Did you order some 2012 Olympic tickets? Because tomorrow's the day that money could start disappearing from your bank account. Best be prepared. 5pm update: In a very last minute announcement, it appears that no money will be taken before next Monday. Not quite going to plan, eh?
But nobody seems to be willing to explain quite what we should be prepared for. Olympic ticketing bosses have released an absolute minimum of information about what might happen when, yet we're all supposed to have faith and trust them not to plunge too many would-be purchasers into overdraft. Here's what we do know...
1) "Where demand for tickets exceeds supply, London 2012 will use an automated and random selection process (‘ballot’) to ensure the fairest possible distribution and allocation of tickets on a session-by-session basis." The actual ballot process isn't being made public, no doubt because it's very complicated. But rest assured that consultants KPMG are overseeing the entire process, and if they say it's fair then it undoubtedly is. We know that "more than 50% of the 645 sessions will go to a random ballot", which could be anything from 323 to 645 of them. We know that "track cycling, rhythmic gymnastics, triathlon, modern pentathlon, equestrian (cross country) and both the opening and closing ceremonies" have sold out, presumably at all price levels. We know that "the majority of the sessions in swimming and tennis" will go to a ballot, which isn't exactly a surprise. But conversely there must be hundreds of sessions that haven't sold out, anything up to 322 of them, and allocating the tickets to these should be pretty much automatic. If you've applied for something unpopular (like, say, the early morning preliminary rounds of the badminton), you can expect to be paying for all of the tickets you applied for, no competition.
2) "If you are successful, payment will be taken between 10 May 2011 and 10 June 2011." This is an incredibly lengthy ticket allocation process. For a start it's taken two weeks to get around to taking the first payments - that's while they've been busy checking none of you naughty folk have applied twice. Now there are five weeks to whisk money out of your account - that's a grand total of 23 working days. What's not yet clear is whether the money will come out of your account in one go or in dribs and drabs. They could wait until they have all your sessions sewn up, even the ten-times oversubscribed Opening Ceremony, and suck you dry once. Or they could leave the problematic sessions until later and whip out the unballoted sessions immediately. What I'm suggesting here is that it's quite possible that millions of 'easy' payments will be taken tomorrow, on Day One. And also that if a certain amount of money disappears out of your bank account this week, then don't necessarily assume it's the sum total of all your ticket winnings. 5pm update: Scrap that. It's just been announced that all funds will be taken in one go. Some time "between 16 May 2011 and 10 June 2011".
3) "Please ensure you have sufficient funds available between these dates." When you applied for tickets, the system will have made clear the "maximum cost" - that's how much you'll be stung for if every session comes up trumps at the highest price range you accepted. You'll have been sensible I know, and not over-reached your finances. But some people have applied for far more than they can afford, on the slightly risky assumption that they won't win all the tickets they wanted. They're in for a nasty surprise if they're much luckier than they thought, because the rules decree that tickets can't be cancelled. For those with a Visa credit card, their total ticketing bill will be taken, no questions asked, so long as their credit limit isn't breached. But most Visa cards in the UK are debit cards, which rely on actual funds being present in the account. Holders may need to transfer some savings across today, ready for any potential outflow tomorrow, then keep them there until either something or nothing happens. No available money, no tickets. Except...
4) "If someone does not have enough money in their account to pay for the tickets, organisers will contact them and give them another chance to pay." This is new, and it's good news. It doesn't appear anywhere on the 2012 website, which is a poor show, but it's on the BBC website which is the next best thing. Essentially it means that you don't have to store any spare funds in your Visa account at all, because you'll get a warning email asking where your money is and a second chance to pay. But you'll only get this opportunity once, and it's all or nothing. If you're even £1 short and they can't take the money, you'll then lose every single ticket in your shopping basket. Then they'll give your tickets to somebody else. What's not clear is if those unclaimed tickets will be thrown back into the pot, or saved to resell after the allocation process is complete. If it's the former, then that's bad news for people whose payment was taken early. If it's the latter, then there should still be some unclaimed hard-to-get tickets available at the end of June.
5) "A notification will be sent to confirm which tickets you have been allocated by 24 June 2011." Olympic organisers appear to be really really reticent to tell you what tickets you've got. They won't tell you up front before taking your money, which is perverse, and more than a little cruel. And they reserve the right not to tell you for a full two weeks after the final payments are taken, which is either LOCOG playing really safe with deadlines, or an admission of wholesale ineptitude. It shouldn't be rocket science to auto-generate an email linking payments to ticketing sessions, especially when the money's long gone, but apparently it is. Be patient and you'll discover whether that £420 withdrawal is one ticket for the athletics or 21 tickets for the football. But watch out earlier for a telltale twelvepence. If (and only if) the amount withdrawn from your account includes pence as well as pounds then congratulations, you've won a cheap seat for the Opening or Closing Ceremony.
Other important dates: » This Wednesday - Paralympic Games ticket prices and the draft competition schedule will be available » Thursday 26 May - Tickets go on sale for the first series of Olympic 'test events' (in basketball, BMX, beach volleyball and mountain biking) to be held in summer 2011. Annoyingly, by 26 May you won't have been told whether you've got tickets to any of those sports in 2012, so you'll be applying in the dark. There are a total of 30 sessions up for grabs, and this time it's first come first served. » "June/July" - Leftover Olympic tickets will be offered to all those who applied last month but didn't get all the tickets they requested. But you've got to be in it to win it. If you didn't apply before, you won't be able to apply now. » Friday 9 September - Tickets for the Paralympics go on sale. They'll be a much harder commodity to shift, I reckon, but well worth considering if you don't get your Olympic first choices. » "Winter 2011" - All remaining tickets go up for sale, via Ticketmaster and Visa, open to all. » "Early 2012" - The official ticket reselling website goes live. If you have any unwanted sessions, or if your uncle can't attend any more, or if you overstretched yourself financially and need to liquidate some cash, bad luck, LOCOG will be keeping hold of your money for at least six months. And that's assuming anybody's willing to buy your tickets off you - if not, you're stuck with them. » "Summer 2012" - Your tickets finally arrive in the post (by secure delivery). This may be the first time you discover what your seats actually are (A7? R21? ZZ46?), even though you paid for them more than a year earlier.