If you’re looking to see a show in New York City, you might be shocked by the ticket prices listed online. Stalwart shows like The Lion King and Wicked can run you over $100—and don’t even get us started on Hamilton. Your options for discount tickets require a bit of patience, but you could score big if you’re willing to wait for it! Here’s a guide to winning cheap tickets in New York: the land of lines.
You’ll encounter a few strange terms once you hit the Theater District, and everyone will assume you know what they mean. Now’s the time to learn them.
If there’s a certain show you’d like to see, you can wait at that theater for rush tickets or lottery tickets. These are typically the cheapest available seats for any given show. “Rush” means there are a limited number of cheap tickets released the day of the show when the box office opens; “student rush” means you need a student ID to purchase rush tickets. Prices vary according to show.
Lottery tickets require less of a wait. Just enter your name at the theater of the show you’d like to see, go on your merry way, and return to hear your name called—hopefully! Lottery tickets are usually distributed within an hour of show time, while rush tickets are distributed the morning of the show. Digital lottery tickets are available online for certain shows and require you to visit the theater only if you win. Here’s a complete list of rush and lottery options, compiled alphabetically by show.
flickr: Tom Byrne
The TKTS line is a near-constant stream of theater-going hopefuls in the center of Times Square on a big set of red stadium seats. TKTS sells tickets for 20-50% off for day-of performances of several Broadway plays, musicals, and Off-Broadway shows. Ticket prices and show availability change daily and are posted outside the TKTS booth and on the TKTS app. If you want tickets for less and don’t have a strong preference for a certain show, TKTS might be for you.
How to Score Discount Broadway Tickets in NYC: Wait Times
Wait times for tickets typically depend on the popularity of the shows involved. Supply and demand, right? Any show that’s been playing for a long time or hasn’t received a lot of buzz will have more tickets available for less money, while more popular shows don’t even need to sell discounted tickets in order to fill the house at each performance (we’re looking at you, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). For instance, a long-running show like Chicago shouldn’t have too long of a rush line, while the new Tony-winning The Band’s Visit will have people lining up early in the morning outside the theater for rush spots. Popular shows might not have available tickets at TKTS or other online discount providers (of course, it never hurts to check!).
That said, if you’re planning to wait in a rush line, we’d budget an hour or two for less-popular shows and a minimum of three hours for blockbusters. Keep in mind that regardless of the day of the week and regardless of the show, you’ll need to arrive at the theater in the morning, around 8am or so. Bring coffee!
For TKTS, budget around 30 minutes of wait time. You might wait up to an hour during peak times like Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. You can also find real-time wait-time updates via the TKTS app, which gives you a look at all TKTS locations: Times Square, Lincoln Center, South Street Seaport, and downtown Brooklyn. Waits tend to be shorter at these non-Times Square booths (especially Brooklyn). The Play Express line at TKTS also has significantly reduced wait times if you’re looking for less singing and dancing with your theater.
Also remember that you have a better chance scoring great deals with less of a wait on weekdays rather than weekends.
How to Score Discount Broadway Tickets in NYC: Have Fun!
You’re in New York, so there’s no reason not to have a fun time in line. Be sure to make friends with those around you to make the time fly. They can also hold your place—and vice versa—when you need to step away for a bathroom break or a refreshment. Play interactive games on your phone like Heads Up!, or give your friends an online quiz like “Which Broadway Diva Are You?” (I got Kristin Chenoweth: score!). If you think ahead, bring small analog games like a deck of cards.
For extra-long waits in rush lines for popular shows, a portable chair, a fully-charged phone, a book, and snacks will make your experience much more bearable.
How to Score Discount Broadway Tickets in NYC: Know Your Online Options
The discount-ticket landscape has changed dramatically within the past few years with the advent of digital outlets. Certain shows like the evergreen Hamilton offer a popular digital lottery for $10 day-of tickets (your chances are slim, but the form takes just a minute to fill out). Other services like TodayTix or New York Show Tickets are like TKTS, but online and not exclusively for day-of shows. Membership services like TDF (the organization behind TKTS) and Play by Play require membership fees and reward you with super-cheap tickets for your patronage. If you know which show you’d like to see and/or are willing to do some research, you can secure discounted tickets before you arrive in the city so you don’t have to wait in line at all!