I love going to the movies. It’s not even the idea of seeing the latest blockbuster that I enjoy so much – it’s the two hours of mindless entertainment paired with a tub of buttery popcorn and a diet soda. It’s pretty much heaven for a mom of two like me.
What I’m not in love with, however, is the cost. Every year, box office prices go up, and the price of snacks and beverages is absolutely ridiculous. At the end of the night, it’s easy to spend $50 just to catch a flick.
So, what’s a movie-lover to do when the urge for popcorn and a movie strikes? Theaters generally don’t make coupons or other discounts readily available, but it’s possible to lower the cost of a movie without doing anything against the rules (I’m talking about those who sneak in their own snacks). Heading to the movies can be a totally guilt-free activity, whether you bring the kids, or are out on a date.
How to Save Money at the Movie Theater
1. Use Price Clubs
If you have a Sam’s Club or Costco membership, you can save on movie tickets. Head to the consumer service desk and ask about discount tickets – you can usually score them for a few bucks off. I’m not a club shopper, but I discovered that my local grocery store and gas station offer cheaper tickets. I can then save even more by using a cash back credit card that offers additional rewards for shopping at these locations. Call around to different stores in your area and you might find a cheaper way to see the same movie that everyone else pays full price for.
2. Go in the Afternoon
When my kids are rowdy and restless, I usually load them into the SUV and drive to the movies. This is perfect, since matinees cost way less than evening showings. In fact, I can usually purchase all of the tickets for less than $10, which makes it a worthy way to spend my money on something fun for the kids – and something stress-free for me.
Call and ask the theater about ticket discounts or check Fandango online. Matinees, senior discounts, and student discounts can help you shave a couple dollars off ticket prices, making a trip to the movies less of a financial burden.
3. Buy at the Box Office
Buying tickets online is convenient, right? Too bad you get charged a fee for that convenience. Most booking sites charge $1 to $2 for you to use the service, making your tickets even more expensive. Even if you want to snag tickets for a hot movie in advance, head right to the box office and don’t pay added fees.
4. Find a Late-Run Theater
My neighborhood has a late-run theater. Instead of seeing movies when they first come out, I can catch them after they’ve been released for a few weeks at a greatly reduced price. This means that I sometimes have to wait to see a movie I want to check out, but often, it’s worth the savings. It’s also a great way to re-watch a flick that you loved in the first-run theater.
5. Skip the 3D and IMAX
We all know that 3D movies are the newest gimmick to get you to flock to the theater, but you must pay a premium price. If it doesn’t matter much to you, inquire about a 2D showing instead. It will save you money, and is better for kids who can’t keep the glasses on the entire time. You’ll also pay more for an IMAX movie, so make sure the flick is really worth seeing in 3D on the big screen or you’ll be forking over major dough to go.
6. Divvy Up the Snacks
I used to always buy my kids separate snacks to reduce fights and whining. Of course, it’s cheaper to buy larger quantities of popcorn at the movies – purchasing my kids two small popcorns and a medium for myself wasn’t exactly cost-effective. However, I once saw a mother pull out several brown paper bags from her purse and divvy up her large popcorn among them. Her three kids each had their own bag to limit squabbling, and she saved by buying a larger tub. Genius!
7. Eat Beforehand
Sneaking food into the theater is against the rules, so I won’t advise you to do that. But if you’ve got the time, grab something to eat before you set foot in the theater. That way, you’re not overwhelmed by temptation to buy nachos and hot dogs – premium snacks that cost a premium price. Instead, make a pact with yourself that you’ll grab a drink and one snack to stay within budget.
8. Go for Group Deals
Tons of group deal websites – like Groupon and LivingSocial – offer deals for movies. Since it’s difficult to snag cheap tickets for particular theaters, you can look for deals instead for ticketing websites, like Fandango. It’s usually a percentage off the ticket price, or a flat rate price for two tickets to a specific movie. It’s perfect when you’re lining up a date night with your partner; you’ll get a code to enter into the ticketing website when purchasing the tickets. Just keep in mind that convenience fees still often apply.
9. Grab Gift Cards
You might think that a trip to the movies is a perfect gift, but not everyone thinks that way. Enter gift card swap sites, like Raise. When a person gets a gift card that he or she probably won’t use, it can be listed on the site. Shoppers like you can then snag the gift cards on the cheap, sometimes for a seriously deep discount. Check to see what’s available – for example, you can get a $25 gift card to AMC Theatres for 14% off.
10. Sign Up With the Theater Online
Purchasing your movie tickets from a second-party website might be super convenient, but you might not be getting the best deal. Sign up for newsletters and promos with your neighborhood theater directly via their website. Also follow them on their social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter. When you book tickets, you’ll avoid extra fees, and you might even get a heads up about cheap movie days, special discounts, and coupons for concessions like popcorn, drinks, and candy to relieve some of the burden on your wallet.
11. Use Credit Card Perks
Your credit card could act as a discount pass when you want to see the latest blockbuster. Most cards offer member perks, some of which can be discounts at the movie theater. What’s more, some cards including Chase Freedom and Discover More offer as much as 5% cash back on various purchases in rotating categories. Each company’s cash back calendar is different, so check your service agreement to see if you’ll get cash back at the movies during the year. That way, you’ll get a little extra padding in your bank account just for seeing the latest action flick.
12. Become Loyal
Some movie theaters, especially those associated with chains, offer customer loyalty programs. Regal Cinemas and AMC are just two of the theater chains that offer loyalty programs to their movie-goers. Loyalty programs reward you for your patronage via a card. When you spend money on tickets and concessions, you garner points on your card, which can later pay for tickets or net discounts on other stuff. If you’re an avid movie-goer, it might be worth asking about, especially since you’ll probably be at the theater anyway.
13. Buy in Bulk
You probably didn’t know that theaters often discount bulk tickets for condo associations, community groups, companies, and even to individuals. Since you’re promising to fill up a set number of seats, theaters are usually more than happy to offer a percentage discount for groups over 20 people. You can do this yourself to reserve cheap seats for a large group seeing the same movie, or you can check with community groups – such as grocery stores and gas stations – which is perfect if you only want a couple of tickets, but you still want the discounted price.
14. Check for Specialty Discounts
Are you a student or a senior? Are you an AAA member or do you plan on purchasing stuff online? You can snag discounted or even free movie tickets just by using the information that you already have. Tons of theaters offer discounts for both students and seniors, providing that you can show an ID when you purchase the tickets. You can get discounts based on your affiliation with certain associations. Fandango also offers programs for free and discounted tickets based on your online activity and purchases.
15. Summer Movie Programs
If you don’t mind being late to the party, or you just want to see some of your old favorites, check community theaters for summer movie programs. A theater near my home offers older children’s movies for $1 all summer long. They’re usually films that are one or two years old, but for $1, you can afford to rewatch some of your favorites, and your children’s favorites, over again. Most summer programs are posted on theater websites or Facebook pages, so do some investigating to see if your summer plans will include a few days at the movies.
Regardless of how you slice it, heading to the movies can be pretty pricey. But by being smart and finding ways to save a few dollars here and there, you won’t have to skip the latest blockbuster because of a tight personal budget.
How else do you save money at the movie theater?