Watching films at home certainly comes with a few perks – most notably, the ability to eat whatever snacks you want, knowing that the seats are clean, and pausing the video whenever you want. The big screen still has charms of its own, though: very high resolution, a sound system way better than you can afford, and the company of your fellow movie fans. It’s the next best thing to seeing a live performance, and Godzilla just doesn’t look the same when he’s only five inches tall.
The problem, of course, is that going out to the movies costs an arm and a leg compared to alternatives like streaming services. Here’s a secret you really want to know, though: there are legitimate ways to get cheap movie tickets – sometimes even for free! Here’s how to go about it:
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Look Around for Post-Corona Deals
Before the pandemic hit, average ticket prices were around $10; in 2001, the figure was $5.66. It’s therefore not surprising that only about 15% of Americans visit the cinema more than once a month – yet this small group accounts for almost half of all ticket sales.
Clearly, the movie industry relies heavily on these dedicated film fans and they’d like more people to pick up the big-screen habit. Now that (we hope) sharing a room with several dozen strangers is about to be safe again, they’re going to do their best to attract viewers away from their televisions and back into cinemas. They have little choice: in the first two weeks of March 2020, AMC Entertainment’s stock price fell by more than half, while Cineworld dropped by just over two thirds.
Just like with traveling for cheap, corona will turn out to be at least partly a blessing in disguise for those who want to save money on movie tickets. Hopefully, you managed to take advantage of AMC’s “movies in 2020 for 1920s prices” promotion (it’s hard to find a movie ticket for 15¢ otherwise). Don’t beat yourself up if you missed out on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, though.
Even while operating at reduced capacity in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, cinema owners are going to be eager to draw as big a crowd as they can. You can expect some great special offers just as some long-delayed blockbusters reach theaters, as well as tickets for older movies priced at under five bucks.
Shop Around for Cheap Movie Tickets
One of the easiest (though not the most lucrative) ways to get cheap movie tickets is simply to buy them where they’re cheapest. You can do this by comparing prices between different cinemas, but cost isn’t always the only factor: some theaters simply offer a better experience than others and, accordingly, charge more for a seat.
Online, you’ll find a number of other systems you can use to save money on movie tickets. Fandango, for instance, makes it easy to find out when and where a movie is being shown and book a ticket. Unlike when standing in line at the box office, they generally charge a commission on every ticket sold, but this can be waived if you’re a member of a cinema chain’s loyalty program. Fandango itself also offers rewards to regular customers.
If you’re going in a group of four or more, you may want to check out BulkTix too and potentially pay a whole lot less – for bookings of more than a dozen seats, contacting the theater directly will often get you an even greater discount. Should you be planning on treating someone to both dinner and a movie, Restaurant.com frequently has combo offers that will make the whole night out a little cheaper.
You can also find some surprisingly good deals by applying your couponing skills. Once you sign up with Rakuten (which bought Ebates some time ago), you need do no more than shop with their browser plugin enabled to get any applicable cashback on all your online purchases. Alternatively, you can choose to browse coupon websites like RetailMeNot and CashBackMonitor to see what kinds of discounts are available at different cinemas. Using customer aggregation sites like LivingSocial and Groupon can result in even bigger discounts, though you may have to act quickly to snag the best deals before they expire. GiftCardGranny requires you to do a little more work but offers the possibility of major savings by letting you buy cinema chains’ gift cards for less than their face value.
Memberships you already have can also get you cheaper movie tickets. Are you a teacher? Try booking your next film outing through the National Education Association; they, as well as several other unions and industry groups, can net you significant savings on movie tickets and much besides. Sam’s Club and Costco also frequently have special offers on 2-packs and 4-packs of tickets – even the AAA can get you admitted at a discount.
Sign up for Advance Screenings
Studios sometimes book an entire cinema, then give away free tickets to members of the public for a movie that hasn’t even come out yet. This isn’t just out of the goodness of their hearts: it’s done either as a marketing stunt or to get an idea of how real-life audiences react to a movie.
You should know, however, that a lot more people are invited to these events than there are seats available. Even having a ticket doesn’t guarantee entrance, so make sure you get there at least an hour early. The following websites allow you to apply for admission to advance screenings; many of them allow you to search by ZIP code:
- Advance Screenings is a great starting point if you’d like to attend an event like this. Simply click on a poster of the movie you’re interested in to see in which cities it will be screened or search by location. You can also set up notifications via email.
- Gofobo gives you access to many of the same opportunities and also runs sweepstakes for free movie tickets. It’s a little more difficult than Advance Screenings to navigate, though.
- Wild About Movies hosts some resources similar to a website like IMDb but also keeps an up-to-date list of available free movie screenings – not just for movies that haven’t been released yet, but older titles too.
- Lion’s Gate allows you to enter a ZIP code to see whether any screenings of their upcoming releases are scheduled.
