Giving family or friends a voucher for a trip to the theatre can seem like an ideal present if you’re not sure what show or date to book. But where you buy your voucher, gift card, or token will affect the way it can be used and the choice of seats, and it can prove costly as some have hidden fees, restrictions and time limits.
Debbie Kennedy, 40, from Kent, had problems using a £50 theatre voucher to book seats for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. “I found the tickets I wanted on the theatre’s website,” says Debbie. “They were in the stalls at £56 each, but when I tried to book them the theatre told me my voucher wasn’t valid at the box office and could only be used through the agency which had sold it.”
Debbie’s cousin had bought her the voucher as a gift and as it had been bought through London Theatre Bookings that’s where it had to be spent.
“When I rang London Theatre Bookings, I had to pay £72 a ticket for the stalls,” says Debbie. This meant instead of paying £6 on top of the £50 gift card for her seat, Debbie’s ‘gift’ cost her another £16 – so £22 in total – because of the way it had to be traded in. And as she wanted to book a second ticket, that too cost £72, rather than £56.
A spokesperson for London Theatre Bookings says agencies “routinely” add on extra fees: “We charge both booking fees and VAT, which comes to around 25% of the ticket price.”
Where can I buy theatre vouchers?
You can buy both vouchers and tokens from £5 upwards at most theatre box offices, get a gift card from Ticketmaster, or get theatre vouchers from a ticket agency.
Vouchers bought at a theatre box office can be used to book tickets at that particular theatre. And if the theatre is part of a large group, such as the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), or Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, then vouchers can be used across any of the group’s venues.
You can also buy Ticketmaster gift cards online or in shops including Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco or WH Smith. These can only be exchanged for theatre tickets, (or other events), through its own site at Ticketweb.co.uk or via its telephone booking line.
Lots of ticket agencies also sell their own vouchers, which, as Debbie found out, can usually only be swapped for tickets in person at one of their outlets, or by calling a special booking line.
By far the most widely accepted, and the vouchers with the least strings attached, are ‘Theatre Tokens’. This is the UK theatre industry’s national gift voucher scheme, run by the Society of London Theatre, a not-for-profit organisation. You can buy Theatre Tokens from theatres directly, online, or from Waterstones and WH Smith stores. They’re accepted nationwide at more than 240 theatres, including the West End, and a full list of venues can be found at Theatretokens.com.
Theatre Tokens are also accepted at the ‘TKTS’ ticket booth in Leicester Square, which sells discounted ‘on the day’ tickets, but they can’t be used through discount sites such as Lastminute.com or Theatremonkey.com. In all cases, the recipient can make up the difference if tickets exceed the voucher value.
What seats will I get?
This is the point where the theatre currency you’ve got plays a big part. Exchanging a voucher or token at a theatre means you can take your pick of seats and prices, but if you’re tied in to using your voucher through an agency or other outlet your choice may be more limited.
“You may not get the exact same selection of seats through a third party as you would from the theatre directly,” says a spokesperson for the Society of London Theatre. This is because they’re “dependent on the ticket allocation given by the theatre”, which may mean the choice is more limited.
Ticketmaster’s terms and conditions also explain it is reliant on what it’s given, stating: “We sell tickets allocated to us by Event Partners and the quantity and type of tickets varies on an ‘event by event’ basis.” So even if the theatre’s own website is showing the seats you want, you may not be able to book the exact same ones from Ticketmaster or any other agency.
How long do theatre vouchers last?
Some vouchers only last 12 months, and in all cases you can’t claim a refund on unused funds, or usually spend them against souvenir merchandise or drinks at the theatre bar.
You may think a year’s a long time, but with Ticketmaster’s gift card, the 12-month countdown begins from the point of purchase, so don’t buy too far in advance.
ATG vouchers are valid up to 18 months and Theatre Tokens don’t have any expiry date.
However, if the theatre company or booking agency goes bust, you may find that your vouchers are worthless so it’s better to use them as soon as possible.
Before exchanging your vouchers for tickets to performances at participating theatres, check the ticket retailer’s refund and exchange policy.
Vouchers or tokens?
Be clear what you’re buying as some theatres sell both vouchers and the more widely accepted Theatre Tokens.
Andy Webb, who runs the money website Becleverwithyourcash.com, has used several types of theatre vouchers and says given a choice, “I’d stay clear of most of the discount theatre ticket agencies and go for Theatre Tokens as there’s no expiry date and they can be spent at hundreds of theatres across the UK”.
Check other gift vouchers
Here’s what to check when buying store or cinema gift cards or other types of vouchers.
Store gift cards
Check for expiry dates.
These can prove worthless if the store goes into administration. Instead of buying a voucher for one store, you could buy a gift card for a shopping centre such as Westfield or Intu that includes all stores.
Cinema gift cards
Cineworld, Vue and Odeon offer gift cards along with some independent cinemas.
Check the small print. Vue cards can only be used at the box office, but Odeon cards can be used with online bookings.
Check the small print along with terms and conditions. Vouchers may have limited availability and you may need to book.