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Top Five Ways to Save at the Edinburgh Fringe

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There is little denying that the price of Edinburgh Fringe tickets has crept up in recent years. As Theo Bosanquet highlighted on the editors' blog yesterday (10 August 2010), comedy prices in particular, with tickets in the region of £20 each for big named stars, have moved away from what can be really be considered 'fringe'.

Does this mean that a trip to the Fringe is the reserve of those with cash burning a hole in their pocket? Leaving the cost of food, board and lodgings aside - Edinburgh is certainly a seller's market for the month of August - there are ways to spend less on seeing your Edinburgh shows:

  • Half Price Hut and 2-for-1 Weekend

    Today (11 August) sees the opening of the Fringe's Half Price Hut, which for the second year running is located at the foot of the Mound, next to the National Galleries of Scotland. Doing exactly what is says on the tin, the Half Price Ticket hut offers cut-price deals for shows which opt in to selling their tickets.

    Tickets become available at 10am for shows that day, whilst shows starting before 2pm can sell their tickets from 5.30pm the evening before. The Half Price Hut is open daily from 10am to 9pm and displays available tickets on an airport style departure board. For the first time, the Hut offers will also be streamed exclusively to the official Edinburgh Fringe iPhone app.

    Displaying nothing but the name, venue and time of the show, it's a good idea to take a Fringe programme with you to help you choose what to go and see. A pen is also a good idea to circle shows on offer as they go ticking past; you can then read through the descriptions of the shows available at your leisure, whilst in the sometimes formidable queues to part with your cash.

    The eagle-eyed amongst you may also have spotted that the past two days, Sunday 9 and Monday 10 August, were the Fringe's 2-for-1 weekend. Offering almost every show on the Fringe at 2-for-1 prices, and held every year, this is a great offer to take advantage of if you have an expensive show on your hit list. Someone to take with you and use the second ticket is, of course, also required.

  • The ever-expanding Free Fringe

    The Fringe Society reports that there are no fewer than 585 free shows included in its programme this year, making up an impressive 23% of the 2,453 shows on offer.

    There are two main producers of free shows at the Fringe: PBH's Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Mainly taking over the backrooms of pubs, both producers provide a wide range of comedy, theatre and spoken word acts, all for absolutely nothing - running their own festivals within the Fringe.

    Effectively taking busking in doors, a bucket is passed around at the end of the show, meaning you won't pay without having seen the quality of the show. Both festivals publish their own programmes so you know what's on offer, and you'll be able to find almost all of the shows in the regular Fringe programme. Just look out for the free ticket price.

    More and more established acts and quality names are participating in the free Fringe, unhappy with their previous experiences with big venues where it's very easy to lose a lot of money, even if you are selling well. Just because they are flaunting their wares for free, doesn't mean you'll be stuck seeing an unknown stand-up.

  • Theatre Ninjas & Papering Comps

    With so much to choose from at the Fringe, many companies struggle to gain any kind of audience. The terrible myth which floats around Edinburgh at this time of year is that the average Fringe audience is just two people. When you run the numbers, the figure is actually closer to an average size of nine, but no one wants to be the only person sitting in an auditorium, and the company are very aware of that too.

    To build word of mouth about their show and particularly to boost numbers if they know there's a high-profile reviewer in, many shows resort to "papering" or giving away tickets as if they were flyers. If you haven't got a fixed plan of what you want to see during the day, or are happy to see what comes up, hanging around the bars in large venues or just outside the front doors, particularly at the beginning of the Festival, will often result in someone offering you a free ticket for their show.

    This process has been formalised somewhat this year with the emergence of another iPhone app, Theatre Ninjas, which allows producers to advertise free tickets half an hour before performances, and audience members to snap them up. Providing theatregoers with descriptions and video trailers of shows, the app will also provide you with a map to help you find the venue.

  • The Five Pound Fringe

    The Five Pound Fringe set out to reintroduce the idea that the Fringe was an opportunity to discover lesser-known names. Such was the impact that last year it was credited for the 17% decrease in ticket prices as the Fringe-wide average dropped by £1.62.

    Established by the team behind Good Sense of Humour comedy management, the Five Pound Fringe programmes an impressive array of stand-up comedy, presenting over 70 acts this summer with a promise of bigger acts and bigger venues. Much like the free Fringe, don't assume that low ticket prices mean low quality. This year the Five Pound Fringe line-up has appearances from well-known comedians including Robin Ince, Josie Long and Rich Herring.

  • Friends of the Fringe Membership & Frequent Flyers Clubs

    Becoming a Friend of the Fringe can be a good way to save some money, particularly if a lot of the shows you want to see are on their offer list. For an annual upfront fee of £25, Friends of the Fringe provides an extension of the 2-for-1 ticket deal offered on the first weekend, allowing members to see up to 15 shows. You might also get to the shows quicker, as friends have a priority box office queue and a dedicated box office phone line. Friends can book up to two tickets per show, and the shows participating in the scheme can be found in the Fringe programme.

    For those on a longer trip to the Fringe or who are particularly committed Fringe theatregoers, Close Friends can see 25 shows under the deal for £50 membership or unlimited shows as a Best Friend for £150 annual fee.

    If you're planning on seeing lots of shows at a single venue, it might be worth checking if they have a loyalty scheme in place. This year the biggest venue chain on the Fringe, C venues, allows customers who have seen more than five shows across any of their venues to get a discount on further ticket purchases.

  • Finally... Things to keep in mind

    An increasing number of venues are adopting a variable pricing structure through the week. Depending on the length and timing of your trip, you might find your money goes quite a bit further. Ticket prices are generally cheaper by one or two pounds per ticket if you see shows on a Monday or Tuesday, rising throughout the week to peak prices on a Friday and Saturday. This might not apply to all of your shows, but if a group of you are going to see a number of shows, the discount will start adding up.

    The Whatsonstage.com Club continues to offer free tickets throughout August and we occasionally receive free Fringe tickets which we're able to pass on to our members. For more information about joining the Club, click here.

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