The Well-Tempered Ear

Are high ‘handling fees’ scams or fair? | October 22, 2022

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is beginning to wonder whether handling fees are sometimes scams and ripoffs in disguise.

A friend recently wanted to buy a good seat to see the Madison Opera’s upcoming production of Richard Strauss’ opera “Salome” in the Overture Center on Nov. 4 and 6.

The ticket ran $141, no small amount to see an opera that lasts only 110 minutes with no intermission.

But in addition, the friend had to pay an additional “handling fee” of $21.

That comes out to about 15 percent (rounded off from 14.89).

Too high to be accounted for just by inflation.

The friend was puzzled since the ticket was booked completely online through a computer. How much handling could there possibly be?

It is enough to make you wonder: Is the percentage indeed fair and a standard business practice

But the so-called handling fee seemed excessive to the friend.

Such an expensive handling fee seemed more and more like fiscal padding.

Maybe it is little more than camouflage to increase profits while making tickets look less expensive than they would be otherwise.

Maybe it is to make up for production costs, not just buying a ticket.

Maybe it is indeed the industry standard.

Bug it seems more and more likely that exorbitant handling fees in arts organizations are similar to what airlines do with baggage fees, leg-room fees, and seating-placement fees.

Similar to what sports teams and athletic organizations do to pressure fans into so-called donations.

To increase the bottom line. Money, money!

Maybe the organizations and offices could simply be open and honest, and tell consumers more about what the “handling fees” actually pay for. Buyers deserve transparency and accountability.

Otherwise handling fees start to seem like more of a scam or a ripoff than a fair price for a necessary service.

What do you think?

Have you had experiences with handling fees that you considered excessive from an arts organization or another business?

How did it make you feel?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. And they wonder why audiences are diminishing. The reaction of the presenters often is to simulcast the event — and that’s even worse: totally electronic and handling fee quite unnecessary.


    Comment by Michael P Scott — October 25, 2022 @ 6:56 pm

  2. I understand the need for some “handling fee” but the current “handling fee” at the end and without itemization of need is a bit out of control, in my opinion.


    Comment by Dale — October 23, 2022 @ 6:50 pm

  3. Overture’s fee info, from their website, is below. If you buy in person at the box office you only pay the small facility maintenance fee. As others have mentioned, the online service fees are typically from the ticketing software/platform and are outside of the control of the arts org.

    TICKET FEES: All tickets contain a Facility Fee between $2.00-$4.25 that goes towards upkeep and repair of Overture Center for the Arts.

    Single ticket prices for online and phone sales include a service fee that is added at the shopping cart.

    Subscription package fees are a flat amount per order covering all handling charges. Fee amount depends on the season being subscribed to (Overture or Forward Theater.)


    Comment by Kia Karlen — October 23, 2022 @ 5:41 pm

  4. I doubt that any of that fee goes to the arts organizations – most likely that fee is imposed by the Overture Center, UW Arts Ticketing, or whomever is selling the tickets through their website. $21 for “handling” borders on “exorbitant,” but it’s probably in part paying the salaries of the box office staff.


    Comment by Kathy O — October 22, 2022 @ 1:59 pm

  5. There is no service fee if you buy tickets in-person at the Overture Center. It’s true, online ticketing services do charge a fee, but more like 2%, not 15%. I will encourage the Overture to disclose what these fees are about. The opera is an resident company so they should have control over this.


    Comment by Janet Murphy — October 22, 2022 @ 1:45 pm

    • Resident companies have no control of the Overture box office. They are literally just renters.


      Comment by Daniel Petry — October 22, 2022 @ 6:12 pm

  6. Unfortunately, as technology improves the cost of ticketing software has done the same. For many performing arts centers, the organization renting the facility determines their ticket price based on how much is needed to make the production financially successful. What they do not account for, or are unwilling to include in their ticket price, are the associated ticketing platform costs. For example, they believe that patrons will only attend if the production’s tickets are $10. The $10 does not cover the cost of processing that ticket. And why should it when they can pass the cost along to the patron? They can also blame the performing arts center for those fees.

    Depending on the platform, the performing arts center may have little to no control over the fees. Each system prices its usage differently. Some centers pay nothing directly as it all is paid by the ticket buyer. Others pay a portion upfront, and the ticket buyer pays the rest. A few cover all the costs, but these platforms tend to have many limitations and are less ticket-buyer-friendly.

    All these fees are before any type of credit card processing fee. Many institutions also have some sort of facility upkeep fee. It is easy to see how fees have gotten out of control in the past decade or two. Unfortunately, multiple studies have also shown that once a ticket buyer gets to the checkout process, they are likely to finish the sale with the fee add-on.

    New York just passed a law requiring the fees are disclosed at the beginning of the purchase process rather than the end. If other states start to adopt these rules, add-on fees may become less prolific.


    Comment by Sue W — October 22, 2022 @ 1:42 pm

  7. I, too, was surprised by the inappropriately high “handling fee” charged by Madison Opera when I bought tickets to the second and third productions in this upcoming season. I was buying tickets for a friend as well as for myself, and the “handling fee” was doubled, even though it was just one transaction, with both sets of tickets sent to my address. I agree with you that transparency would be preferable. There’s a lack of integrity implicit in raising money by tacking on excess charges at checkout.


    Comment by Mary J. Mekemson — October 22, 2022 @ 11:44 am

  8. It’s just good to get The Ear!


    Comment by Ann B. — October 22, 2022 @ 11:11 am

  9. My $113 “ticket” to license a ’98 Camry for another year cost an extra $2.26 to pay online with Discover. Reasonable, since I also saved a postage stamp.
    Another injustice: It costs the same to license a ’98 Camry with 206,000 miles on it as it does a 2022 Lexus.


    Comment by bbead — October 22, 2022 @ 10:29 am

  10. Handling fees usually cover the printing of the ticket and the stamp to mail it, but really doesn’t apply anymore.
    I do know from the Bradley Symphony Centerthe 50% of the historic fee go to long term maintenence of the facility. Other than that I agree that these fees are excessive. One ways to avoid at least a few of the fees is to by in-person at the box office.


    Comment by Daniel Petry — October 22, 2022 @ 9:00 am

  11. If your friend had walk up to the ticket window, would he have been charged the handling fee? Or any fee other than the published ticket price?

    If he walked up to the ticket window and purchased the ticket with cash, would he have been charged a handling fee?

    If yes, then a legitimate case could be made against such a fee.

    If no, then the cost of online transactions and credit card processing are being passed on to the consumer. A fair comprise for the convenience of not having to physically drive, and take time out of your schedule for buying tickets.


    Comment by Augustine — October 22, 2022 @ 8:54 am

  12. The Overture Center has such an online “convenience fee”. Many times I’ve thought of buying a ticket to an event there and have decided against it on principle. It’s laughable if still called a “convenience fee” when not involving venue staff. I can’t recall if they waive the fee if one comes in to the box office, in which case they would cause me inconvenience and also use their paid staff.

    It’s even worse when the fee is a percentage of the ticket price. If it were a standard $2 or so no matter the ticket price to cover the website costs, it might make more sense. It doesn’t take the online ticketing app any more effort for a $40 ticket than for a $150 ticket!


    Comment by David — October 22, 2022 @ 8:18 am

  13. Arts organizations may not have any control over this – if the venue uses Ticketmaster, for example. I appreciate the UWs system – no added fees, if you just print out a ticket at home. That’s why some organizations only offer at-door ticketing or thru friendly local businesses. It’s an issue – but don’t blame the arts organizations – because patrons might also be upset not to have online ticket access.


    Comment by Sue — October 22, 2022 @ 2:37 am

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