No event is ever sold out if you know where to look. We tell you the best sources for seats, and how to avoid paying scalper prices. May 31, 2006 Brandon Tesmer celebrated his 40th birthday in fine style by holding a mini reunion in March with three college buddies at a Rolling Stones concert in Las Vegas. His fourth-row seats at the MGM Grand Garden Arena were so close that he could read the drummer's song list as the motorized stage wheeled past. Says Tesmer: "When Mick came out with tux and top hat and sang 'Sympathy for the Devil,' that was as good a live performance as I'll get in my lifetime."Although Tesmer's tickets each had a $450 face value, the Anaheim, Cal., bakery owner paid $1,400 apiece at StubHub.com. Yes, you can still get tickets at face value, and we'll advise you on the best ways to do that. But if you're willing to pay a premium, you can play the new ticket game to win the sports, concert and theater seats you want. Now is a fine time to brush up your ticket-scoring skills. BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE How to Score Great Tickets SLIDE SHOW: Hottest Tickets for Summer Futures Markets for Sports Tickets Go to the source Buying tickets from the source is still the cheapest way to get a seat at a hot event. The key to landing tickets at face value is to be ready the moment they go on sale. To zero in on the latest list of artist dates, sign up for free e-mail alerts at Pollstar.com, a concert-tour information Web site. Then visit Ticketmaster.com to find out when tickets go on sale. Create an online account at Ticketmaster.com and be ready to start clicking the moment its virtual box office opens. Even better, avoid the hordes and learn how to buy "pre-sale" tickets. Sometimes a band sells a cache of these in advance to a select group, such as a fan club. Online fan clubs will tell you when and how to buy face-value tickets in advance, although you must join the club and pay dues of about $20 to $40 a year. Advertisement Scalpers, who buy tickets to resell them at jacked-up prices, also join fan clubs to buy pre-sale tickets. But many musical acts have figured out ways to thwart them. For example, Nine Inch Nails insists that its fan-club members who buy tickets in advance go to a special concert entrance. Buyers must show identification and be escorted into the venue without having a chance to resell the tickets. Other performers, including Bruce Springsteen, have used similar methods. Even if you don't grab tickets in the pre-sale offering or initial ticket-buying melee, you can still try later by contacting a venue's box office. Box offices typically reserve tickets, called house seats, for corporate sponsors and others. The number of seats held may range from about 100 for a popular Broadway show to about 1,000 for a popular sports event, such as the Indianapolis 500. The box office releases unused seats in spurts until the "sold out" event begins. Call the box office and ask for released house seats. Pay the middlemen Once it was the realm of shady men whispering "Need two? Need two?" Now, ticket reselling has gone upscale. Many ticket resellers, such as TicketsNow.com, let you buy online, offer guarantees of valid tickets or your money back, and have good records with the Better Business Bureau. Pardon us, though, if we don't nominate them for sainthood. They are still middlemen -- that is, scalpers -- marking up ticket prices by roughly two to five times their face value, depending on demand. Scalpers use two Internet methods -- ticket brokerages and ticket marketplaces -- to resell tickets. Markups at each are roughly the same. Ticket brokerages use several methods to get tickets. Some hire large numbers of contract scalpers to buy tickets online or at box offices when a Ticketmaster sale opens. Others buy them from insiders, such as teams, music promoters and corporate sponsors. Advertisement The most visited ticket brokerage on the Web is TicketsNow.com, which resold $140 million in tickets last year. TicketsNow charges a fee of 10% of the ticket price, which already includes the scalper's markup plus a shipping fee. Earlier this year, Darryl-Ann Harries of Chicago bought tickets from TicketsNow for herself and five friends to attend a James Blunt concert. She paid $65 each for tickets with a $28 face value. "I'd rather pay extra and get exactly the seats I want than go to Ticketmaster, where the best seats never seem to be available," says Harries. TicketsNow recently began to offer ticket insurance, which guarantees a refund of your ticket price and shipping fee if you can't attend for covered personal, medical or travel-related reasons. The policy typically costs 5% of your ticket price and shipping fee. Expect other ticket sellers and resellers to begin selling similar policies soon. Some ticket brokerages sell packages that include transportation arrangements, restaurant reservations and other spiffs. For the concierge-like service, you pay a premium of 10% to 20% above the price that scalpers charge for comparable tickets. Advertisement Case in point: Last December, Steve Willett of Johnstown, N.Y., bought seven tickets apiece for Wicked, The Lion King and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular on a month's notice from ticket broker Golden Platter Sports. Although Wicked was sold out, Golden Platter provided him with tickets in the third row for $225 each (face value: $125). Golden Platter also booked a car service to transport Willett and his family between their hotel and the shows, and reserved tables at restaurants. You'll find ticket brokerages in local phone listings. These white-glove scalpers work primarily with corporate clients seeking group tickets for sports events and pre- and post-event parties, so you should call to ask if they serve individuals. Also ask if they offer money-back guarantees that cover ticket delivery and validity. Shop the markets Of course, eBay is a prime source of resold tickets, and it has a new wrinkle. EBay Express, which debuted this spring, offers tickets and other items at fixed prices. It doesn't charge buyers a fee and, unlike eBay auctions, it includes only sellers who have been well rated by more than 100 previous customers. Its fixed-price sales are also faster than eBay's auctions, which can take days to close. If you like the idea of auctions, you will be pleased to hear that some official ticket sellers have gotten into the game. Many musical acts -- including Madonna this spring -- will fob off tickets to events through auctions, usually run by Ticketmaster. In most auctions, the highest bidders receive seats closest to the stage, while the lowest winning bidders get seats that are farther away. Advertisement Web marketplaces, including eBay Express and eBay auctions, share a drawback: Some crooks use these sites to unload fake tickets. One scam is to sell multiple photocopies of a bar-coded electronic ticket, which means that the first person to have the ticket scanned by a gate agent will be admitted, while holders of tickets with identical bar codes won't. Neither eBay Express nor eBay will reimburse you if your ticket purchase goes awry. Enter StubHub.com, a marketplace that promises to refund the price of any ticket that fails to reach you by FedEx or admit you to the seat promised. As added protection, StubHub sends staff to major music and sports events to replace dud tickets with comparable or better tickets on the spot, when possible. For its service, StubHub charges 10% of your ticket price, plus shipping. Of course, the fees are added on top of any existing scalper markups over your ticket's face value. Sports fans should consider sites where season-ticket-holding fans unload tickets to individual games. The top fan resale site is Ticketmaster's Sports TicketExchange, which resells season tickets for 37 professional teams in several sports. Ticket prices are often lower than the comparable box-office price. And Ticketmaster guarantees that tickets are authentic, charging fees that vary by team and recently ranged from $2 to $30. StubHub also resells tickets for professional teams in many sports. The fee is 10% of the ticket price. If StubHub accidentally resells a fake ticket, it will refund your money.