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The Guide to Buying Tickets for the World Cup And Other Big Events

World Cup Ticket Guide is part of the Coupe du Monde Trip Report.


I have written a few guides about buying scalped tickets for a variety of events:

Even though the World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, it does not mean that you can’t avoid price gouging.

Here’s what I learned:

Get Your Visa in Order 

Tickets mean nothing if you can’t get into the country (see The Guide to Buying Tickets for the World Cup And Other Big Events).

Pres Sale Tickets: Group Stage or Knockout Stage?

I missed the initial round of ticket sales from FIFA. I did not miss the second round of sales. In July, four months before the start of the World Cup, I sat in front of my computer and waited for the ticket portal to open (see Is TPOL Going to The World Cup?). My initial plan was to buy tickets for the US vs. England game in the group stage. While I expected the US to qualify, there was a chance that they would not make it. When I logged into the ticket portal for pre-sales that game was not available.

Not finding suitable group stage tickets worked out in my favor. It ended up being far more compelling to watch knockout stage games that had to end in a result than group stage games that could end in a tie. I would have been disappointed to fly all the way to Qatar to see the US tie Wales, draw against England, and squeak by against Iran.

The problem with purchasing knockout stage tickets in advance is that I did not know who would play who. The tickets I found featured 2G vs. 1H. I had hoped that this would be Portugal vs. Brazil but Brazil finished first in its group, leaving me with Portugal vs. Switzerland (see World Cup Day 4).

a large stadium filled with people
Category 1

A Note on Categories

There are three categories of tickets with category 1 being the best. However, it was luck of the draw how high you ended up within that category. Some ended up with the best seats in the category and some, TPOL specifically, did not. In the pre-sale purchase of 2G vs. 1H, I splurged for Category 1, which retailed for $274 each. Contrast that to what I paid for other tickets below.

USA vs. Netherlands Tickets

The US team is not good. They have no identity, no rhythm, and no spice. Despite their lackluster performance throughout the group stage, I was caught up in the excitement. While watching the US vs. Iran from Puerto Rico, I was simultaneously on StubHub monitoring the cost of tickets. I was prepared to spend anything to see them in person. Was it possible that the US team would make magic and go deep? I didn’t want to go all the way to Qatar and miss out on the action. The cost of said magic? $1400 for two category 2 tickets in the nose bleeds (see World Cup Day 1).

TPOL’s Tip: Never, ever buy resell tickets in advance. That nervousness you are feeling is fabricated and phony. It is a scam manufactured by StubHub and other resellers in the same way that hotel websites say “only 2 rooms left.” As points people, we know that availability will open up. And if it doesn’t we find a way to deal with it. We don’t say, “Oh there’s no business class ticket, I better open up my wallet and pay an absurd price for it.”

Had I waited until I arrived in Doha, I probably could have picked up the tickets from the FIFA website for near cost or paid less of a premium on StubHub. Absent having no energy from my food poisoning/flu on the flight over (see Flight Review MIA-DOH: Qsuites to the World Cup!), I may have been able to go to both the Argentina vs. Australia game for the same price I paid to see that lousy US performance.

a football stadium with people watching
Category 2

Brazil vs. South Korea Tickets

I enjoyed watching South Korea play in the group stage. I thought they had some magic going. The day before the game, I impulsively bought two Category 2 tickets from StubHub for $366.85 each (see World Cup Day 3). These were the best tickets in terms of proximity to the pitch.

a man and woman taking a selfie in a stadium
Category 2

England vs. Senegal Tickets

After buying tickets for South Korea, I checked the prices for the England game which was kicking off that day (see World Cup Day 2). At $293.79 each, they were cheaper than the Brazil vs. South Korea game. This led me to regret not waiting for the day of the South Korea game to make that purchase.

Having said that, I neglected to check the FIFA site first to see if there were two tickets for retail. I assumed that retail tickets would be sold out. Imagine my annoyance when on the way to the game, I met another fan who had scored a Category 2 ticket for the retail price of from the FIFA site.*

*I tried to buy tickets for the Japan game on the FIFA site later that night.  It continuously errored out. It is dumb luck if it worked making me feel less terrible about my StubHub purchase.

TPOL’s Tip: Do not buy tickets from resellers that only show the Category, not the actual location of the seats. For the England game, I saw two Category 3 tickets. I picked the one that was slightly more expensive than the other believing I would receive better seats. I still ended up in the last row.

a football stadium with people in the stands
Category 3

Overall

Did I spend too much on tickets? Yes. I spent $3,270.73. The total looks more painful now than the itemized transactions. I can try to rationalize how much I spent on tickets by saying that my flight to Doha was basically free (see Booked! Qatar Qsuites Round 3 for the World Cup) and that my hotel was also free (see Hilton World Cup Booked! Your Results Will Vary). But I still would have preferred to spend much less. For the next major event, whether it is the Super Bowl, National Championship Game, or the Final Four (see Final 4 Free & Final Four San Antonio: Go Blue! Left Blue), I will follow this procedure:

  1. Gamble and buy tickets in advance at retail. I can always sell them if I don’t go.
  2. Wait until the day of the event when I am there to minimize the price gouging.

TPOL’s Tip: Every game has a winner and a loser. You don’t want to lose twice by watching Michigan get blown out in the National Championship game and by overpaying to do so. Like points, if you are meant to go, you will find a way.

a man wearing a head scarf
“Down below!” Said no one at the Senegal game as I was in the last row.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. What about the actual FIFA lottery system for getting tickets before the start of the event so a person can actually plan a trip in advance? I think an average spectator, especially if paying via miles/points, plans these things in advance. Definitely merits discussion here. Not to mention the Hayya system (granted, unique to the host country), which also required information about your accommodations in advance. These were pretty substantial considerations, so Idk if I’d call this a “guide.”

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