Pros: discounted tickets, some tickets available for most shows including Broadway out of town tryouts
Cons: incompetent staff, no discounts on 11am Sunday shows, charge extra fees
I love going to the theater but I don't love paying $80, $90, or $100 for my tickets. When I'm in New York, I use TKTS to get same day half price cash tickets. In Boston I get the same type of tickets at BosTix.
What is BosTix?
BosTix is a ticketing organization that operates booths in Quincy Market right next to Faneuil Hall and in Copley Square at the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston (in front of the park). While the bulk of their business is same day half price cash tickets, both booths are also full TicketMaster outlets. Advanced purchase tickets are also available online, sometimes at a discount.
Boston is certainly not New York, but it has a regular rotation of quality theater. Nearly all of the professional theaters and some of the semi-professional troupes release tickets to BosTix; unlike in New York where popular shows don't release discount tickets to TKTS, you can almost always find anything that isn't sold out in the booths. Many Broadway shows have their out of town tryouts in Boston (Dirty Dancing is in the middle of a seven week tryout as I write this) and even tickets to these shows are frequently available. BosTix has also expanded its horizons in the past year or two and now also provides tickets for repertory groups in Watertown and a few other near suburbs as well as shows at the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly (this theater may be closing before the 2009 season begins and thus may no longer be sold at BosTix).
Hours and Ticket Availability
The booths are open from 10am-6pm Monday through Saturday and 11am-4pm on Sunday (only Copley Square is open on Mondays). Half price tickets are only sold for shows that day regardless of their start time; the infrequent 11am shows performed on some Sundays for some shows are just not carried at the booths. Both booths have the same tickets but the specific tickets available for each show are controlled by the theaters. Some theaters only release a subset of available tickets to the booths even for Sunday matinees where there isn't much time for same day sales at the theater box office. There have been certain shows that only release balcony seats or only release left and right orchestra seats even if there are open seats in center orchestra sections. For example, before a recent visit online ticketing agents listed a minimum of six seats in the first three rows of the center orchestra section for the show I wanted to see (I stopped looking beyond that, assured that there were plenty of good seats). However, when I tried to buy one of those seats at Bostix, the best seat they had to offer me was in the second to last row of left orchestra. I have to believe at least some of the seats I saw online were still unsold a mere hour later. The theater simply preferred to hold them even if it meant they went unsold.
One area where BosTix improves upon TKTS is in its announcements of available shows. Unlike TKTS which only lists available shows onsite and while the booths are open, BosTix posts show listings online the day before they go on sale. They also email them to anyone who signs up for such bulletins (be aware that you will also get BosTix mailings on other topics including some show announcements and advance sale discounts). The shows are also listed on a small board behind the ticket booth at Quincy Market or on a paper sign posted on the booth itself at Copley Square.
Patrons of BosTix are very reliant on the information provided by the agents in the BosTix booths. Unfortunately, BosTix falls down in this area. Most of their staff are unable to answer the simplest questions about tickets correctly (which, unfortunately, doesn't stop them from trying or, in some cases, from answering incorrectly but with authority). When asked where specific seats are for a particular show, answers are either vague or incorrect. Customers usually have to push for answers and then cannot rely on them.
For example, I give you an approximate transcript of my last conversation with a BosTix agent:
Me: "What's the best single seat available for Show X?"
Agent: "Rear center orchestra"
Me: "How far back?"
Agent"In the back section"
Me: "How close to the center?"
Agent: "A bit to the left"
Me: "Could you tell me exactly what seat it is please?"
Agent: "Seat 1. All the way on the left aisle."
Me: "In the left orchestra section?"
Me: "And what row is it?"
Agent: " Row U. All the way in the back."
Me: "Thank you, I'll pass."
His information was logical given the seat and row numbers. However, when I got home and looked up row U seat 1 in that theater, it turned out it was near the front of the rear orchestra section on the center aisle of the left center orchestra section and a much better seat than the agent led me to believe. It was still a bit farther back than I like, but I probably would have purchased the seat had I gotten accurate information.
This is the worst experience I've ever had at BosTix, but it's hardly the only time I've been given misinformation about seat location. That's one reason I worked so hard to pin down the agent. I usually go to BosTix with my preferred seat numbers in mind and look for seats within that range, but that doesn't help if the offered seats aren't in that range. I've decided that the only viable way to deal with seat location is to take a full seating chart for the theater (or theaters if there's more than one show I'm interested in seeing) with me when I go to buy tickets. That's a major pain and should not be necessary. Because the agents are so clueless, it is.
BosTix officially charges a service fee of up to $6.50 per ticket depending on the face value of the ticket purchased (almost all professional theater tickets fall in the highest fee range). However, they often charge a bit more than that, probably with the hope that either folks won't know the face value of their seats or that the savings they get offsets the extra surcharge. The last tickets I purchased at Bostix had a face value of $88. According to the official fee schedule, I should have been charged a service fee of $6.50 for a grand total of $50.50. Instead I was asked to pay $51.75. I called them on it, but they shrugged and told me that the price was $51.75, take it or leave it. It galled me, but I took it.
BosTix is providing a service that saves me money and they deserve their cut. I am happy to pay their fees as advertised and publicly listed. It bothers me when I'm asked to pay more, but I grimace and bear it because they are the cheapest option around. I just wish they didn't realize that means they can get away with nearly anything and still have customers.
Lines at BosTix tend to be short but move slowly (probably thanks to the incompetent staff and the need to ask them a zillion questions before purchase). It's not uncommon to walk right up to the booth at either location, especially earlier in the day, but there's never any guarantee so plan accordingly. Both booths are a few subway stops from the theater district. Alternately, you can walk from either booth to most theaters in less than 20 minutes. Don't forget to include this travel time into your plans as well.
The Bottom Line
BosTix has a monopoly on discounted theater tickets in Boston. Unfortunately, they know it and it lets them get away with having incompetent staff and adding extra fees to their prices above and beyond the advertised price of doing business with them. If there were any other way to consistently get discounted theater tickets in Boston, they'd lose my business in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, there isn't so I remain a loyal if disheartened customer.