Save on theatre, film, comedy and more.
I’m going to let you in on a secret that’ll get you play, musical, festival, cabaret, pop-up cinema, stand-up, fairs, lectures, walking tours and other tickets for a £4 to £7 booking fee. It’s through something called seat-filling.
I’ve been to London Film Festival screenings, big West End shows, fringe theatre, Christmas fairs, gigs by comedy giants and more for just a few quid each time. Bargain!
Here’s how it works and the best places to find tickets.
What is seat filling?
The idea is that venues and promoters will give away cheap or free tickets when sales are low. They don’t want customers who’ve paid full whack to experience a half-empty auditorium, so they allocate small amounts of tickets to agencies who find people willing to give something a chance for a few quid.
The main rules of seat filling
There’s a good reason it’s a secret. If the person sitting next to you paid £50 and you paid £5, they’d understandably feel like they’ve been ripped off.
So the number one rule is to not tell anyone how you got your ticket. Sometimes this extends to the box office and theatre staff! You also shouldn’t share on social media about your bargain ticket, though feel free to tell people if you enjoyed the show.
The next key condition is you must show up! If you don’t there’s a chance your membership will be suspended.
What tickets can you get?
There really is a huge range. I’ve seen tickets for big bands like Supergrass, Royal Shakespeare Company productions, Sing-along screenings of the Greatest Showman, bingo nights and Grayson Perry in conversation.
But you could also see smaller shows you’ve never heard of in venues you didn’t know existed.
I’ve noticed that since venues reopened after the pandemic there are many more options than prepandemic. That’s understandable with some people not keen to go back to crowded events.
How much money can you save?
Obviously the bigger the show the bigger the saving. A festival could cost £60 (or more) at face value, but be just a fiver for the booking fee. Whereas a comedy show might normally be a tenner but you’d pay £4.
It’s certainly worth checking there aren’t other offers available on smaller shows.
When you can get tickets?
Tickets are usually listed just a day or two ahead of time, though sometimes they are available a week or two in advance. It all depends on advance sales.
Sometimes tickets go fast and sell out, but it’s always worth looking again later, even just hours ahead, in case more have been released or any have been returned.
It’s worth making sure you’re getting emails from the agencies so you can act fast when shows go on sale.
Listen to Cash Chats, Andy’s twice-weekly podcast. Episodes every Tuesday and Friday.
The downsides of seat filling
I’ve missed more shows than I’ve gone to as I’ve either not been free, the location hasn’t worked for me or the tickets have gone really fast. So unless you have loads of spare time you might only get to one or two shows.
You’re more likely to get tickets for London venues, but there can be a decent range of regional theatre or gigs available.
And it really can be hit and miss. Sometimes there are loads to pick from, and at other times there’s hardly anything available. So you need to be flexble.
You also don’t get to choose your seats, so it might be you’re up in the gods or have restricted views. If you think that’ll ruin your experience, maybe look elsewhere for deals.
Where to find seat filling tickets
Central Tickets definitely seems to have a good range of tickets, though it is largely for London events.
It’s free to join, though you need to make at least one booking a year unless you’re a “regional member”. The fees range between £4 and £6.50 per ticket
Show Film First
You might be familiar with Show Film First for advance screenings of movies, but they also have seat-filling opportunities. I’ve spotted a better range of non-London events here, though there’s usually a lot less to choose from. It’s probably the better site for live gigs and festivals. Fees tend to be a bit lower than elsewhere, but will vary depending on the type of show.
My Box Office
You’ll have to pay an annual membership fee for MBO, costing you £15. You’ll still pay an admin fee on top for each ticket.
Other free ticket websites
Blue Light Tickets
These tickets are just for NHS staff and allocated in a prize draw. You need to register with Blue Light Tickets.
Though not technically a seat-filler service SRO Audiences provides free tickets to TV and radio recordings for shows like Have I Got News for You and Dancing on Ice.
Lost In TV
Lost In TV works the same as SRO, with TV and radio show tickets given away for free. Programmes include The Masked Singer and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
BBC Shows and Tours
Finally you can also get more TV and radio production tickets for free direct from the BBC.