Don't resign yourself to a summer of TV reruns and microwave popcorn. A night at the movies is more affordable than you might think.
Theaters have kept price increases minimal amid the slowing economy, says Richard McKenzie, a University of California, Irvine economist and author of "Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies, and Other Pricing Puzzles." For example, AMC and Regal Entertainment Group pushed up ticket prices in some areas by just 50 cents each.
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The concession stand is where moviegoers are most likely to see price increases, although those are relatively small, as well. "Theaters want to keep the margin on concession items as high as possible, and on tickets, as low as possible," says Wesley Hartmann, associate professor of marketing at Stanford University. If $7 for a bag of popcorn shocks consumers, they'll most likely go without. But if ticket prices are too high, they may decide to skip the movie altogether and wait to see “The Proposal” when it comes out on DVD.
On other hand, discount opportunities are just as plentiful as they were last summer, and they can help you cut costs by as much as 70%. Here are nine ways to spend less on a trip to the movies:
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Visit the Family & Home Center
Seek Out Freebies
Many theaters offer free showings of family movies during the summer. Regal hosts a Free Family Film Festival every Tuesday and Wednesday morning through the end of August, showing flicks like "The Tale Of Despereaux" and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Clearview Cinemas' Kid's Club kicks off an eight-week series of free movies starting July 2.
Your local Entertainment Book typically offers reduced-price movie tickets for as little as $6 apiece. Also, keep your eyes peeled for special promotions. Marriott is offering four free movie passes when you spend a weekend at a participating hotel or resort before Sept. 7.
Head to the Drive-In
If there's a drive-in in your town, then get behind the wheel. Moviegoers accustomed to state-of-the-art theaters may see these venues as old-fashioned novelties, but most drive-ins show new releases — and at the bargain price of about $7 a person for a double feature, says Jennifer Sherer Janisch, co-creator of Drive-ins.com, an online directory. (The Laurel Drive-In in Hazelton, Pa., for example, is currently showing "The Hangover" and "Taking of Pelham 123" for $7 per adult and $3 per kid.) Some drive-ins don't even charge for kids, while others offer bargain per-car pricing. Concession fare is often cheaper, too, Janisch says.
Check Out Independent Theaters
Wait a month or so for new movies to show up at a local independently-owned theater, and you can save more than 70%. The Kleeburg Marketplace Cinemas in Winston-Salem, N.C., is showing features like "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "Sunshine Cleaning" for just $2.50. Prices at Cinemark Movies 10 in Plano, Texas, range from $1 (early-bird first matinee, which can start as early as noon) to $2 (Friday and Saturday evening showings).
Buy in Bulk
At AMC Theatres, avid moviegoers can buy tickets in increments of 50 for $6 to $7.50 each. The tickets don't expire. There is one catch, though: the cheaper tickets cannot be used for special engagements (i.e., the first two weeks of a movie's release). You can also purchase bulk tickets at warehouse clubs. For example, Costco sells a five-pack of Regal tickets that can be used at any showing for $37.50. At a Regal theater in Chicago, that could translate to a savings of up to $12.50.
Avoid Reservation Sites
Go online and you'll end up paying more for your ticket. Movietickets.com charges a $1 surcharge; Fandango.com tacks on 75 cents to $2, depending on the area.
Trade Up on Snacks
If you're going to buy popcorn or soda, go big. "Per ounce, the smallest size of popcorn is twice the price of filet mignon," says McKenzie. Trade up for the larger size and you're paying less per ounce — plus, many theaters still offer free refills. Although that's not much of a deal for a solo viewer, larger groups will find it more cost effective than buying snacks individually.
Go at Off Times
Heading to the theater on a Friday or Saturday night is the most expensive time to go. In San Francisco, Cinemark charges an extra 50 cents per ticket on those nights. Theaters are also restricting matinee hours. New York's AMC Theaters offer matinee pricing ($6 instead of $12.50 for an adult ticket) only before noon.
Joining the loyalty club at your favorite theater can pay off, even if you don't go to the movies that often. AMC Theaters' AMC MovieWatcher Rewards offers coupons for a free small popcorn each week, plus two points per ticket purchased. After you've earned 30, you'll get a free ticket. The Regal Crown Club awards one point per $1 spent. Rack up 150 points and redeem them for a free ticket.