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Movie ticket prices have never been higher. Right now we pay an average of $8.73 per ticket, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
In part that’s due to surcharges for “premium” formats like 3-D and IMAX. But even if you’re sticking to the less-expensive first matinee of the day, your entertainment budget is feeling the pinch.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t see the latest Oscar picks. It just means you need to get creative about how you pay for them.
The following frugal hacks will help you stretch those entertainment bucks to the fullest. Why pay more than $8 when you can pay a fraction of that amount – or maybe even nothing at all?
1. Skip those premium formats
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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 in with a reviewer you trust. Some film scribes note whether 3-D was really worth it for a movie. Or ask your friends, “Seriously, was it worth the extra six bucks to see Captain America’s shield coming right at your face?”
Finally: Check movie times carefully. I once heard a woman in the 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. Pay attention when you choose your show time.
2. See films for free – and before your friends do
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Movie previews take place in many U.S. and Canadian cities. Often unannounced to the general public, they’re available to those in the know.
Generally speaking, these previews are purposely overbooked, i.e., they hand out more tickets than seats on the theory that not everyone will show up. If you wait until the last minute to get in line, you might not get seated.
Two other ways to find free screenings:
- Radio promotions: Stations like to give away passes.
- College, independent and alternative newspapers: These are also known for free passes, or for ads placed there by film promoters.
3. Get rewarded
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Sites like MyPoints and Swagbucks let you earn rewards points through activities like searching the internet, shopping, playing games and watching videos. Once you’ve got enough points, you can trade them for gift cards to Fandango, AMC or Regal Cinemas theaters.
Sure, earning points takes time. But again: free movie tickets!
4. Get rewarded, Part 2
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Got a rewards credit card? If not, use the link to learn more – Money Talks News has curated the best deals to be found.
And if you want just one, super-solid suggestion, we recommend this Fidelity rewards card that pays back 2 percent on all purchases, no limits.
Next, check what kinds of gift cards are offered as rewards. If your card offers movie theater chains and/or Fandango, then you’re in the money. Except that you’re not: The cards won’t cost you anything.
Remember: Never, ever charge more than you can pay off at the end of the billing cycle. Never. Ever.
5. Get rewarded, Part 3
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If you haven’t joined the rewards program at your favorite theater(s), 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 free ticket.
6. Drink soda, get free tickets
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If there’s an AMC theater in your area, you can earn free tickets through the My Coke Rewards program. Create an account and enter codes found on caps (worth three points) and multipacks (worth 10 to 25 points) of all Coca-Cola products, including flavored Dasani water and Minute Maid juices.
You don’t have to drink a lot of pop to participate, either. Instead, or in addition, you can:
- Check the recycling bin at your workplace.
- Ask relatives or friends to save codes for you.
- Pick up empties wherever you see them — on the street, sticking out of trash cans, left behind after outdoor events — and salvage the caps. (But please recycle the bottles, or throw them into approved trash receptacles.)
Depending on the ticket package you choose, it takes anywhere from 485 to 1,100 points to cash in. But they add up faster than you might think, especially since the My Coke Rewards program offers double points from time to time. (Tip: In late November/early December the program tends to deeply discount movie tickets.)
Oh, and all three movie-ticket packages come with a free fountain soft drink. Naturally.
7. Pick your spots
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Check local chains for pay-one-price days or other specials. At the Cinemark near me, all tickets are $5.75 all day every Tuesday. Normally the matinee price is $7, so it’s a decent savings.
Ask about military, student and senior discounts, too. “Senior” means different things at different theaters, incidentally. In my city, it’s 60 years old at one chain and 62 at another.
8. Wait awhile
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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.
That’s where you can save some real money. In my city the second-run theater costs $3.75 for all shows. In other locations, it’s as little as $1.50. This is one time that procrastination really pays off.
True, some of these theaters aren’t the nicest places, i.e., no cushy reclining seats or higher-end concessions. But the price is right.
9. Pay with a discounted card
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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.
Tip: Use discounted gift cards for all your shopping needs, including but not limited to groceries, gasoline, clothing, drugstore items, pet supplies and electronics. Learn more with this Money Talks News article.
Incidentally, you can buy discounted multipacks of movie theater gift cards at BJ’s Warehouse, Costco and Sam’s Club. That’s not the sole reason to join a warehouse club. But if you’re already a member, then shop away! (Or ask a relative/friend who belongs to pick up a pack of cards for you.)
10. Watch for special offers
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Remember those commercials that said, “Look for specially marked packages”? Definitely look for those!
In the past two 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. A woman at my city’s recycling center told me she harvested a bunch of those specially marked Kellogg’s cereal boxes from the mixed-paper bin.
For a while last summer, the My Coke Rewards program ran a special promotion: Redeem a certain number of Minute Maid product caps and get a Fandango gift certificate. This was in addition to the program’s usual AMC gift certificates — and since it was Fandango, it could be used at any theater.
