9 ways to score free or discounted tickets in NYC

I love the theater and live music events. There are so many options here in the Big Apple, and finding free or discounted tickets in NYC has become a full-time hobby. Live TV audience opportunities, Broadway lotteries and rush seat alerts have become my pastime, and, despite recent disappointments, my hopes remain high that I will continue to finesse live performances at bargain prices.

This week alone, I failed miserably with getting free or discounted tickets in NYC. My mother was visiting, and I was looking for ways to keep us both entertained. Attempts to get rush tickets to see Rosanne Cash at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and lottery attempts for Hamilton, Frozen, Mean Girls and Book of Mormon, all unsuccessful. The biggest let down: waitlisted but ultimately unconfirmed seats for a live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, which aired on NBC April 1st (Easter Sunday). I anticipated seeing this revival of my favorite musical live, but had to settle for watching the broadcast version, including all commercial interruptions (and there were many).

While I’ve not yet been able to score tickets to Hamilton, I was finally successful at getting tickets to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. I registered as a “verified” Ticketmaster fan back in October, when the show opened, but each time seats were released, I couldn’t find any for less than $850 a piece. Finally, on my third attempt, I scored two seats in the mezzanine for $75 each. Unfortunately I will have to wait until June for the performance.

Despite these setbacks, I aspire to reach entertainment Nirvana by maximizing on free or discounted tickets in NYC opportunities. My ultimate goal is to get tickets to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Each time I’m waitlisted, but never confirmed. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is also in-demand and hard to get. Saturday Night Live tickets are done by lottery once a year only, and a standby ticket requires an all-day queue beginning at 7 a.m. on the day of taping, so I’ve written that idea off completely.

I occasionally peruse availability for morning shows like Good Morning America, but I just can’t fathom fighting my way into the city to wait in the cold for a 6:45 a.m. call. The taping of The View I attended was fun, but with Charlie Sheen as guest, the content was less than inspiring. Dr. Oz was ok, but I enjoyed the audience warm up more than the show. This week, Mom and I could have seen The Chew, but an 8 a.m. call was still too early, considering the proximity of the studio to Jersey City.

Audience participation, incidentally, is not easy. You are asked to dress “trendy” and preferably in bright colors. Be prepared to wait on line to get in, and again to wait inside the venue before the audience is seated and taping begins. Waiting continues as production crews primp hosts and guests and optimize the sets. You are prompted over and over to applaud vigorously, upon cue. And you must appear to be engaged with the show content.

Still, if you’re in New York or are planning to be, here are my hacks for scoring free or discounted tickets in NYC events. Keep in mind, for all shows, minimum age restrictions vary, dress codes may apply, and reservations do not always guarantee entry.

  1. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – Register to get alerts here .
  2. NBC tickets (GMA, The Chew, The View, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Megyn Kelly Today) – Register on 1iota.com to scan the calendar of upcoming shows and ticket availability. You can also follow @1iota on Twitter for more up to the minute news and ticket releases.
  3. I don’t do Broadway two-fers any longer. Instead of dragging myself to 47th street to stand in line by 10 a.m., I use the TodayTix app, which offers an array of first-run and off-Broadway shows. Same-day shows are often available at a discounted rate, and you can even purchase seats up to 30 days in advance, also at a discount. Unlock alerts for rush tickets to select events to improve your chances of getting a seat as soon as they’re released. The best part of this app is the full descriptions and short video clips you can view to help you decide if the show’s for you.
  4. The Dr. Oz show seems to be struggling for audiences, so beware registering on www.doctoroz.com/tickets, you may just be inundated with emails for upcoming tapings. (I finally unsubscribed.)
  5. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Late Show with Steven Colbert: Sign up on www.showclix.com. The monthly calendar will display show tapings, although “guaranteed” entry is hard to come by.
  6. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: I’m not a fan, but you may be. Sign up at http://www.lastweektickets.com/ .
  7. Bruce Springsteen on Broadway: Tickets for this high demand show are offered exclusively through Ticketmaster Verified Fan. Register for the extended performances through December 15, 2018. If you’re unsure when you’ll be in New York, you can enter a digital lottery up to a week before each performance on luckyseat.com. For every performance, 26 tickets will be sold for $75 each, with a limit of 2 tickets per winner.
  8. Broadway: Visit the theater box office the morning of your selected performance. Many shows will sell Rush Tickets starting at 10 a.m., but you can usually check by calling the theater box office in advance. I did this last year for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, and for Fiddler On The Roof.
  9. There are other shows you may be interested, of course, and availability of free or discounted tickets in NYC changes all the time. For a more comprehensive offering, visit nycgo.com.

If you’re vigilant, you may be more successful than I’ve been for entry to these popular shows. Using the Today Tickets app, I have been able to win lottery attempts in the past for War Paint and Sweeney Todd. I’ve also purchased discounted seats to Hello, Dolly!, Chicago, A Doll’s House, Part 2, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. These may not have been my first choice, but the price was right!

What I’ve learned, on the other hand, is if you’re keen on a particular show or event, you will need to bite the bullet and pay prevailing ticket prices, through conventional booking channels or direct through the venue. I did this on several occasions: Billy Joel at MSQ; Tori Amos, Ryan Adams and Sheryl Crow at the Beacon Theater; JD Souther at City Winery; Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin at Paramount Hudson Valley Theater; Aretha Franklin at NJ Performing Arts Center (which was subsequently cancelled). Upcoming shows include Sam Smith at MSQ; Dave Matthews in Camden, NJ; Madeline Peryoux at Tarrytown Music Hall; Bruce Hornsby and Joan Armatrading at City Winery. And that will take us through July!