Convenience Fees, a Logical Fallacy

Rachel and I are going to Portland this weekend (after we were preempted by a family emergency)!

Rachel suggested we see Ovo, a Cirque du Soleil touring production, and I thought it was a great idea!1.

I went to go purchase tickets2 and was about ready to check out when I noticed there was $26 in fees3.

“Convenience fees” are nothing new, Ticketmaster has been making untold millions on them for years. And perhaps in the beginning it really was a convenience for people to not have to trudge down to the ticket office. However, these days I believe that offering tickets online is more of a convenience for the seller instead of the buyer. So why the fees?

I called Hadley Media, the marketing group that was responsible for the discount, and asked about it. Their response was something that I’ve grown all to accustomed to hearing: “That’s a fee typical of the industry.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an argumentum ad populum4 and is a logical fallacy.

Why not simply include the “fee” in the actual cost of the ticket? What would you do if a company listed hamburgers on their menu for $2.65 and then charged you $1 for actually consuming the food?

To me, that’s lying. They are not disclosing the true cost of the item in a place where such costs are purported to be. When a company uses such tactics, my trust of them lessens.

I should make clear that Hadley Media doesn’t actually sell the tickets or charge the fee, they’re fault in this matter was explaining the fees as: “everyone does it”. Shockingly, even Ticketmaster isn’t behind this. Interestingly enough, this fee appears to be the result of a joint venture between AEG, Outbox Technology, and Cirque du Soleil presumably designed to compete against Ticketmaster.

  1. We had wanted to see Cavalia when it was in Seattle, but didn’t jump on it fast enough. 

  2. Noticing that I have a 15% discount through work! 

  3. Technically, five of those dollars were for sending me my e-Ticket, however the only alternative was to pay $7 for will call 

  4. appeal to the people 

12 Replies to “Convenience Fees, a Logical Fallacy”

  1. An argumentum ad populum would be: “Most people believe that convenience fees cause impotence in male engineers, therefore convenience fees cause impotence in male engineers.” To say that a certain ticket company uses fees because most other ticket companies use fees is not a logical argument (fallacious or otherwise); as far as I can tell, it’s an explanation of the ticket company’s policy. The explanation essentially boils down to, “Look, other companies can get away with it, so we’re not going to miss out on that action.”

    Also, how is it lying for the ticket company to break down the total cost into ticket + convenience fee? The ticket itself costs less than they ultimately charge you, as can be seen by a visit to the physical box office. So if they’re going to charge you more, they pretty much have to add a separate charge. To put the costs together would be lying (because the price of tickets is different at the box office). That’s not the same as in a restaurant, because there aren’t two different ways of accessing the restaurant (as with tickets).

    1. With regard to ticket fees: when I’m looking online at a web site designed with the intent to sell tickets online and they say that “Seat A” costs $50, I expect that seat to cost $50 plus any applicable sales tax they are required to collect on behalf of the government.

      Your suggestion that they “pretty much have to add a separate charge” is unfounded, in particular since other industries already use variable costs with no issues that are are time and location dependent.

      For example, there is no “airport fee” when you buy food at the airport from a chain, yet it’s marked up. There also isn’t a “this flight leaves in two weeks fee” when you buy your plane ticket at a later date. You just see the price.

      Ultimately, this comes down to truthfulness in what is being promised. They are advertising tickets that cost X dollars, yet they cost more than X dollars.

  2. Well, you got the definition of argumentum ad populum correct. But my example is an attempt to prove a conclusion (that convenience fees cause impotence in male engineers), while your example is not. There’s no conclusion being proved. “I have chosen to do X because Y” is not a logical argument, because “I have chosen to do X” is not a conclusion. What research suggests something to the contrary?

