How to Save on Blockbusters at the Movie Theater

Sneaking a soda or snack into the movie theatre saves you money at the concession stand, but how do moviegoers save at the box office? It’s worth considering these strategies for cutting down your movie ticket costs, whether you go when the blockbusters arrive in summer or the high-stakes dramas are screening during awards season. We'll identify several sources of savings available to consumers, and quantify how much they can save on tickets with each method.

Save Using Your Credit Card

In addition to basic cash-back benefits of using your credit card at the box office, specific credit card programs allow for added perks. Starting in April and continuing through June in 2016, Discover cardmembers got five percent cash back on all purchases made at the theater with cards like the Discover it. (The details of such rewards for 2017 are forthcoming.)

Also, Visa Signature partnered with online ticket seller Fandango to offer cardholders lower prices. From April 24 to August 21, for example, customers buying two stubs the day of for a Friday showing can get a third ticket free of charge. Another option: Receiving a 20 percent discount on a $25 Fandango gift card. There are a number of credit cards that identify with the Visa Signature - simply check the area right above your Visa logo on your credit card.

Buy Someone Else’s Unwanted Gift Card

You can also save on a gift card using a website like Raise.com, which gives a platform to users selling their unwanted cards at a discount price. When we checked, AMC, Cinemark or Regal cards worth $25 and up can be had for discounts up to the 15 percent range. Other websites that offer this service including Card Cash, which had about 500 gift cards for AMC alone at a 19% discount off of their face value, or Card Pool, which had around 150 gift cards at Regal Entertainment for savings of 10% of the retail value.

Discounts When Buying in Bulk

The theater companies themselves offer deals to companies, who then hand the savings off to their employees. Showcase Cinemas, for example, offers as high as 30 percent off admission price when selling their cards and tickets in packages and bundles. Of course, you can also buy in bulk yourself and pass the lower prices onto your family, friends and coworkers. Other examples of national theater companies’ corporate discounts are available at:

  • AMC National Sales
  • Cinemark Supersavers
  • Regal Corporate Box Office

Here's another one that's under the radar: movie vouchers through your university if you're a student, faculty member, or staff member. When school is in session, your local student center or benefits office can offer discounted tickets. Using the example of Columbia University in New York, vouchers are available for $8.75 when purchased in advance, which can mean a savings of 40% off the average retail $15 ticket price on the Upper West Side.

Taking Advantage of Memberships

Many theatres also help their recurring customers save by joining a membership program. You can get perks or earn credits towards free drinks and popcorn at the concession stand. You can even earn a credit towards future purchases. 

  • The Regal Crown Club: Earn credits with every ticket (or concession) purchase
  • AMC Stubs: Get a $10 reward for every $100 you spend

Also take into account your memberships outside the cinema. AAA New York members, for example, can save $20 on five tickets to a Regal or United Artists theatre. Those of us with an active membership to Costco can also save by buying in bulk; the wholesaler offers a 10-pack of Cinemark tickets for $84.99 or $8.50 per stub, for example. The older crowd can also save by checking for member discounts at AARP, and cinephiles of all ages can become Entertainment Book members. Same thing goes for member of particular unions like Union Plus.

Matinees and Age-Varied Pricing

The oldest ways of saving on movie tickets are sometimes the best. Bring along your child, student or grandparent, as most movie houses still offer lower prices to these three age groups. We found this to almost always the case in the course of our study of stub sales in the city of New York, and it's a common practice across the rest of the United States.

Our study of the Big Apple’s 55 theatres also showed that theatres are still offering considerably lower matinee prices as well as designating one day a week (“Terrific Tuesdays” and “Wacky Wednesdays” among them) to offer $5 and $6 tickets. Sometimes, in New York at least, all you need to do get a better by-the-movie rate is to walk a few blocks, particularly if you’re walking in the direction of an independently-owned cinema.

Following theater companies on social media is always a good idea because this is usually the first place that they’ll alert us to short-term sales. Also, consider that buying your tickets in person at the box office will help you avoid paying online or in-app service charges.

How to Catch a Free Preview/Screening

If you are bringing your own soda and snacks and are in search of a completely free ticket, don’t forget that summer also brings more drive-in and outdoor movie options. Major cities are offering free outdoor screenings of older movies and silver screen hits - here's an example of those in New York.

Typically, you can see new and old movies this way. To get free tickets to movies that aren’t yet in wide release, try signing up with a website that tracks screenings and previews. Gofobo is an example of a site with a repository of free screenings and premieres.

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