These days, a film for two and a few snacks costs just about as much as a steakhouse dinner. What was once a family-friendly activity has become a very expensive night out. As movie ticket prices have risen, the prices of concessions have, too. It seems impossible to take the family out to the movies without spending more than your week’s grocery budget.
Of course, there’s always the option of waiting until a movie is available to rent a few months down the road. But there’s just something about seeing a new movie on a big screen that’s more exciting and memorable than watching it at home. Plus, when everyone is buzzing about the Oscar-nominated films each year, it’s nice to be in the loop.
The good news is, you don’t always have to pay full price for a night out at the movies. Here are a few tips to bring down the cost so you have a little bit leftover for a few kernels of movie theater popcorn.
1. Sign up for a loyalty program
If you go to the movies frequently, it could be worth your while to register for a loyalty program such as Regal Crown Club or AMC Stubs. Through these programs, you earn points that can be redeemed for free concessions and movie tickets. Membership to the Regal Crown Club program is free and includes perks like Extra Credit Thursdays, $2 candy on Mondays, and $2 popcorn on Tuesdays. AMC Stubs costs $12 a year. Perks include $10 back on every $100 spent, free upgrades on popcorn and drinks, and no fees on tickets purchased through Fandango.
2. Score a daily deal
From time to time, daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Eversave run daily deals on movie tickets for chain theaters like AMC. The best way to find these deals is to register for the newsletters from each site. These sites also have referral perks that can sweeten the deal. Living Social, for example, will reimburse the price you paid for a deal if three people buy the same deal through your referral link. It’s hard to turn down discounted movie tickets, so it’s usually easy to entice three people to purchase by sharing with friends and family. I have received free movie tickets this way — you just need to be the first to discover the deal and share it!
If you’re planning on seeing a movie tonight, check Groupon Now! deals, which are local deals that can be used immediately after purchase. There might be a theater in your area offering a good discount. Presently there is a theater in my area offering a movie ticket and a drink for just $5!
3. Ask about unadvertised deals
A theater close to my house is packed every Tuesday night because everyone seems to know it’s half-price night. But I’ve never seen it advertised anywhere! Call around to theaters in your city to see if any offer discount days. Scour Yelp for info on deals at theaters too—fellow budget-conscious moviegoers are usually more than happy to share which theaters offer the best discounts.
4. Bring your ID
If you’re a student, a senior citizen or are in the military, it’s likely that your theater has a special discount day. Call ahead to see which day will give you the best discount and plan accordingly.
5. Buy movie theater gift cards
Someone else’s gift card trash could be your treasure. Search sites like Plastic Jungle and Cardpool to buy movie theater gift cards off people who would rather have the cash. Prices vary, but most gift cards to AMC Theaters, Fandango or Regal Entertainment are about 15 percent off.
6. Check Fandango for deals
Typically, buying tickets at the box office is less expensive than online since sites like Fandango that charge processing fees. However, Fandango does run promotions for free or discounted tickets. Check their site often to avoid missing out on some of the best ticket deals!
7. Find a late-run theater
If you can stand to wait a few weeks after a movie is released, late-run theaters charge much less for tickets for movies that are no longer in their “first run.” These theaters are typically older and don’t have the same bells and whistles as major theaters—the seats may be a little squeakier and the candy selection might not be as great—but you’ll still get the same movie theater experience that makes it thrilling to watch on the big screen.
8. Check your credit card rewards
If your credit card rewards you points or perks for every purchase, you may be able to cash them out for movie tickets. You can use your Chase Rewards, for example, to buy AMC Theaters or Fandango gift cards.
9. Skip or skimp on the snacks
Even if you can find a great deal on tickets, it’s the popcorn, sodas, and candy that make a trip to the movies so expensive for the whole family. Sneaking food in is against theater rules, so it’s best to skip the snacks altogether. Eat right beforehand so no one is hungry going into the movie. If it’s impossible to bypass the buttery, salty popcorn and sugary, sweet treats (and you often have to walk past them to get to the theater so they aren’t easy to resist), always go for the smallest size. Although it’s easier to buy everyone their own container of popcorn, box of candy and soda to keep bickering at bay, this certainly adds up. So consider buying fewer snacks, then ask the cashier if they have extra cups or popcorn bags so you can divvy everything up. That way, everyone can have their “own” to snack on.
10. Attend a matinee
One of the oldest tricks in the book for less expensive movie tickets is to attend a matinee showing. Save up to half off your ticket by going in the afternoon on a weekday and in the mornings on the weekend. Matinee cutoffs and prices vary, so check with your local theater to see when the cutoff is for discounted matinee tickets.