The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money at the Movies – 45 Tips!

ultimate guide to saving money at the movies It’s cold out around most of the country so that means it’s time to hunker down, get cozy and watch some movies! If you’re headed to the theater this season be sure to take along some of these tips by my husband, Aaron. -Anna I’m a huge movie buff. For me, movies are definitely on my Needs list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look for ways to save money when I go.

The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money at the Movies – 45 Tips…

1. Matinee

The most obvious way to save money is by hitting the theater at off times. Matinee showings are usually discounted by a few bucks. Not only are matinees a good way to save money, but also it’s one of the best times to go see a movie. The theaters are quieter, you have your choice of seats and it’s a great way to beat the crowds.

2. Second-Run Theaters 

If you aren’t in a rush to see the movie on Opening Night, consider waiting a few weeks until the flick starts making the rounds at second-run theaters, which are way cheaper for both admission and snacks.

3. Drive-In’s 

There aren’t a lot of drive-ins left but they still exist and if you are lucky enough to have one close by, these are the way to go. Drive-in’s usually charge by the car-load rather than by the person and they don’t care if you bring food in. Oftentimes they’ll also show a double feature which is great, and at the very least, the nostalgia is worth it.

4. Avoid 3-D

Here’s a biggie. If the movie doesn’t warrant a 3D showing, avoid the extra cost. A lot of movies get pointlessly made into 3D and it adds nothing to the movie but a higher price tag. Ask yourself if it’s worth the up charge before paying additional fees. Do some research. If a movie is receiving high praise for visual effects, don’t be afraid to pay the extra cost because it could enhance your experience, and really be worth the extra cost.

5. Avoid IMAX

Again, don’t pay extra money just to sit in an IMAX theater for a movie that doesn’t deserve such an experience. Yes, IMAX theaters are cool, but really, how large does the screen need to be? Don’t get duped either… most theaters that advertise “IMAX” screens actually have screens that are way smaller than true IMAX theaters so be sure you know what you are paying for.

6. Take Advantage of Discounts Available to You 

If you are a student, in the military or a senior citizen, whip out that ID card and start asking for discounts. If you are none of those, but still feel you deserve a discount, it never hurts to ask.

7. Watch at Home

This one is a bummer but really, the best way to save money at the theater is by not going to the theater at all. Nowadays, a lot of movies are available at home the same day the they hit the theaters with your cable On Demand feature. It’s a lot cheaper to do that and eat snacks at home instead of going to the theater. Plus, you can invite as many people over as you like. For the Extreme Cheapskates, (you might offend some people) you could even consider charging a cover.

8. Be Patient

Again, the best way to save money by going to the movies is not going. Before you head out the cineplex, ask yourself “Is this movie really worth the cost of admission?”. If it’s not, just wait ’til it comes on DVD or hits Netflix. It’s not like the olden days where it takes a year for a movie to hit DVD (or VHS back then). Movies hit the rental market immediately (see above tip) or come out only a few months later. If you chose to wait to see a movie, you won’t have to wait long anymore.

9. Go Solo

Leave the significant other at home and go enjoy a movie by yourself. It will be half the cost, plus you won’t have to share your popcorn and sodie pop.

10. Bring Your Own Food and Drinks

Smuggling food into theaters is usually against the rules, so do this one at your own discretion. Buy candy in bulk at the grocery store and make you popcorn ahead of time and divvy it up in plastic baggies. Bring along a water bottle and fill it up at the water fountain instead of buying water.  I say whatever you can fit into your pockets or purse is fair game to be smuggled. Just wait until the lights go down to bust out your grub and don’t overdo it by bringing in your leftover chinese food.

11. Share

For some people, like me, getting a popcorn and drink is all part of the experience. If I’m not destroying a bag of popcorn during the coming attractions, it’s not a movie. I’m not opposed to sharing though. Rather than buying individual snacks for the entire family, get the jumbo size and split it among everybody. If you go with a friend, do the same, but split the cost.

12. Go Big

To really save money, it’s best to avoid the concession stand altogether, but if you find yourself just dying for a popcorn and if you get asked if you want to make it a medium or large for .50 cents more, take advantage. You are already paying a crazy price anyway, whats 50 more cents for the next size up? And if you are with someone, be a hero and get large and share. Sometimes when you buy the largest size, the bucket becomes bottomless, so refill often and if you don’t finish your snack, don’t be afraid to take it home with you. I love munching on leftover corn on my drive home.

