Summer means a lot of things, but to the movie industry, it means extracting a whole lot of capital from unsuspecting moviegoers. They have developed little ways to squeeze every last penny they can out of us, and they prey on the clueless among us to get it. If you fall into that category, I have devised a list of ten ways to stay smart and stay cheap at the movies this summer.
Join your theater’s rewards program. This is the easiest way to be a smart moviegoer without drastically changing your moviegoing preferences. All it takes is filling out a quick application (some can even be done online) to join a rewards program. From then on, it’s just another card in your wallet to pull out at the box office when buying tickets. It won’t take long for you to start earning free popcorn, drinks, and even tickets.
With AMC’s MovieWatcher program, it only takes buying 15 tickets to get you a free ticket, although you have to be particularly savvy to work around their policy attempting to cap your rewards at only two tickets per visit counting for points. It’s only a slight inconvenience; simply make as many two-ticket transactions as you need. With a membership in Regal’s Crown Club, you earn points by the number of dollars you spend; like AMC, they cap you at $15 per visit. I assume that the same multiple transaction strategy would work there too. Regal also offers an “extra credit” system where seeing big studio movies in their first two weeks of release earns you five or ten extra points.
When you do get free tickets, use them wisely. First of all, do not let them expire. Be sure to look at restrictions on the ticket because most only allow you to see movies that are more than two weeks old. Most importantly, think about the time of day when you want to use the ticket. It saves you a lot more money to use free ticket on the $10 evening show than on the $7.50 matinee.
Find free screenings. What’s better than saving money on movies? Not spending any money on them at all! There are plenty of free advanced screenings in most metropolitan areas. To find them, just spend a little time on Google. Usually, there are reliable sites that list these screenings. A lot of times, stores or radio stations sponsor them and give away tickets. They also give away some goodies before the movie starts.
Last summer, I went to 7 free screenings, which saved me about $70. The only sacrifice these screenings require you to make is a little extra time. It is of the utmost importance to arrive at least an hour early or you will not get in. They deliberately overbook to have a full house, and I have been shut out of enough of these to know.
Go to early bird specials. Ten years ago, you could go to a matinee for $5. That ticket probably costs about $8 now. But AMC has a clever campaign offering patrons that same $5 ticket. They offer these discounted tickets before noon any day. I frequently take advantage of the system, and there are a lot of pluses to going to these early movies beside the price. You don’t have to wait in lines for concessions; you can get good seats; you don’t have to deal with a crowded theater. So if you can get up early enough, why wouldn’t you want to save at least $3 per movie?
And AMC isn’t the only chain with worms for the early bird. At Cinemark, the first showtime of the day for every movie is cheaper than a regular matinee.
Save evenings and weekends for special movies. This seems like an odd request. But theater owners know that these are the two peak times for moviegoers, and they exploit that by raising the prices. Most people know the price jump from matinee to evening tickets, which usually runs about $2. Yet many are oblivious to the fact that theaters raise their evening prices on Fridays and Saturdays, milking them an extra 50¢ or $1.
Part of the reason so many people go to the movies at these times is because they like the communal experience of sitting down and enjoying a movie with a theater full of other people. If you think about it, though, how important is it to sit in a movie with an audience for a very serious dramatic film? Or an action movie? Some movies don’t gain much from being watched with a host of other people, and it might be wise to abstain from spending extra money to see it in that atmosphere. In my opinion, comedies are the only movies for which a big crowd is vital.
Think about the necessity of 3D and IMAX. Is it really worth your extra $4 for 3D and extra $7 for IMAX? If it’s a slipshod 3D conversion (“The Last Airbender”) or a movie not shot in IMAX (no movie actually was, but animated movies usually play better on the big screen), the overall experience may not justify the extra money. Here’s a statistic that might make you a pinch a few pennies: if you saw every movie this summer in the most extravagant format available, it would cost you over $50 in premium ticket fees. That’s five movies you could see at night in 2D!
Scout the cheapest priced tickets. There is a difference between theaters in their prices, even if it is ever so miniscule. If you were to see 20 movies this summer, going to a theater with tickets fifty cents cheaper would save you an entire full-price ticket.
For example, the Edwards Marq*E in Houston is currently fifty cents cheaper than the other Edwards theater. It’s a little difference, but as any smart spender knows, the little things add up pretty quickly.
Don’t be afraid to show your age. Seniors, don’t be afraid to show your age at the box office because it could mean the difference between a $7 ticket and a $10 ticket. Other than children, seniors are the only age group to always be guaranteed a cheaper priced ticket.
Students, however, are a little more iffy. The only theater in Houston that always gives a discounted student ticket is the River Oaks Theater, the oldest theater in town. They only show smaller, independent movies though. The bigger chains – your AMCs, your Regals – have slowly diminished the availability of the student ticket. At Regal, the $1 cheaper student ticket used to be available every night. Now, it is only available Sundays through Thursdays; in other words, not on Friday and Saturday when most younger people flock to the theaters. But that’s better than AMC, which only offers one student day a week! At my closest theater, that day is Thursday. On that day, I can get $1 off a matinee and $3 off an evening show.
Know a theater’s matinee cut-off times. The matinee cut-off time has been slowly rolled back in my lifetime from 6 P.M. to 5 P.M. to now 4 P.M. The theaters are doing this to sell more of the expensive evening tickets.
But say you head to a 3:45 showing and are running a little late. You get to the box office, and that 3:45 showing is sold out. Now, you have to wait for the 4:15. The inconvenience is little, but the price jump is steep. That 4:15 will cost you two or three dollars more than the 3:45. Theaters love to put showtimes right along that cut-off time with hopes that some unforeseen circumstance will force you to buy the more expensive ticket.
Find a theater with free parking. This seems trivial, but the theater closest to my house charges $3 for parking. If you think about it, that’s like paying for 3D. Going to the movies 20 times at $3 per trip for parking is $60 extra – that’s six evening tickets! It’s obscene, and I’ve started to go to other theaters where free parking is offered more often to save some money.
Eat before you go to the movies. I paid an outlandish $3.75 for a small package of Buncha Crunch on Friday at the theater. Even if you manage to thwart them on ticket prices, they can get you at the concession stands. When you are hungry, you are hungry, and you will buy whatever will pacify your stomach no matter what the price.
So what’s the best way to fight being ripped off by concessions? Eat before you go to the movie! That way, you won’t be hungry during the movie. Even if you aren’t going after a big meal, have a tiny snack to tide you over for two hours.
I now declare you all smart moviegoers! Go and save money! Be sure to tell me at the end of the summer if any of this helped you be more economical.