel industry, from airlines to resorts, surely must know that their fees are driving travelers nuts.

Why didn’t Ticketmaster act sooner?

Second, its research says people wouldn’t abandon a purchase and might, in fact, go through with it, if they had an all-inclusive price. I believe this applies to travelers, too. Look companies like Southwest Airlines and Homewood Suites and Four Points, where almost everything is included. They’re doing fine, aren’t they?

Third, and most interestingly, is that Ticketmaster calls the practice “antiquated.” Ouch. A la carte pricing is outdated. True, certainly, for concert tickets. True for travel, too? I think so.

What is the travel industry waiting for? Ancillary fees may work in the short term, but long-term, they will drive your customers away. Ticketmaster knows. Some of the most successful companies in the travel space already do, too.

What part of antiquated don’t they understand? (Here’s how to contact the CEO if you have a complaint.)

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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