14 Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks at the Movies

The average movie ticket now costs $9. But you can pay less -- or maybe nothing at all -- with these simple tips.

14 Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks at the Movies Photo by Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

Movie ticket prices have never been higher. Tickets cost an average of $8.97 apiece in 2017, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Sometimes, they are pricier due to surcharges for premium formats like 3-D. But even if you’re sticking to the 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. Why pay $9 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 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. Pay attention when you choose your show time.

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

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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 Wild About Movies, AdvanceScreenings.com and Gofobo.

3. Join a rewards website

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Rewards sites like Swagbucks enable you to earn rewards points for doing activities like 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: free movie tickets.

4. Use a rewards credit card

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Got a rewards credit card? If not, 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 to a credit card than you can pay off at the end of the billing cycle. Otherwise, you’ll incur interest charges that will negate your cash back.

5. Join a loyalty program

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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

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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 Regal Cinemas.

7. 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.

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

8. Pay with a discounted gift 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.

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

A comparison website called Gift Card Granny will tell you which of these marketplaces is selling a certain movie theater chain’s gift cards for the lowest price at any given time. So, always visit Gift Card Granny before buying a discounted gift card.

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

9. Watch for special offers

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Remember those commercials that said, “Look for specially marked packages”? Definitely look for those!

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. 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.

10. 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.

The movies are generally 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

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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 some of 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

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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. ‘Experiences, not stuff,’ right? Thank you for asking.”

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.

That counts as a win-win: The giver doesn’t have to go out of his or her way and knows in advance that the recipient will be delighted.

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. But here’s an example of how it might benefit you: The theater is 20 miles round-trip, including picking up your companions. That’ll cost you about one gallon of gas, maybe less.

Maybe an older or disabled relative or friend-of-a-friend is a huge cinema fan but isn’t physically able to drive. Put it out in the universe that you’re willing to give rides in exchange for a free ticket.

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 covered.

14. Propose a trade

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Say you’ve got more time than disposable income right now and you really, really want to go to the movies. Trade, already.

Somebody, somewhere wants what you have to offer. Put it out on social media 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.

What’s your favorite movie-viewing hack? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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