A concert at 9:30 Club.
As an avid NPR listener, Emilie Fairbanks was excited to see This American Life host Ira Glass give a talk at the Kennedy Center this month. But with coronavirus concerns forcing many D.C. venues and arts organizations to shut down, the show that was originally scheduled for April 11 was canceled.
Fairbanks, a landlord-tenant lawyer who has her own firm, received an email last month notifying her of the cancellation and asking her to consider donating the price of her ticket. It also said to contact the box office for other options. Seeking a refund, she called the box office a couple of times, but got either a busy signal or a voicemail box. She also sent them an email.
The Kennedy Center's website outlines refunds as one of ticketholders' various options. As the show's original date grew nearer, she called her credit card company, Chase, and disputed the charge as "a service not received."
The Kennedy Center was not immediately able to comment on their refund policy and communication with ticket holders.
Fairbanks is among a number of Washingtonians who, in the wake of widespread event cancellations due to the coronavirus, have struggled to secure a refund from local venues. And in some cases, dealing with Ticketmaster and other large ticketing companies can be more complicated.
Lily Grant, an 18-year-old high school senior from Prince William County, bought tickets with a friend to go to Miku Expo, a live event featuring virtual Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku (a hologram that performs live using vocal synthesizer software) at MGM National Harbor. But when the show was postponed from April until September, she requested a refund.
Grant is moving to Williamsburg, Va., for college in the fall. Without a car, she couldn't justify making the trip back. "It's not realistic for me to pay the money for transportation up and down just for a concert," she says. She bought her tickets through Ticketmaster for about $67. But when she logged into her account, there was no refund option.
She reached out through Ticketmaster's website and received an automatic message stating that they weren't offering refunds for the event. She then contacted Ticketmaster via Twitter and was told that MGM made the decision not to issue refunds.
This week, Ticketmaster changed the wording of its refund policy. In a screenshot obtained by The New York Times, a section of the company's website previously stated that refunds "are available if your event is postponed, rescheduled or canceled." Now, the same page says that refunds "are available if your event is canceled."
The company claimed it was clarifying the language, as USA Today reported, and said refund policies are always set by the venues themselves, but the alteration prompted harsh criticism from ticket holders.
Grant decided to double-check with the venue herself. This week she received a response from MGM, which she provided to DCist, that said that they are, in fact, issuing refunds "when and where possible," and connected her with a box office manager. "It was a very strange situation," says Grant.
Some local venues' policies are fairly straightforward. In an email, Sandra Basanti, the co-owner of H Street music venue Pie Shop, says tickets for rescheduled shows will be honored on their new dates, and all canceled or postponed shows are eligible for refunds. "We always want to be as up front and transparent as possible with our customers," Basanti wrote.
I.M.P., which runs 9:30 Club, The Anthem, U Street Music Hall and other area venues, said in an April 15 statement that tickets for rescheduled shows will be good for their new dates, and that refunds will be issued for canceled shows. The company uses Eventbrite and Ticketmaster to process its ticketing. "Refunds may take some time–we ask for your patience and understanding as we navigate the unprecedented number of show changes," the statement continues. It was not clear whether ticketholders could receive refunds for postponed shows, and I.M.P. has not responded to a request for comment.
With court dates suspended, Fairbanks income as an attorney has taken a hit. The refund from the canceled Ira Glass show would be helpful. "I mean, I'm not in a huge financial predicament, but I certainly can't afford to make a donation to the Kennedy Center," says Fairbanks.
Fairbanks says she understands that the logistics of issuing refunds for dozens if not hundreds of shows is undoubtedly tricky. While the pandemic has had a huge impact on institutions like the Kennedy Center, which recently cut pay for some employees and furloughed others even after receiving $25 million from Congress, she says the lack of communication is aggravating.
"I'm a lawyer, and I could provide Chase all the documentation they needed, that the show didn't happen, and I knew to challenge it with my credit card," she says. "I'm frustrated that not everybody would know how to do that. ... It isn't really fair for an institution like the Kennedy Center to put that on an individual."
On Wednesday, four days after the Ira Glass event was scheduled to take place and after she called and emailed the Kennedy Center, Fairbanks received another email from the venue. "Reminder: Action needed regarding your Kennedy Center tickets," read the subject line. The automated email, which Fairbanks provided to DCist, said that ticketholders who had requested refunds should hear back "in the coming weeks." The email also asked patrons, "to help us through this crisis by choosing to donate their tickets back to the Kennedy Center."