    Everything I said about the convenience fee was founded on the fact that the tickets are also being sold in a location and by a vendor that is different from the online vendor (which you failed to acknowledge). That makes it different from all your counter-examples, none of which can be purchased from a different vendor (obviously, food can be purchased from different vendors, but you can’t get the exact same experience purchasing it in different places, as with tickets). The box office sells tickets for $X. That’s the price at which they are advertised, both online and at the box office. If you go to the box office, they will charge you $X. They don’t suddenly cost more than $X if you buy them online (because the box office still charges $X). But if you choose to buy them online (rather than going to the box office), you have to pay a fee to the company that’s selling them online. It doesn’t seem very complicated to me, and it certainly isn’t a truthfulness issue. It would be a truthfulness issue only if they did what you’re advocating. If you bought a ticket online without mention of convenience fees, and then you found out at the venue that the ticket actually cost less than you paid for it, then you would know that the online booking agent was lying about the cost of the ticket.

    1. Okay, I think I see the issue. I’m making two separate points, but not making that clear.

      Point A: The women’s explanation on the phone when asked if they would waive the charge if I called my order in was, “No, we?re doing it because most other companies do it too.” I believe this to be an argumentum ad populum.

      Point B (which preceded Point A in actuality): I believe the method in which ticket companies present and charge certain fees is misleading (i.e. lying) with regard to the actual cost of tickets.

      The only thing really linking these two points together is my experience of Point B leading to Point A.

      Does this help at all?

  3. All arguments aside, I think it’s comforting to know that more and more companies are moving away from charging customers ticketing fees. Nobody likes paying them, but it feels like ticketing companies aren’t creative enough to make money without charging outrageous fees. At least they’re honest about it, I guess? Like, you can see each individual fee tacked onto the price of your ticket. I’m not sure why they do that — it doesn’t help anyone to see each individual fee they’re incurring. is a website I found that is using a new model for ticket sales. This company charges ticket sellers one flat fee of $29.99 to sell unlimited tickets for a day, and ticket buyers aren’t charged any hidden fees for attending an event. It looks like they’re trying to make it easier for everyone involved in ticket purchasing. I just hope this catches on and more and more people can learn what it feels like to live fee-free.

  4. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help at all. It is abundantly clear to me THAT you believe (A) the ticketing company is making an argumentum ad populum and (B) that convenience fees are dishonest. What is not at all clear to me is WHY you believe those things.

    With regard to Point A, “I will not do X (waive your convenience fee) because Y (other companies also charge a convenience fee)” is still not a logical argument (see my earlier comments).

    With regard to Point B, I’d like to note (but not base my argument on) that Shelby agrees with me on this point: “At least they’re honest about it, I guess? Like, you can see each individual fee tacked onto the price of your ticket.” As with Point A, I don’t know how to explain my position in any more detail than I’ve already done.

    If you can explain where you think I’m wrong, that’s how you’re going to help me understand where we differ.

    1. Point A:
      “I do X because a majority does X” is a logical fallacy. How is it not?

      Point B:
      The issue is the point in the process at which the fee is made known to the buyer. If the fee was made known at the time when the prices were first listed, then Shelly would be correct. However, the fee is not made known until after the prices are initially displayed and after the seats are selected. In fact, they are not made known until you are ready to enter your credit card information.

      An analogous situation might be you making be an offer to run errands for me if I pay you a flat fee. You say that you’ll charge me $50 to run the errands, I negotiate what errands you will run and when you’ll have them complete by. You agree. I go to hand you the $50 and you say, “Oh by the way, it’s an extra $10 for gas.” Assuming you knew about the gas charge when we began negotiating, you held from me the whole truth and misrepresented your offer. In a legal framework, that may be okay (IANAL); however to me that’s lying.

  5. A: Do you really think you can convince me of your position by simply stating that you believe your position to be true, with no supporting argument? I’ve made my argument on this three times already (with no substantive response from you), and here comes number four… IT CAN’T BE A LOGICAL FALLACY BECAUSE IT ISN’T A LOGICAL ARGUMENT!!! With that, I’m done addressing anything that isn’t responsive to the argument outlined in my second comment.

    B: This is the first time I’ve heard your timing argument, so excuse me if I haven’t addressed it before. Up to this point, you had been arguing that charging convenience fees was dishonest (or so I thought). In light of the new argument, I want to clarify: are you changing your position and saying that convenience fees are dishonest because they aren’t disclosed at the outset of the transaction, and that if they were disclosed at the outset, they would cease to be dishonest?