13. Eat Before You Hit the Theater

Another way to avoid the tantalizing smells of the concession stand and a big hit to your wallet is to make sure your stomach is full before you even get to the theater. You’ll be less likely to get hit with a snack attack if your belly is topped off.

14. Sign Up for Reward Programs

Most theater chains offer some sort of reward/loyalty program that give members the chance to earn free or discounted movies and concessions like popcorn, drinks and candy. It’s often free to sign up. It might take a while to reap the rewards, but it’s worth getting and carrying the card.

15. Get a Movie App

After signing up for my Regal Crown Club card, I immediately got the Iphone app. Once a month they send me digital coupons for candy, soda, and popcorn. Plus, if I forgot my card, they can scan my phone. The app also lets me track my bonus points, which is important because it lets me know when I should’t be taking Anna on a Date Night because I’m due for a free popcorn and I want it all for myself…;)

16. Sign Up for the Theater Newsletters

Along with signing up for a theaters loyalty program, sign up for newsletters, emails and promos with your local theaters. Also follow them on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. You’ll probably have to wade through a lot of junk email, but you might be rewarded with coupons, give aways, special discounts or freebies.

17. Independent Theaters

Independent theaters aren’t always cheaper, but sometimes they have deals (and better concessions!) that mainstream theaters don’t, plus it’s always good to support your local economy. An independent theater I go to charges a little more for admission but along with that price comes all you can eat and drink popcorn and soda.

18. Do Your Research

Before even heading to the theater, do some research on the movie you want to see. Read some reviews, check out what the critics are saying or talk to friends that have seen the movie. If the movie is getting across the board stinky reviews, consider waiting for it to hit the rental market. If the reviews are so-so, perhaps wait until it releases in 2nd run theaters. Ask yourself some simple questions: “Does the movie have awesome special effects and warrant a 3D up charge?”, “Is the movie worth the risk of having a crowded, loud theater on Opening Night?”, “Does the director have a good track record?”, “Do I like the actors?”. A properly researched movie is key when it comes to saving money at the theaters.

19. If Warranted, Complain

I don’t advocate needlessly complaining but if your movie going experience was ruined by a pack of rowdy teenagers, bad audio, or whatever, speak up and tell the management and hopefully things will get rectified with a free pass. Anna and I got booted out of a movie once because of a fire alarm. We spoke up and not only got a voucher to get back into the same movie at a later date, we also got two more free passes. (Note: Always keep your movie stub as proof incase situations like this do come up.)

20. Hold It

In all honesty, movies are a bit of an inconvenience. You lose the ability to control your surroundings (which is a perk too, I suppose), you can’t pause the movie or rewind it if you need to take a bathroom break or get a refill on snacks. After paying such a ridiculous amount to see the movie, why would you want to spend all your time in the bathroom? The best thing to do is to hold all movements until you are about to explode, but then again, after chugging 44 ounces of soda a pee break might be impossible to avoid, so the next best thing is to go at the most optimal time. Apps such as “RunPee” tells you the most convenient time to take a bathroom break during a particular movie, so you don’t miss any of the action.

21. Ask for Movie Theater Gift Cards

The one thing I always ask for when my birthday or Christmas rolls around are movie gift certificates. Let someone else treat you to a movie.

22. Groupons 

Sign up for sites such as LivingSocial or Groupon. Sometimes they offer pretty smoking deals on ticket prices.

23. Pay with Plastic 

If you are financially able to handle a credit card, get one that earns you points towards free movie tickets.

23. Find Alternative Places to Buy Your Tickets

A great way to save some cash on admission tickets is buy your tickets someplace other than the theaters. Member groups such as AAA offer discounted tickets, as do some grocery stores. You may also be surprised at the little perks your company offers. Revisit your benefits package because the company I work for offers discounted movie tickets. The perk is buried deep within the benefit package, but do some digging and you might be surprised. Buying tickets from second (or third) parties can be annoying and possibly time-consuming but it might be worth it to save some money.

24. Avoid Reservation Sites 

If if can be helped, avoid buying your tickets online in advance (this is different from buying your tickets from a third-party – see above). A lot of these sites add “convenience fees” on top of the admission price, and you’ll end up paying more. Combat the need for this by simply getting to the theater early and being first in line.

25. Be On the Look-Out for Free Screenings 

Look for opportunities for free screenings. Most often you’ll have to wait in line and won’t have much of a say on the movie you are going to watch, but the opportunities do exist so stay alert and keep your eyes peeled for offers. Here in Denver, there are always free screenings offered in the Westword Newspaper.