- Warner Brothers does the same. Like with Lion’s Gate, you have to redeem a code sent to you, and potential attendees are presumably selected on the basis of their demographic information. You can also sometimes find these codes online, for example by searching the company’s Twitter.
- Sony Pictures‘ advanced screening website works in the same way.
You can also be invited to free advance screenings if you’re a member of a cinema chain’s loyalty program. This is due to genuine movie fans being the preferred kind of audience for market research. They are also the ones who are willing to check websites like the above ones frequently for the chance at an early peek at the newest blockbuster, so this is exactly what you need to do if you want to take advantage of this source of free movie tickets.
Score Free Tickets with a Cinema Loyalty Program
Like with credit card rewards, the idea behind movie loyalty programs is that you get a small percentage of what you spend back. This is usually in the form of points you can cash in for free tickets or concession snacks – thankfully, movie reward programs are a lot simpler to understand than any credit card plan.
Signing up with a particular chain of cinemas can also give you access to other benefits, like free popcorn on your birthday, being able to shop for limited-edition movie merchandise and additional discounts on certain days of the week. Even if you choose not to apply for a card, you can still sign up for the company’s newsletter or simply follow their Facebook or Twitter account, where you’ll often find special offers that aren’t advertised anywhere else.
Assuming that you have one of Regal’s theaters near you (including the affiliated United Artists and Edwards Theaters), their Crown Club is one of the best loyalty programs to join if you’re a frequent moviegoer. Rewards really start to pile on once you’ve watched 20 movies in any one year.
AMC Stubs gives you more points back for every dollar you spend, making it a better option for people who only go to the movies every once in a while. Membership comes in three different flavors, of which the Premiere option seems best despite carrying a $15 annual fee. Reserving tickets online becomes free, as does super-sizing popcorn and sodas. In general, you’ll pretty much earn back the yearly subscription if you see one movie a month.
Even smaller cinema chains usually have some sort of loyalty program, so it’s worth asking. You may be surprised at what you get even with some free programs, such as a free ticket on your birthday or popcorn at no charge on Tuesdays. Remember that another kind of loyalty program may come in handy too when looking for cheap movie tickets: many credit cards offer cashback or reward points for all types of entertainment purchases and allow you to redeem your points on tickets.
Choose Off-Peak Times (and Ask for the Discounts You’re Eligible For)
Considering how chaotic life can be, it’s usually difficult to find a showing that suits several friends, even if you try to set it up days in advance. If you can convince people to go see a film on a weeknight (or it’s something you want to see by yourself), you can often save as much as half the price of a movie ticket. Matinee (usually meaning any time before 4 p.m.) and late-night screenings are cheaper, too. If you can resist the hype and avoid the spoilers surrounding a new blockbuster for about a month, you’ll also find that ticket prices drop significantly, especially once it moves to a cinema that’s a little off the beaten track.
In addition, many cinemas offer discounts to seniors, students, families with children, and military personnel, especially if they’re willing to come during certain times of day. Cinemark is probably the most generous national chain in this respect, while independent local theaters often have similar policies.
Forget 3D and IMAX, Visit a Drive-In Instead
Assuming that you want to watch a movie for the plot, acting, and artistic value, how much does super-duper resolution or the illusion of depth really add to your experience? You may be just as happy with a 2D ticket costing as much as $10 less – or pack a picnic basket and head to the drive-in.
Drive-in theaters have been making something of a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic, but there were a lot of them around even before. If you don’t want to hear the audience talking, apart from those you brought with you, the extra privacy is certainly worth it. Most drive-ins charge a fee per person that’s comparable to a normal movie ticket, but this is often for two movies shown back to back, and the fact that you don’t need to spend anything at the concession stand makes your local drive-in a very economical option.
Become a Secret Shopper
Calling yourself a film critic to score free movie tickets may sound like a good plan, but it isn’t a job anyone can do. There is a better option, though, which requires few special skills:
To large corporations, the quality of their customer service is a perennial concern. Trying to evaluate this by complaints alone isn’t a good way to ensure that the same standards are being maintained across all their establishments, as many of these criticisms are unreasonable (or just a sneaky way of asking for a discount on movie tickets).
Instead, cinema chains employ “secret shoppers”: people who watch a movie for free (or even get paid) while they check whether the staff is friendly and the popcorn fresh. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, you can either apply with an agency that provides this kind of service or contact your favorite chain’s head office to see if they run an in-house secret shopper program.
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Going to the movies used to be a pretty standard date for when you didn’t have much money. Today, if you book tickets for Friday night and load up on snacks and drinks, you can easily end up paying pretty much what you would have for dinner at a place with white linen tablecloths.
Unless you’re rich, you have to be smart, including when looking for cheap movie tickets. It is indeed possible to save money on this form of entertainment, and it’s usually not even all that difficult. Normally, the only thing you’ll have to give up is a small amount of convenience: instead of being able to go out on a whim, you may have to plan a day or two ahead.
Has anyone applied these and other tips on saving money in their own lives? We’d love to hear from you – this is exactly what the comment section is for.