(Can you tell I’m hoping the offer will be repeated this summer? Or that I’m squirreling away all the Minute Maid caps I find?)
11. Ask and ye might receive
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When someone asks what you want for Christmas or for your birthday, don’t say “Oh, I don’t know, whatever you want would be fine.”
Instead, say this: “You know what would be great? A movie theater gift card! I’d definitely use it – and ‘Experiences, not stuff,’ right? Thank you for asking.”
These cards are super-convenient to buy, since they’re available at supermarkets and drugstores and even at office-supply, home-improvement and convenience stores. That counts as a win-win: The giver doesn’t have to go out of his way and knows in advance that the recipient will be delighted.
12. Take the whole family
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A handful of theater chains nationwide host second-run children’s film screenings every summer. Admission is either free or nearly free (anywhere from 50 cents to $2).
Among the companies offering these movies: Cinemaworld, Bow Tie Cinemas, Harkins Theatres, Classic Cinemas, Cinemark, Marquee Cinemas, Georgia Theater Company, Carmike Cinemas, Regal Entertainment Group and Showcase Cinemas.
The movies are generally family films — both animated and live-action — released in the previous year. If you missed the initial run, here’s your chance to catch up at a very nice price. (The best price, of course, being “free.”)
Not every film is going to push your buttons, of course. Personally, I’d rather mop my floor than watch anything with Smurfs or chipmunks. But some family films truly are enjoyable across a wide age range. (I’ll see anything with a Minion in it. Those guys crack me up.)
13. Get creative!
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So you’re the only one in your peer group with wheels right now, or the only one who doesn’t mind driving. Suggest this deal: “I’ll drive, you buy.”
This won’t work to your advantage if you live really far from a movie theater (hello, Western states!). But here’s an example of how it might benefit you: The theater is 20 miles round-trip, including picking up your companion(s). That’s less than one gallon of gas, i.e., probably less than $3.
Maybe an older or disabled relative or friend-of-a-friend is a huge cinema fan but isn’t physically able to operate a car. Put it out in the universe that you’re willing to give rides in exchange for a free ticket. Sort of like Uber for movies.
Or how about this: Become a movie chaperone. Suppose your brother can’t stand children’s movies, but his kids are clamoring to see the latest Pixar flick. If it’s something you want to see, offer to take them in exchange for your ticket being comped.
14. Propose a trade
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You’ve got more time than disposable income right now and you really, really want to go to the movies. So trade, already.
Somebody, somewhere wants what you have to offer. Put it out on your social media network that you’re in the market for movie gift cards. Maybe someone who has one would love to swap for something in your skill set.
The skills don’t even have to be that major. Suggest that your sister give you that $25 Fandango certificate she got for her birthday in exchange for watching her kids next Friday night. Or maybe the co-worker who received a $50 Regal gift card at Christmas will trade it for your willingness to pick up her mail and feed the cat when she goes away for the weekend.
15. Reconsider popcorn
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Blasphemy! Or maybe not.
Some people think it’s not a movie without snacks. If that’s you, save money by:
Using discounted gift cards: Get them as noted above, and then use them the concession stand.
Using those loyalty cards: When I took my nephews to a movie, I was pleasantly surprised that a free popcorn coupon printed out along with the tickets.
Joining other loyalty programs: For example, when you put your smartphone into “Cinemode” during showtimes at Cinemark theaters, a concessions-related reward gets credited to your account.
Bringing an empty bottle: Fill it at the water fountain. See how easy that was? You could also bring a single-serving package of drink mix and end up sipping peach tea, pink lemonade or Hawaiian Punch.
Buying the refillables: Some chains offer cups and popcorn buckets that can be refilled all year for a flat fee. In my case, the soft-drink cup will cost me $3.75 rather than $7 (yikes!).
Using coupons: That Cinemode coupon is one example, but as a loyalty program member I get a concessions coupon emailed weekly — and at Cinemark you can “upgrade” the coupons. For example, if the deal is “free small popcorn with the purchase of drink,” I pay an extra $1.75 to make it a large popcorn.
The large popcorn comes with one free refill, so I dump it into a plastic grocery bag to share with one nephew while the older nephew gets the refill. Thus I spend $5.50 ($3.75 soft drink plus $1.75 popcorn upgrade) to treat three people at the movies. You could use the same maneuver to split snacks with friends; just bring a couple of folded-up plastic bags.
Or consider these two shocking concessions tactics:
Bringing your own treats: Theaters have the right to ban outside food, and to kick you out if you violate that ban. So if you’re planning to sneak in snacks, be discreet. Keep in mind, however, that theaters pay hefty fees to studios and distributors for the right to show the films. Popcorn and Milk Duds are what keep the movie theater running.
Skipping the snacks: Barring a medical issue, you ought to be able to go 90 minutes to two hours without eating or drinking. Wean yourself off the popcorn — or make it an occasional rather than automatic purchase — and you’ll see an improvement in the bottom line.
What’s your favorite movie-viewing hack? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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