Ready to buy a VIP concert package? Here's how to avoid getting ripped off

Who doesn’t want to be a VIP? That ageless acronym for "very important person" suggests exclusivity and access, all of which are promised when you shell out hundreds if not thousands of dollars to buy a VIP package to your favorite concert

But not all VIP packages are created equal. Some offer fans a few trinkets coupled with better seats. Others dole out food, drinks and autographed gifts. And despite the pandemic, many still provide prized backstage meet-and-greets with the stars.

Here are a few things to know before you buy, because experiences can vary and promises made aren't always promises kept.

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Alicia Keys is still offering fans the chance to meet her backstage for a group photo opportunity when they purchase a VIP package. She also introduces those fans to her skin-care line, Keys Soulcare.

USA TODAY looked at more than a dozen VIP packages offered by artists touring this fall. The prices ranged from around $200 (Alicia Keys) to $3,500 (Kiss). 

Staple items include access to food and (some) drinks, a laminated pass and souvenir merchandise. Among other perks: The Who and Slipknot give fans access to a mini-museum of memorabilia from the bands' history, Keys provides samples of her Keys Soulcare skin-care products, while Kiss allows fans to watch entire show from the pit, plus offers them a chance to sit at the drum kit, stand at the microphones and touch the band’s guitars. 

Roughly half of the packages offered fans the chance to meet the performers, and not surprisingly those often cost between $500 and a few thousand dollars. Since those sell out quickly, expect to pay double or more when searching ticket reseller sites such as StubHub. And don't forget: While such instances are rare, never buy a ticket that is nontransferrable from the original seller.

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Buy VIP tickets from reputable companies that can help deliver what bands promise 

Kiss bass player Gene Simmons has been performing for fans for decades. For Kiss devotees who have thousands to spare, the band's VIP package not only includes a meet and greet but also the ability to spend a few moments onstage prior to the show.

There are an endless number of websites selling VIP packages with names such as SLOTix, Host VIP and Meet and Greet Tickets. "Try to make sure the people running things are reputable,” says Dean Budnick, co-author of “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.”

One fairly safe approach is to start with an artist’s site, which often will list details of a VIP package and then link to the company they have OK'd to sell the package, such as concert promoters Live Nation. “Some companies do take VIP very seriously, and follow through on providing what the band says it will provide,” says Budnick.

Companies such as On Location, which arranges VIP packages at concerts as well as sporting events, provides guest services for VIP buyers. If a fan feels they’re not getting what they paid for, “we have a team available to be sure we’re communicating with our fans. We always want them to have the best experience possible,” says Erin Woody, On Location’s senior vice president of music.

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Just like air travel, expect bumps in the road

There's nothing quite like being up close and personal with your favorite musicians, whether in the front row or backstage. While VIP packages can provide just that sort of unique experience, it's best to read the fine print before buying, experts say.

The more you're promised in a VIP package, the more there’s a chance things won’t go exactly as planned, experts say. Changes in band schedules, weather and pandemic status can fluctuate. Also, sometimes "meet and greet" doesn't mean exactly that.

Motley Crue fan Joe Weaver paid thousands for a package that included meeting the band, as well as the opportunity to have an item he brought with him – a drumhead – signed by the musicians.

What he got was a quick photo with the band standing far behind him, along with a pair of Tommy Lee-branded drumsticks. He says the experience left him “flabbergasted” and “we ran into other people who seemed equally disappointed.”

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Chris Nilsson, who works with Motley Crue's management company, told USA TODAY the band has done more than 1,300 meet and greets so far on the Stadium Tour, with only the typical handful of complaints afterward. “Each instance is evaluated independently and addressed based on the specifics of the complaint,”  he wrote. 

COVID protocols may be a part of your VIP concert experience

Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik says the band has come up with a creative solution to greet their VIP ticketholders without risking COVID-19: They place a large amplifier between themselves and the fan.

When reading up on the details of your VIP package ticket, keep an eye open for COVID-19 measures an artist may have in place, ranging from social distancing requirements to proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. 

If there's a surge in the pandemic, many performers may cancel meet-ups they had promised, if not the concerts themselves. But if the show goes on, some performers have come up with creative solutions that allows them to fulfill their promises, including putting a barrier between them and fans or keeping group photos widely spread out.

“We have a big guitar amp between us so there’s a little bit of distance,” says Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik. 

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Ultimately, it's all buy at your own risk

Elton John, shown performing earlier this summer on his farewell tour, is among a number of acts that offer fans special experiences through VIP packages.

Most important VIP package tip of all: Read the fine print. Depending on the artist, the package and even the city, what’s being offered can vary.

For example, country singer Alan Jackson offers his guests two drinks but notes "local liquor laws apply," depending on where Jackson is performing. Other packages specify that a signed set list may be mailed to the fan as opposed to delivered in person.

“Look at whatever disclaimers might appear on the website when ordering tickets, paying attention for any waiver terms if things didn’t work out on the band’s side,” says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Ticket buyers have few rights should things go awry at the show, Rheingold says. “You do have options, which amount to complaining loudly to the company or on social media,” but it will be up to those companies to decide if they'll make any refunds after the fact, he says. 

Contributing: Ralphie Aversa 

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