26. Marathons 

Many theaters periodically host marathons of related movies (think Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars or Oscar nominated films). While admission is more expensive than an individual ticket, it is often less than what you’d pay to see each movie separately.

27. Buy in Bulk/Value Packs

Consider buying your movie tickets in bulk at stores like Costco or those gift certificate kiosks at your grocery store. Buying in bulk often saves you a few bucks per ticket.

28. Film Festivals

Seek out local film festivals. Similar to buying tickets in bulk, most film fests offer package deals. These deals are more expensive up front but if you plan on seeing more than one movie they will save you money in the long run. Oftentimes, tickets to see films shown at film fests aren’t as expensive either and it’s a great way to see non-mainstream movies you might never have heard of.

29. Become a Patron of a Film Society

Becoming a member of local film societies is a great way to save money at local and independent theaters. Members are often entitled to discounted tickets plus a whole lot of other perks such as free concessions, advance booking opportunities, and first shot at advanced screenings.

30. Theater Perks

Take advantage of any freebies theaters offer. If you live in a major city and frequent theaters in a downtown area, see if they will validate for parking. My local Regal cinema pays for up to 4 hours of parking in an adjacent parking garage which is a huge money saver for a downtown movie theater.

31. Combine Dinner and a Movie 

If you are heading out on a Date Night, consider killing two birds with one stone. A growing trend among theaters is serving food and having waiters serve you through out the movie. I know it sounds like a bad idea buying food at the theaters but the theaters I’ve been to that do this actually have moderately priced food. Rather than going out for a meal and then buying popcorn and drinks at the theater, forgo the restaurant and opt for a burger and fries and not a popcorn and soda. The savings won’t be extreme, but the experience can be a nice treat.

32. Hit Up a Midnight Showing

I’m not talking about seeing a midnight showing of a mainstream movie before Opening Day, I’m talking about going to a local independent theater and catching a second run of an old classic. Prices are usually cheaper and midnight movies are often coupled with a party or cool theme. A local theater in my neighborhood shows the Big Lebowski a few times a year. If you dress up as your favorite character you have a chance to win prizes and free movies. Plus they offer White Russian drinks at half price (this theater has a bar).

33. Enhance Your Experience 

Assuming you spent the money to see a movie, you want it to be the best experience you can have, correct? Seat selection is key here. Obviously, the best seat in the house is where you are most comfortable, and I’m an aisle guy about half way up the theater. I like to be able to slip out quickly for a bathroom break or to rebutter my popcorn. However, the seats intended to be the best are those that are dead center, about 2/3’s the way up the auditorium. Most calibrations for the theater are made from this perspective. These seats are in high demand though, so get to the theater early.

34. Get the Most Amount of Movie for Your Money 

You paid to get in, so maximize your experience. I like to get to the theater early, take a pre-movie bathroom break, get my popcorn, get the most primo seats and watch the coming attractions. Strolling in after the lights go down not only is a disruption to other people, but you are missing part of what you paid for. After the credits roll, don’t immediately rush out like everyone else. Some movies have bonus scenes during or right after the credits.

35. Corporate Meetings 

Encourage your company to move that next big corporate event or meeting to the big screen. Theaters provide free concessions and usually a private screening of a new release to corporations that rent out their theaters for business meetings. Unfortunately, if you talk your company into doing this you won’t be able to play hooky from the meeting because chances are they will probably show the movie after all the boring stuff.

36. The Double Feature 

I can’t advocate doing this because it’s wrong and you can get yourself into a lot of trouble, but some people, after exiting their movie auditorium accidentally walk into another auditorium and stay for the duration of that movie before finding their way out again.

37. Don’t Go VIP

Some new trendy theaters are starting to offer a class system. For an up-charge you can sit in the “VIP” section. Other than some plush seating and a few more inches of leg and arm room, the VIP section isn’t worth the price. Theaters that offer VIP sections are typically really nice anyway and the difference between the two sections is minimal. If you are trying to impress a new suitor, than perhaps splurge for the VIP. Other than that, skip this option.

38. Summer Programs 

If you have kids, check to see if your local theater has summer programs that show children’s and family friendly movies during the day for discounted prices. I remember going to see Charlotte’s Web with my niece a few years ago for like, 2 bucks.

