10 Ways to Save Money at the Movies

by Kevin on August 9, 2013

Going to the movies is no longer an inexpensive night out, especially if you have a family. Where I live, movie ticket prices are bumping up to $11.75 each for a first run movie for an adult. “Student discounts” – always worth using – aren’t much help; the tickets are maybe a dollar or two cheaper. And concession prices certainly add to the expense. But there are ways to save money on entertainment, and if you go to the movies frequently, they can save you hundreds of dollars each year.

1. Get membership discounts on movie tickets.

Costco offers discount movie tickets for members under their Premiere Movies package. You can buy a package of four tickets to Regal Theaters (plus United Artists and Edwards Theaters) for $33.99. Where I live, four tickets at Regal now cost $47, so that’s a savings of $13. Check with any organizations you are affiliated with and see if a similar discount package may be available.

2. Use employer theater ticket discounts.

While most employees are properly focused on major employee benefits like health insurance and the company’s 401(k) plan, smaller benefits often go unnoticed. Some employers offer benefits like discount movie theater tickets. My wife worked at a bank a few years ago that offered substantial discounts on tickets. She could buy a package of four tickets for $25 at a time when the going rate was in the $40 neighborhood. Check with your employer to see if they have such a benefit offering.

3. Don’t buy your tickets online!

We’ve become very accustomed to buying what we need online these days, but it isn’t always a bargain. Last month I bought movie tickets online for the first (and last) time ever. There was a “service charge” of $1.25 per ticket – we paid an extra $5 for four movie tickets just for the convenience of not having to stand in line at the box office. Our usual strategy is to avoid seeing a blockbuster movie within the first week of release, that way we avoid long lines. I think we’ll stick with that and avoid buying tickets online.

4. Eat before going to the movies.

It’s no secret that just about any food item you buy at a movie theater concession stand is several times more expensive than what it would cost you for the same thing at a grocery store. It’s one thing to buy some snacks at the movies and quite another to buy meal items like hot dogs, nachos and pizza. Eat before going to the theater, in fact, eat at home and save even more.

5. Buy concessions in bulk.

If you do buy concessions at the movies, buy them in bulk and you’ll save plenty. In many movie theaters, you can get free refills on a large drink and a large popcorn. You can bring paper bags for each member of your family and divvy up popcorn in individual servings, and share a large soft drink. When either is empty, you can refill it. This will probably cost in the neighborhood of $15, but it will be a lot cheaper than buying individual packages for each family member at about $10 each. Those little kiddy packs they sell at theaters may be cute, but they’re expensive and don’t offer much quantity-wise.

6. Go to matinees.

You can usually save a couple bucks by going to a movie before 4:00 in the afternoon, even for a first run movie. A savings of $2 per person translates into $8 saved for a family of four.

7. Visit discount movie theaters.

We have a theater in our area that show late release movies, typically two to four months after initial release. The price: $2 per ticket for all movies at all times. I think I can wait three months after initial release to see a top-rated movie at a $10 per ticket discount! Check around and see if such a theater exists in your area. It’s a deal you can’t beat when you have a family. One more benefit: Concessions tend to be less expensive in discount theaters as well, since they cater to a more cost-conscious clientele.

8. Avoid movies with bells and whistles.

3D and IMAX movies will cost several dollars more per ticket than regular movies, and are seldom worth the extra cost.

9. Join a movie theater rewards club.

We signed up for the Regal Crown Club a couple years ago, and while it isn’t a bonanza of savings, we do get an occasional free medium popcorn or medium drink. These don’t do us much good on family trips to the movies, but if either of our kids goes with their friends, we will give them the card so that they can at least get a free concession. You’re going to the movies anyway, so you may as well build up some benefits along the way.

10. Find summer freebies.

My kids are teenagers now, but when they were young, I used to take them to free movies during the summer months. Some theaters will offer free movies as a way of generating income at the concessions stand. They’ll usually offer the movies on a mid-week morning (working from home, I was able to take the kids fairly often). Much like discount movie theaters, the movies are never first run and always oriented to the juvenile market. It’s a way to take your kids to the movies more often without breaking the bank.

What are some additional ways you can save money at the movies? Leave a comment!

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