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Christmas in March? It’s Never Too Early To Sell

Better hustle — there are only 270 more shopping days left ‘til Christmas.

American Express emailed cardholders Monday with an invitation to pre-order tickets for “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” Yep, you read that right. Buy tickets as early as March 28 for a show that doesn’t begin until more than seven months from now, on Nov. 11. And pay full prices of $55 to $200 before taxes and fees, to boot.

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Amex and Radio City Music Hall parent MSG Entertainment didn’t respond to calls or emails on why the offer is made so early each year, but Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, says it’s a tactic to drive demand. “People feel pressure that they need to move very quickly,” she says. “They believe that those tickets are not going to be around come the holidays.”

Pre-orders have extra heft because they convey the impression that you’re somehow beating out others in line. (The general public can’t buy their Christmas Spectacular tickets until April 10, a dozen precious holiday-shopping days later.)

Promotion targets are likely tourists who don’t realize that their perception of rarity doesn’t jive with reality — that discount Radio City tickets are nearly as common in NYC during the holidays as light displays, “Jingle Bells” and Salvation Army kettles. Last year, coupon codes offered discounts as valuable as buy one, get one free tickets. The MTA typically offers a $10 discount for pass-holders, and Radio City has even run a Groupon, offering $65 tickets for $40 in 2009.

But some early birds are getting the best deal, says Christian Anderson of ticket search engine FanSnap.com. Large groups may have trouble finding seats together if they wait beyond summertime, and demand has historically pushed prime Christmas Spectacular ticket prices above face value. Ticket market prices last year averaged $125 to $140, down from $145 to $185 in 2009. (Opportunistic pre-orderers have already posted pie-in-the-sky asking prices on some resale sites of $334 and up for 2011 dates.) But the cheapest seats still sell for just $20, Anderson says.

Bottom line: wait, if you don’t plan to turn the show into an extended family reunion, or have the flexibility to make more than one show time during your city excursion. If you’ve even gotten around to making holiday plans already, that is.


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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.