The Complete Guide to Cheap Theater Tickets
I almost never pay full price and neither should you
Never buy full price theater tickets without checking for a discount first. Unless a show is new, sold out, or selling very well, you can usually find a discount. Broadway’s ticket prices are outrageous, and you shouldn’t let that prevent you from seeing great theater.
As a theater fan, I rarely pay full price. Finding theater discounts is something that theater people have mastered, but anyone can become a discount pro. You just need to know about the right sources. A word of caution: be wary of scalpers. While many of the items on this list are for Broadway and New York City, some apply worldwide. Items that are only for New York City are marked as such. Everything source on except the memberships listed under Not Free.
Now go see something that’s not “Hamilton.”
Rush tickets are very cheap tickets that you can get by lining up at the box office the day of the show. They are sold when the box office opens, but you will have to line up hours before that due to demand, and even then, they might sell out before your turn. On the other hand, I have sometimes scored rush tickets by showing up hours after the box office has opened. It depends on the show. There are two kinds of rush: student rush (for students with student IDs) and general rush (for everyone). You can get 1 or 2 tickets per person or ID, depending on the policy. Sometimes rush is cash only. Rush tickets are usually in the $25–40 range. Usually Off-Broadway theater company set a blanket rush policy or some kind of cheap ticket policy for all their shows. Some shows will not announce a rush policy until the show has been open for a while, or sometimes not at all if it’s selling very well.
Similar to rush, these are very cheap tickets you can get by entering a lottery. Lotteries take place at the theater, usually two hours before the show starts. Entry is free, but if you win, you commit to buying the tickets. You can get 1 or 2 tickets per person, depending on the policy. Lottery tickets are usually in the $25–40 range. Some shows also have their lotteries online or through the TodayTix app. You can play multiple lotteries per day.
Standing Room Only
Standing room only tickets are very cheap tickets that reserve you a place to stand that is the width of a seat, usually at the back of the orchestra with a bar to lean on. Standing Room Only tickets are available when the performance is sold out. They go on sale at the box office the day of the performance. Standing Room Only tickets are usually in the $25–40 range. Sometimes a kind usher will let you sit down if there’s an empty seat. But don’t count on it. Be prepared to stand for the whole performance.
BroadwayForBrokePeople is a great website to use to keep track of Rush, Lottery, and Standing Room Only policies.
Broadway Week and Off-Broadway Week
Broadway Week and Off-Broadway Week are two separate promotions that allow audiences to buy 2-for-1 tickets to shows each fall. Both technically run for two weeks. This is a good way to get discount tickets for a show that otherwise wouldn’t be discounted. Different shows participate each year. They both sell out, so buy tickets when they go on sale. (NYC only.)
Kids’ Night on Broadway
On one night a year at Kids’ Night on Broadway, young people age 18 and under can go to a show for free with an adult who pays full price. This is a good way to get discount tickets for a show that otherwise wouldn’t be discounted. Different shows participate each year. It sells out, so buy tickets when they go. (NYC only.)
Twice a year for 20 days, 20@20 gives people the opportunity to buy $20 Off-Broadway tickets 20 minutes before the show starts by lining up at the theater. (NYC only.)
There are three TKTS booths in New York. The most famous one is in Times Square with the iconic red steps. There are also locations in Downton Brooklyn and South Street Seaport, and now a pop-up booth in Lincoln Center. At a booth, you can buy same-day discount tickets (up to 50% off) for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. You can also get next-day discount tickets for matinees at every booth but Times Square. Each booth begins selling tickets when it opens, although for the Times Square booth, if there are any matinees that day, it will only sell matinee tickets until those shows start. Listings change every day, but some popular shows will never be listed if they’re selling well. To see the listings, you can check the website or the TKTS app. If you want to see a play, you can get in the always-shorter play only line at the Times Square booth. (NYC only.)
The theater publications Playbill and Theatermania are have sections for discounts, and BroadwayBox is devoted to them. High 5 Tickets to the Arts lets middle and high school students in NYC and the tri-state area buy $5 tickets to theater and the arts. General ticket discount sites like LivingSocial and Goldstar also have theater discounts. (Theatermania and BroadwayBox are NYC only and Playbill is almost exclusively NYC.)
There are many sites and organizations you can become a member of to gain access to discount tickets. These are different than general memberships because they are specifically for discount tickets. Some have an annual fee, some are free, and some are for students or young people only (but they can bring someone of any age).
Hiptix is the Roundabout Theatre Company’s discount program for people ages 18–35. Playwrights Horizons has two kinds of Young Memberships: student and 30&Under. LincTix is Lincoln Center Theater’s discount program for 21 to 35-year-olds. Manhattan Theatre Club 30 Under 30 program lets people under 30 buy $30 tickets to their shows.
If you’re eligible for a TDF membership (you have to be a student, a teacher, a retiree, or a member of another qualifying group), you can access very cheap New York City theater tickets. The StudentRush Will-Call Club offers $5 tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as well as other events (and it’s not just for students). Tix4Students gives college and graduate students access to theater discounts (and the occasional sports discount). (TDF and StudentRush Will-Call Club are NYC only.)
Madeline Raynor is a New York City-based writer. She writes for Entertainment Weekly and Slate, and has written for The Hairpin, New York Magazine, BUST Magazine, Splitsider, Death and Taxes, Mashable, Indiewire, and Time Out New York. She loves all things Tina Fey. Word to the wise: her first name is pronounced with a long “i,” like the red-haired girl from France. Follow her on Twitter @madelineraynor_.
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