9 Ways to Save on Movie Tickets

9 Ways to Save on Movie Tickets

by Kelli B. Grant
Thursday, June 12, 2008
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A night at the movies is now a much pricier proposition.

Blame it on the popcorn. Skyrocketing commodity prices for corn are jacking up costs at both the concession stand and box office. AMC Theatres, for example, recently raised popcorn prices nationwide by 25 cents a bag. Now, the smallest 32-ounce container costs $4.75. And, in certain markets such as Kansas City, ticket prices for shows after 4:00 p.m. now cost $10 instead of $9.

High oil prices and increased demand for ethanol, an alternative fuel produced from corn, are the culprits behind the rising price for corn, says Richard McKenzie, a University of California, Irvine economist and author of "Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies, and Other Pricing Puzzles." The corn used for popcorn is a separate variety than the one used for ethanol. So food manufacturers have to keep increasing their bids for the popcorn crop to keep farmers from switching to the more lucrative fuel crop.

As a result, moviegoers will see ticket price increases of $1 or $2 this year. But it's at the concession stand where they'll be hardest hit. "Theaters want to keep the margin on concession items as high as possible, and on tickets, as low as possible," says Wesley Hartmann, associate professor of marketing at Stanford University. If $7 for a bag of popcorn shocks consumers, they'll most likely go without. But if ticket prices are too high, they may decide to skip the movie altogether and wait to see "Get Smart" when it comes out on DVD.

Don't resign yourself to a summer of TV reruns and microwave popcorn quite yet. Here are some ways to make a trip to the movies a lot more affordable:

Seek out freebies

Many theaters offer free showings of family movies, especially during the summer, says Mary Hunt, founder of Debt-Proof Living, a consumer advocate web site. Regal Entertainment Group, for example, hosts a Free Family Film Festival every Tuesday and Wednesday morning through the end of August, showing flicks like "Curious George" and "Alvin and The Chipmunks." Clearview Cinemas' Kid's Club kicks off an eight-week series of free movies starting June 26.

Clip coupons

Your local Entertainment Book typically offers reduced-price movie tickets of $5 to $6 apiece. Also, keep your eyes peeled for special promotions at places like the grocery store.

Head to the drive-in

If there's a drive-in in your town, then get behind the wheel. Even though these theaters are considered old-fashioned, they mostly show new releases — and at the bargain price of about $7 a person for a double feature, says Jennifer Sherer Janisch, co-creator of Drive-ins.com, an online directory. (The Laurel Drive-In in Hazelton, Pa., for example, is currently showing "Kung Fu Panda" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" for $6 per adult, $3 per kid.) Some drive-ins don't even charge for kids, while others offer bargain per-car pricing. Concession fare is often cheaper, too, adds Janisch.

Check Out Independent Theaters

Wait a month or so for new movies to show up at a local independently-owned theater, and you can save more than 70%, advises Tawra Kellam, founder of frugal living newsletter Living on a Dime. The Kleeburg Marketplace Cinemas in Winston-Salem, N.C., is showing features like "Nim's Island" and "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who" for just $2.50. Prices at Cinemark Movies 10 in Plano, Texas, range from $1 (matinee) to $2 (prime Friday and Saturday evening showings).

Buy in Bulk

At AMC Theatres, avid moviegoers can buy tickets in increments of 50 for $6 to $7.50 each. The tickets don't expire. "It's a substantial cash outlay, but boy, is the per-ticket price a good deal," says Hunt. There is one catch, though: The cheaper tickets cannot be used for special engagements (i.e., the first two weeks of a movie's release.)

Avoid Reservation SitesGo online and you'll end up paying more for your ticket. Movietickets.com charges a $1 surcharge; Fandango.com tacks on 75 cents to $1.50, depending on the area.

Trade Up on Snacks

If you're going to buy popcorn or soda, go big. "Per ounce, the smallest size of popcorn is twice the price of filet mignon," says McKenzie. Trade up for the larger size and you're paying less per ounce — plus, many theaters still offer free refills. While it's not much of a deal for a solo viewer, larger groups will find it more cost effective than buying individually.

Go at Off Times

Heading to the theater on a Friday or Saturday night is the most expensive time to go, notes Hunt. In San Francisco, Cinemark charges an extra $0.50 per ticket on those nights. Theaters are also shortening their matinee hours, she cautions. New York's AMC Theaters offer matinee pricing ($6 instead of $12 for an adult ticket) only before noon on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Be Loyal

Joining the loyalty club at your favorite theater can pay off, even if you don't go to the movies that often. AMC Theaters' AMC MovieWatcher Rewards offers coupons for a free small popcorn each week, plus two points per ticket purchased. After you've earned 30, you'll get a free ticket. The Regal Crown Club awards one point per $1 spent. Rack up 120 points and redeem them for a free ticket.

Copyrighted, SmartMoney.com. All Rights Reserved.


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