    1. A: You have been saying that what I’ve written is not a logical argument and then providing examples of things that are not logical arguments. In response, I have been trying to better explain my experience in a way that makes them into logical arguments.

      In my last comment, I tried to provide you with an example that I thought would make my point more well understood. At this point, I literally do not understand what you believe is missing, so please help me understand if I’m not getting it instead of yelling in all caps that what I’m doing is wrong. I get that it’s wrong. I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m honestly trying to answer your question as best I can.

      Here’s my complete argument as best as I can make it from beginning to end:

      “That?s a fee typical of the industry” was a paraphrase which can be parsed out to “We charge fees because everyone else in the industry charges fees, therefore charging fees is the right thing to do.” This can be abstracted to: “I do X because a majority does X. Therefore X is the right thing to do.” This is the a subset, in my opinion of, “Most, many, or all persons believe statement p is true. Statement p is true.”

      If I want to make the argument a different way, I suppose I could separate it into “Many people in the industry charges fees, therefore charging fees is the right thing to do,” as a logical fallacy and the follow on action, “Because I believe it is the right thing to do, I will do it, ” as an action based on the previous logical fallacy.

      That is my research that suggests something to the contrary.

      B: I am not changing my position. It may not have been clear, but it was my intention when I wrote, “I went to go purchase tickets and was about ready to check out when I noticed there was $26 in fees,” to imply a series of steps, the middle ones which I thought were not important, but perhaps they were. If that was not clear, I apologize and I appreciate the constructive criticism.

      To make it clear, I believe that “convenience fees are dishonest because they aren?t disclosed at the outset of the transaction, and that if they were disclosed at the outset, they would cease to be dishonest.”

  6. Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Before addressing A or B, however, I must disagree with some things you said about the nature of the discussion about Point A. First, you have not been explaining your experience about how the ticket company’s statement is a logical argument (as you claim). Here’s what you’ve said about Point A so far: (1) “In my research, the argument ?We?re doing it because most other people do it too? falls under the bandwagon variation of argumentum ad populum.” (2) “I believe this [statement that the company does what it does because other companies do it] to be an argumentum ad populum.” (3) “?I do X because a majority does X? is a logical fallacy. How is it not?” The third one was the entirety of your last comment on the subject, and it in no way provided me with an example of anything (as you claim). Until your most recent comment, you have not supported your assertion with any argument — you have merely repeated the bare assertion (see 1, 2, and 3). I believe you that you’re not intentionally trying to be difficult, but I hope you can see the cause of my increasing frustration with the discussion to this point.

    Point A:

    This interpretation of “that’s a fee typical of the industry” is completely new to me, and has not been made prior to your most recent comment. The new interpretation, that “charging fees is the right thing to do,” changes everything. I had no way of knowing that you believed the company was arguing that their actions were morally correct, because you never said that before (and, in my experience of getting screwed by various businesses, they never argue that they’re doing the right thing, just that there’s nothing I can do about it, which is why I didn’t assume a moral dimension to this). In any case, now we have: “We charge a fee. Because most people charge fees, charging a fee is the right thing to do (that’s the new part that changes everything). Therefore, we are doing the right thing.” And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is an argumentum ad populum.

    Point B:

    I was under the (mistaken) apprehension that this was all about charging the fee in the first place, because it seemed to me that your conversation with the ticket company’s agent was about the existence of the fee, not the fact that they didn’t list it at the outset. I did not see the necessary implications of “I went to go purchase tickets and was about ready to check out when I noticed there was $26 in fees.” The agent’s response (“that’s a fee typical of the industry”), coupled with the fact that your defense of the post made no mention of timing, led me to believe that your conversation was about the fee itself. But now that I know that your objection is to the timing of disclosure of the fees, I agree that it seems dishonest.

    Now that you’ve cleared everything up, I’m going to have a much-needed scotch, knowing that all is well on AFdN.

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