Cinema chains do a land-office business in the summer, when audiences seek an escape from the heat and the humdrum of daily life. But even this hideaway is becoming increasingly expensive. With the average ticket price closing in on $10, never mind the outlay for snacks (and babysitter), how can you get in some quality screen time without overspending your entertainment budget?
It's no secret that a matinee time slot at most cinemas is cheaper than a Friday-night showing of the same movie. Movie theaters have traditionally offered discounted matinee prices, but now some theaters cut prices on certain days regardless of the hour. The next time you want to see the latest box office hit, check if it's cheaper on a Tuesday than a Friday.
Avoid paying full price for movie tickets by keeping an eye on daily deal sites and apps for discounted tickets. Groupon, for example, regularly offers movie tickets for half price. Offers.com is another place to look.
Many things are cheaper when you buy them in bulk, and that includes movie passes. Warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club sell movie tickets in multi-packs for much less than the total when sold individually. You may be able to buy a year's worth of movies for the entire family at a cut rate.
In addition to having discount days, movie theaters may also offer memberships with special prices on concessions and rewards programs that let customers earn free tickets or snacks. For example, the Regal Crown Club (Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres, and Edwards Theatres) is free to join, and members can get 25 percent discounts on candy on Mondays and 50 percent off popcorn on Tuesdays. Members also accumulate points toward free movie passes and refreshments with each purchase.
Instead of going to the biggest movie theater in town, hit up the drive-in or dollar theater. Drive-ins often charge a flat fee per car, meaning you can easily get four to six people to a movie for less than $25. As for so-called dollar theaters, some still are dollar theaters or darned close. At Allen Park Digital Cinemas in Allen Park, Michigan, evening shows are $1.50 and matinees are $1. Customers also get a free refill on soda and popcorn.
You can sign up online for lists like Gofobo or Advance Screenings and learn where and how to access free movie screenings in your area. You can also listen to the radio; many radio shows give away free movie screenings as contest winnings.
Dealflicks is an app that helps movie theaters fill up seats that would otherwise sit empty by brokering discount ticket prices at the box office (exactly how much is at the theater's discretion). Use the app or the website to find cheap movie tickets at up to 60 percent off retail and bundle packages, such as two tickets, two drinks, and one popcorn, for the same steep discount. The app is available for iPhone and Android users.
Monthly subscription plans can mean significant savings for avid moviegoers. MoviePass had been charging $10 a month to see one movie a day, which was a shockingly good deal. And that’s probably the reason MoviePass is reportedly running out of money. Recently, frustrated subscribers were turned away at the box office when the company couldn’t pay for users’ tickets; now, in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, MoviePass is set to raise prices to close to $15 and limit subscribers’ access to some big-name first-run movies. The deal can still yield savings for movie fans, but MoviePass isn’t the only subscription option. AMC Theatres is now offering a $20 monthly plan called AMC Stubs A-List that lets subscribers see up to three movies a week, including Imax and 3D movies.
Several credit card companies offer movie-related perks to cardholders. The Citi Private Pass program, for example, is open to holders of Citi credit and debit cards and sometimes offers free or deeply discounted movie passes.
Taking in a family-oriented film during the summer is another way to save at the movie theater. Chains like Regal, AMC, and Cinemark often have summer specials or “movie camps” for kids where moviegoers can get in for as little as a $1 and enjoy refreshment specials as well.
Save even more money by avoiding the concession stand. Movie theaters post profit margins of 85 percent or higher on drinks and snacks, according to estimates cited by The Hollywood Reporter. An obvious solution is to buy that box of Sour Patch Kids at the grocery store instead of spending $5 at the theater, but many cinemas ban outside food and beverages. Bars in cinemas seem to be increasingly popular but are stocked with overpriced beverages designed to loosen the purse strings. Arrive at the theater with self-control in hand.
If you do hit the concession stand, don’t assume the prices on combination deals for items like popcorn and drinks are necessarily cheaper than buying them separately. Sometimes they aren’t, and the combo promotion is just a form of upselling.
Why waste good money on bad movies? Check out reviews before you shell out money for a show you won’t really enjoy. Rotten Tomatoes, RogerEbert.com, and countless other sites offer a look at what’s worth a trip to theater.
Finally, remember that box-office hits cost less when viewed on DVD or streamed at home using Netflix, Amazon Prime and other sites rather than in a theater. The savings multiply when the entire family is watching. If you really want to reduce household expenses, make movie outings a rare treat and turn movie nights at home into special occasions.