12 Ways to Save Big at Movie Theaters

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Man at the movies
Serhii Bobyk / Shutterstock.com

Planning to go to the movies? Dig deep into that wallet! Movies seem to get more expensive as the years roll on.

Sometimes, movie tickets are especially pricey due to surcharges for premium formats like 3-D. But even if you’re sticking to the first matinee of the day — which is often discounted — your entertainment budget is feeling the pinch.

The following frugal hacks will help you stretch those entertainment bucks.

1. Skip those premium formats

Sure, it can be fun to see a superhero blockbuster on a five-story-tall screen or in 3-D. But not every film is better that way.

Before you spring for the pricey ticket, check with a reviewer you trust. Some film scribes will note whether 3-D brought any value to a movie. Or ask your friends if seeing a particular movie in 3-D was worth the extra money.

Also, check movie times and corresponding formats carefully. I once heard a woman in a ticket line say, “Oh, this is an XD show.” Her companion sighed and said, “Well, we’re here, so go ahead and pay it.” It was an extra $3.50 per ticket.

Don’t let that happen to you.

2. See films for free — and before your friends do

Advance movie screenings are offered in many cities. Often unannounced to the general public, they’re available to those in the know.

How do you become one of the frugal cognoscenti? One way is to sign up at websites like:

3. Join a rewards website

Rewards sites like Swagbucks enable you to earn rewards points for doing activities such as searching the internet, shopping online and playing games.

Once you’ve got enough points, you can redeem them for gift cards, including gift cards to movie theater chains like AMC and Regal.

Sure, earning points takes time. But, again, you get free movie tickets!

4. Use a rewards credit card

Got a rewards credit card? If not, stop by our Solutions Center and check out Money Talks News’ credit card search tool.

Once you’ve got a rewards card, use it to buy movie tickets — among plenty of other things. Technically, it won’t make them any cheaper. But earning cash back is effectively like scoring a discount.

Remember: Never, ever charge more on a credit card than you can pay off at the end of the billing cycle. Otherwise, you’ll incur interest charges that will erase your cash back.

5. Join a loyalty program

If you haven’t joined the rewards programs of the theaters you frequent, you’re leaving money on the ticket counter.

Just about every major chain has a loyalty card, whether plastic or virtual, for you to swipe each time you hit the flicks. Eventually, you’ll amass sufficient points for a freebie or discount.

6. Ask about discounts

Check local chains for pay-one-price days or other specials. Ask about military, student and senior discounts, too.

If you’re a member of AARP, you’re eligible for discounts at chains such as Regal Cinemas.

7. Wait awhile

Sometimes a movie is still pulling in viewers, but the theater needs to make room for new blockbusters. That’s when it gets sent to a “second-run,” or discounted, theater.

You can save some real money by attending movies in these theaters. In my city, the second-run theater costs $3.75 for all shows.

True, some of these theaters aren’t the fanciest, meaning no cushy reclining seats or higher-end concessions. But the price is right.

8. Pay with a discounted gift card

I never pay full price for the movies, in part because I always hit the first show of the day or go on pay-one-price Tuesday.

But even on these cheaper days, I pay less than retail, because I pay with a discounted gift card.

You can buy gift cards for less than their face value through marketplaces such as Raise.com. I’ve seen cards discounted as deeply as 30%.

Alternatively, you can buy discounted movie theater gift cards at warehouse chains like Sam’s Club.

9. Watch for special offers

In recent years, I’ve gotten free movie tickets from Kellogg’s and M&M/Mars. Since I bought their products on sale and used store coupons, the deals were pretty sweet, so to speak.

For example, spending $6 on four 9.9-ounce bags of M&Ms got me a free ticket — good for up to $12 — as well as the candies to treat my great-nephews.

10. Take the whole family

A handful of theater chains nationwide host second-run children’s movie screenings every summer. Admission is either free or nearly free — anywhere from 50 cents to $2.

The movies are generally those released in the previous year. If you missed the initial run, here’s your chance to catch up at a very nice price.

11. Reconsider popcorn

Blasphemy! Or maybe not.

Some people think it’s not a movie without snacks. If that’s you, save money by using the same methods mentioned previously. For example, pay with a gift card you got for free, a discounted gift card or a rewards credit card.

Or, consider bringing your own treats or skipping the snacks. Just be discreet if you’re planning to sneak in snacks. Theaters have the right to ban outside food and to kick you out if you violate that ban.

12. Ask and ye might receive

When someone asks what you want for Christmas or for your birthday, don’t say, “Oh, I don’t know.”

Instead, say this: “You know what would be great? A movie theater gift card. I’d definitely use it.”

These cards are convenient to buy since, like other gift cards, they’re available at supermarkets and drugstores and even at office-supply, home-improvement and convenience stores.

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