When in New York City you might have the urge to go see some theatre. How can you not want to with all those beautiful billboards screaming at you?! Mamma Mia! The Lion King! Book of Mormon! There is really something for everyone. Even if you’re not a traditional musical or theatre fan I bet I could find something to appeal to pretty much anybody.
Some people, like yours truly, head to New York just for the chance to see one of the big shows on Broadway. Back in my home town of Brisbane, Australia we get maybe 4 shows a year, one at a time. So when I get to New York City it's a huge treat for me to have my pick of what to see.
Unfortunately, Broadway for broke people can be pretty unachievable and those Book of Mormon Broadway tickets can be upwards of $90 for the nosebleed seats plus all the crazy fees they want to charge you for the honour of seeing their show.
On my first trip to New York City, I had no idea what a broadway lottery was and so opted for what I thought was the best option to buy cheap broadway tickets - TKTS. Since then, I've visited many more times and seen some great shows and now have a handle on my favourite thing - the Broadway lottery!
Here are some tips to help you save your pennies so maybe you can pack in more than one Broadway show on your trip to New York City.
How do broadway lotteries work?
Generally a lottery allows you to put your name in the running for an allotment of tickets that are significantly reduced. The number of tickets available change daily depending on how many seats are left for that day's show. Lottery winners are awarded a double pass but if you’re attending on your own, which is also common, you can often indicate that you only need one ticket at the time of entering your name.
The lotteries usually open two to three hours before a show, there is a half hour to an hour period where people can enter their names and then once the time is up they will draw the winner. For in-person lotteries you have to be there to accept your ticket and for the online version you’re usually given a set period of time to accept and purchase the tickets before it’s offered to someone else.
For shows that have an evening and matinee performance, there will be two times that you can register. A lot of lotteries, like The Book of Mormon, also offer amazing seats for lottery winners, often front row.
Visit Broadway For Broke People for advice on which websites and apps you need for a particular digital lottery or what time the in-person lottery opens.
This is the lazy man’s lottery. You can log in each morning, register for whichever shows you’re interested in seeing and then go about your morning until you get notified a couple hours before the show whether you've won or not.
Before you arrive you can start downloading some of these apps to get an idea for what shows are available for online lotteries. Most of the digital lotteries seem to be accessible on the TodayTix app.
Visiting one of the in-person lotteries is an experience you should try at least once! There is a great atmosphere amongst all the other theatre goers and it’s like gambling but it doesn’t cost anything, unless you win of course but then it’s like a nice present to yourself.
There are several very popular in-person lotteries, one of which is The Book of Mormon in person lottery. There are often 200 entries in this lottery. The guy who runs the lottery turns the experience into an event and even has his own Twitter account. Follow him at @lotterydude.
You can either time it so that you arrive just before the lottery closes to put your name in (but be careful!) or arrive while it’s open and then grab some lunch or a drink while you wait. I enjoyed taking the opportunity to explore some new bars and eateries while excitedly waiting for the lottery to close.
5 Tips for winning a Broadway lottery ticket
1) Prioritise your must see Broadway shows
Put together a list of the 10 shows that you definitely want to see. This will help you narrow down your options. There are so many shows to see in New York that it can overwhelming! For a comprehensive look at what’s available and what’s hot right now, check out the Playbill website.
2) Make a list of lottery times and location
Map out when the lotteries run and where they are. Clever visitors with a partner can potentially enter two lotteries with theatres close to each other.
For example Book of Mormon and Wicked both have lotteries that run at the same time. You could both enter one lottery, walk the 5 minutes to the other theatre and enter the other lottery and then split up for the announcements. If you win one, quickly message your partner so they can head back and claim your discounted broadway lottery ticket.
3) Double your chances
Most Broadway lotteries award two tickets so if you have a partner with you then you get double the chances to win. If you’re on your own, try to look for other solo theatregoers and enter the lottery together. So instead of just having one chance at winning you can have two. This is pretty common practice so don’t be shy and strike up a conversation!
4) Big crowd? Don’t worry!
Don’t be disheartened if you see a lot of people in line for the lottery. Remember that everyone has equal chances of winning and you never know what’s going to happen. I was in New York City for one week and managed to win one lottery a day and I would never consider myself to be a lucky person! On my second try at The Book of Mormon lottery tickets my friend and I both actually won!
5) Cash Only
Many theatres only accept cash for these specially priced tickets. Make sure to bring enough just incase you win.
Rush and Standing Room Only (SRO) Tickets
Rush tickets are for the early birds. These are an unspecified allotment of tickets that are sold from when the box office opens in the morning (usually 9 or 10 am). For the more popular shows you can expect a wait time so try to get there long before the box office opens. Some theatres restrict these tickets to students only so make sure to bring along any valid student ID.
The very cheapest option, SRO tickets, are for numbered spaces that are the width of a regular seat, usually located at the back of the orchestra. Unlike the lotteries, only one SRO ticket is sold per person. These can be quite uncomfortable and definitely only for the young and young at heart!
Hiptix is Roundabout Theatre's low-price ticket program for 18–35 year olds. It's free to join and gets you $25 tickets to all Roundabout shows.
You should buy tickets in advance as they only reserve 10-40 tickets for each performance and once they’re gone then you’re out of luck.
Other things To note
- Traveling with someone else? Make sure you’re both entering the online Broadway lotteries. Download the app on your companions phone and register both of you so you’re both in for a chance of winning.I
- If you're planning to be out all day and won't have time to duck back to your hotel for a change of clothes I would suggest bringing along something a bit nicer to wear just in case you are lucky and win one of the lotteries. You often only have an hour or two before the show starts and may not want to leave and come back. Trust me, I had to go to The Book of Mormon in shorts!
- Didn’t make it in for a show? Try TKTS. TKTS is not as cheap as the lotteries but they are still a really good deal. Especially if you’re flexible. There are three locations, Times Square, Downtown Brooklyn and the South Street Seaport. The last two are usually not busy at all. You can visit during the day and peruse the shows that are available. The staff are also really knowledgeable about what’s on and can suggest which show you might enjoy the most. I’ve been told that tickets become available for different shows throughout the day so it doesn’t hurt to stop in again in the afternoon if you didn’t see anything you liked in the morning.
At the end of the day, if you have your heart set on a particular show, depending on how much time you have you might just want to fork out the money and see it regardless. That’s ok too! No matter which way you do it you’re going to have an amazing time.
Need some more New York budget inspiration? Check out this guide on the Best of NYC on a Budget by a Native New Yorker. It includes tips on whcih museums you can visit under $5 and how to visit the abandoned City Hall subway station!
Apps to download
Websites to bookmark
- For information on individual theatre policies for lotteries, rush and SRO tickets: Playbill.com
- or Broadway For Broke People for a more summarised view
- For in-depth reviews of shows: Did He Like It
- For theatre lovers 18 to 25 years old: HipTix
- For discounted tickets without the chance: TKTS
- For more ideas on cheap and free things to do in NYC: The Skint