39. Arcade 

Many theaters have little fun centers that are extremely enticing to kids. If you aren’t careful you could be dropping a ton of extra coinage into arcade games, photo booths, skill cranes and cotton candy machines. Avoid these areas if at all possible.

40. Use Those Entertainment Coupon Books if You’ve Got ‘Em 

An entertainment book is essentially a big book of coupons with a lot of “Buy One, Get One Free” offers and other discounts on items from local business. The downside to these books is that they usually aren’t free, but if you find yourself in possession of one, of know someone who has one, take advantage. Most times movie theaters drop coupons into these books.

41. Summer-Time Screenings 

Check around your town for free movie screenings in local parks during the summer. Nothing beats grabbing a blanket and laying out under the stars and watching a free movie on a warm summer night.

42. Befriend the Movie Theater Staff

Start up friendships with your local theater’s personnal. Maybe one day you’ll get waived through the line with a wink and a smile or score a free popcorn.

43. Get a Theater Job

If you have the time to spare, get a part-time job at a theater and start getting in for free. Better yet, if you have kids that looking for their first job, steer them in the direction of a movie theater and take advantage of their benefits.

44. Become a Movie Critic

It’s a long shoot (and also my dream job) but see if you can start writing movie reviews for newspapers, local publications or online sites and start getting paid to go to the movies or at least free admission.

45. Avoid the Gimmicks 

Theaters are always looking for new gimmicks to attract customers and the newest wave in the movie going experience is the 4D movie which combines 3D viewing with physical effects (chair shaking, puffs of air, sprays of water, etc.) synchronized with the action in the film. Semi-contained to only IMAX and theme parks, the 4D experience hasn’t hit the mainstream yet (with the exception of a handful of theaters) but it’s coming. I’ve yet to see a 4D movie, so I can’t knock it, but rumor has it that it will cost an additional $8-$10 more per movie for the 4D experience. Even for a diehard like myself, that’s pushing the limits of what I’ll pay. Besides, getting hit unknowingly in the face with water doesn’t sound that fun.

Do you know of any ways to save money at the movie theater that aren’t mentioned? If so, I’d love to hear what you’ve got…

9 comments

in Practical Solutions, Social, Things To Do

9 Comments

  1. Pieliekamais // December 16, 2013

    Ahh, movies!
    I’ve been sneaking in food since 1995.

  2. kathryn // December 16, 2013

    If you have any Cinemark theaters around you, they have reuseable popcorn and drink containers that are good through 2014! They should be on sale now, you pay $12 up front, but then it’s only $6 for refills for both every time you use it! Plus, if you sign up for the newsletter, you can use those coupons in conjuction with the refillable tubs!
    It’s a great value, especially if you like going to the movies (but really, even if you only use it 4-5 times, you’ve got your money’s worth).

  3. Michelle @fitisthene // December 16, 2013

    We get free tickets through survey reward programs. Between the two of us, we are able to earn two free tickets every three months, which is enough for us!

  4. Melissa // December 19, 2013

    AMC has the Stub program, which if you buy on Fandango will waive the “convenience” charge. More importantly, most AMC theaters will do before-11:45am showings for $6! I will totally get my butt out of bed on the weekend to go see an early show.

  5. Power My Life // December 20, 2013

    This guide is awesome! Movies are always fun to go to with friends and family, but it can become too expensive. These tips are very helpful, especially during the holidays when we are looking for fun things to do with our families. We will be tweeting your guide to save money at the movies to our followers from our Twitter account, @OncorPML. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Tahnya Kristina // December 21, 2013

    Going to the movies is absolutely one of my favourite things to do. I really love it. I rarely pay full price for any of my tickets and that makes the experience so much better. I try to go on Tuesdays when tickets are half price and I use my cinema rewards points to get free tickets for the weekends and free popcorn. Great post!

  7. Jay // December 22, 2013

    Great list of tips, we often wait for ‘important’ movies since it’s so expensive these-days.

    Sadly though in NZ it’s not as easy to just wait for something to come to Netflix, more often than not the only option is Movies or an illegal download.

    I’ve been known to sneak in homemade popcorn or supermarket candy if I’m really poor that week. I’m part of a loyalty club at the major cinema in my city that eventually gives you free tickets, popcorn, drinks etc as you acquire points which is pretty great too.

  8. Aneta Genova // December 29, 2013

    Buy movie tickets at Costco! They are half price there.

  9. Cattis // January 1, 2014

    I live in Sweden, we can borrow movies for free at our library. Maybe not the ones that was on cinema last week but nice movies…

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