Entertainment is one of the first areas to trim when you’re trying to save money. But you can’t sit at home every night. When you do go out, you want the most bang for the buck — and cheap concert tickets are the way to go.

Sometimes that means putting in some effort — like the time I watched Billy Joel from front row at Madison Square Garden after buying a ticket for $83. It happened. For real. I’m not even kidding. But it took strategic planning, crafting, time, and a bit of luck. After all, it's not often you come across cheap Billy Joel tickets, right?

Here’s how it went down. Last summer, my friend Leslie suggested that we go see Billy Joel, who has been performing every month at the Garden since 2014. Leslie is a frugality ninja, so I was surprised she wanted to spend the cash. But she’s also a super fan who knows every word of every Billy Joel song. And she figures out ways to save for the things she wants.

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Leslie’s Strategy to Find Cheap Concert Tickets

Leslie started researching ticket prices. This was immediately discouraging.

Even the seats behind the stage were about $130.

But the Garden continued to add Billy Joel concert dates, so she kept comparing until she noticed that some prices took a steep drop — down to $83 in January.

As with many items (such as airfare), ticket prices correspond to demand. And demand drops in January because tourists aren’t so keen on the grimy slush of a New York City winter. This is also the reason there are two-for-one tickets to Broadway shows during “Broadway Week” in January and February. Without tourists to fill seats, producers need to incentivize people to come out.

Getting More Bang for Our Buck

Leslie had also gleaned something important after reading about the concerts: Apparently Billy Joel sends out his team to find deserving fans and bring them down to the front row. Obviously, we needed to make this happen.

I still can’t believe I’m writing this, but we actually did make it happen. Here's how.

Getting Crafty

After buying our tickets (which came with exorbitant “service” fees), our first step was determining that we needed matching outfits to be noticed by the Billy Joel crew. We decided to channel Christie Brinkley in the music video of “Uptown Girl.”

Off we went to a craft store. We each bought iron-on letters — of the hot pink, glittery variety — for $6 a pack, and then ironed them on black short-sleeve shirts we already had. We added some hats and jewelry to make us look even more “uptown” — or at least what looked like uptown in 1983, when the song came out.

How to Find Cheap Concert Tickets: My Billy Joel Experience - Pia and Leslie in Uptown Girl garb
Leslie (left) and Pia in their “Uptown Girl” garb

Getting Noticed

As soon as we entered Madison Square Garden, we walked around in our full ensemble — hats on and eyes peeled for Billy Joel’s spotters. Most people weren’t dressed up in special outfits, so we stood out easily.

As we were on the escalators heading to our seats in the nosebleed-inducing 400 region, we saw somebody looking at our matching T-shirts and mouthing the words “Uptown Girl.”

“I think it’s happening,” I told Leslie. Indeed, a man named Joe beckoned us over and complimented our work on the T-shirts. He asked if we were ticket scalpers, so I asked to see his badge. He also produced a walkie-talkie.

Joe was legit. He told us Billy Joel doesn’t sell the first two rows because he likes to upgrade special fans. And with T-shirts like ours, we were front-row material.

I was weak in the knees and laughing hysterically for no reason. But we managed to follow Joe down to our new seats, just a few feet away from stage.

Our Cheap Concert Tickets Bought an Amazing Experience

What followed was, bar none, the best concert experience I’ve ever had. Up close, you can really see the details of how Joel uses phrasing in his voice and on the piano. He had lots of back-and-forth exchanges with his band, who all looked like they were having a blast. But I am quite sure no one in the entire 20,000-seat arena was having a better time than we were.

We later added up our total costs: With the service fees, each ticket came out to $109, and the letters cost $6. That's $115 for front-row seats.

You could count the time spent going to the craft store and working on the shirts, but we didn’t because we spend time together anyway.

What was the value of the seats? They’re not available for purchase, but nearby seats cost about $500. It still makes me dizzy.

Yes, we got lucky, but we also made our own luck. Leslie researched cheap seats at the cheapest time of the year and checked out the front-row rumor. We spent time and effort to make a fashion statement. It worked — and it was the best thing we’ve ever done.

Finding Cheap Concert Tickets Yourself

I can’t promise it will happen to you, but it won’t happen unless you try.

Not every concert will offer great upgrades like they did at our Billy Joel experience, so it's important to make sure you're well prepared for concerts you want to see. For example, you'll want to try and get in as early as possible for cheap concert tickets at companies like SeatGeek, which offer lower closing costs than some venues.

Being vigilant pays off!