How to Maximize Points and Save Money at Movie Theaters
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Going to the movies is a quintessential pastime. Yet as ticket prices continue to skyrocket, it becomes less and less affordable to go on a whim, especially for anyone on a budget or who needs to factor in children’s tickets or babysitter fees on a date night out. 2017 movie ticket rates reached an all-time high of $8.97 nationwide, an increase of more than 4% against 2016’s $8.65 average. And by April 2018, the National Association of Theater Owners reported that Q1 2018 ticket prices had already risen beyond that milestone, to a $9.16 nationwide average.
Since no self-respecting points and miles enthusiast would consider spending a dollar without first investigating potential ways to stack earnings, before you spend your hard earned money on the next big-budget action flick or independent art house film, make sure you’re using these methods to maximize every bit of savings you can.
Watch up to 31 Movies for $9.95 With MoviePass
MoviePass is one of the most innovative startups for consumers since the early days of Groupon. In case you somehow haven’t heard of this subscription program yet, MoviePass allows members to watch up to one new movie every 24 hours at participating theaters for just $9.95/month — a no-brainer of a cost.
From time to time, MoviePass also offers different plans, including a current monthly plan for $7.95 for up to three movies within a month. In the past, MoviePass has also offered a prepaid annual plan which could be purchased at Costco for around $89 a year. MoviePass says it’s accepted by more than 91% of theaters nationwide, so chances are high you’ll be able to find a participating cinema near you.
Since MoviePass employs location tracking, you’ll need a smartphone in order to utilize it. After signing up for the program, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for your MoviePass card to be mailed to you, which is a Mastercard that’s linked to your membership account. Then you must be within 100 yards of your theater of choice in order to check in for the movie, which then allows you to use the MoviePass Mastercard to pay for your movie ticket. There are no blackout dates, although MoviePass only pays up to the value of a standard 2D ticket — if you want to purchase a 3D or IMAX movie ticket or similar premium product, you’ll have to purchase the ticket using a regular credit card.
Disclaimer: Some users have reported that MoviePass has relatively slow customer service, so you may be on your own or may experience long wait times for a response if you run into billing issues, have app malfunctions or lose your MoviePass card and need a replacement. That being said, the company is small but growing quickly, and I have never personally experienced any issues using the program myself.
AMC Stubs A-List
America’s largest movie theater chain has made no bones about its stance on MoviePass, and now it’s prepared to play fisticuffs. In June, AMC launched its own monthly movie subscription program as a direct competitive move against the popular cinema startup. AMC’s Stubs A-List program offers members three tickets per week for a monthly fee of $19.95, resetting each week on Friday morning.
Unlike MoviePass, A-List members are not limited to standard movie tickets. Instead, those three weekly tickets can be for flicks in any format, including IMAX, 3D or Dolby Digital. Also unlike with MoviePass, which only works in-theaters, A-List members can make advance reservations online and via the AMC app for free, according to the AMC FAQs page for A-List.
A-List members will also receive a complimentary upgrade to Stubs Premiere benefits, which is a savings of $15 annually, and will earn 100 points per dollar spent on the monthly membership charge. The program requires a three-month commitment up front, and will be auto-billed each month after that, although members can cancel at any time after the three months are up.
The program states that A-List movie reservations can be made any time after movie tickets go on sale, although members may not have more than 3 reservations at any time, regardless of whether the showtimes fall within the same week. Members also will not be able to make a reservation if the start of that movie begins before the previous movie ends. Similar to MoviePass, the tickets purchased through A-List are only intended to be used by the account holder, and AMC claims it will check for a valid photo ID at the theatre for all A-List reservations.
Pay Using a Credit Card That Earns Bonus Points
Most movie theater purchases code in the entertainment category, even when purchasing concessions or at dine-in movie theaters. For most cards, these purchases will net you the standard 1x/dollar earning. However, there’s one family of credit cards that does offer bonus points at movie theaters — Citi ThankYou cards. This includes the following cards:
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students
- Citi Premier Card
- Citi Prestige
With any of these cards, you’ll earn 2 ThankYou points per dollar at pretty much any movie theater. And yes, at many theaters, that also includes purchases you make at the concession stand. The Citi Premier currently even comes with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 in the first three months after account opening.
Purchase Pre-Paid Movie Theater Gift Cards
If you don’t have one of the Citi ThankYou cards, you can still accelerate your earning potential by purchasing movie theater gift cards at a store that earns bonus points on a card you already have in your wallet. For instance, buying your movie currency at Staples or Office Depot with the Ink Business Cash Credit Card will give you a 5% cash back return, or 5x points when paired with an Ultimate Rewards-earning card, since “office supply stores” is a bonus category on the Ink Cash.
You could also buy a movie theater gift card at a grocery store with The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, which has no annual fee and earns 2x Membership Rewards points on up to $6,000 a year at US supermarkets; then 1x, for a 3.8% return on each dollar. The Amex Everyday also offers a 20% point bonus if you use the card more than 20 times in one month, so you could see as high as a 4.6% return if this is your primary card.
If you want cash back, one of the easiest options is to use this grocery store option with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers a whopping 6% on the first $6,000 spent at US supermarkets each year (then 1% thereafter). If you went all out and purchased the full amount in movie theater gift cards for gifts and personal use, you’d earn $360 cash back within the year.
If you’re looking to quickly boost your United Airlines mileage stash, you can also earn up to 5 bonus miles per dollar using the United MileagePlus X app at theater chains such as AMC, the Alamo Drafthouse, Bow Tie Cinemas or Regal Entertainment. If you have a United credit card, you’ll get a bonus on top of that, and you don’t even have to use the actual card in order to earn a whopping 6.25x/dollar via MPX in addition to your usual earn rate. These miles can add up pretty quickly: at that rate a $2,000 in annual movie spend will earn you a one-way domestic award ticket on United — not a lot to spend if you pay for group tickets a few times and let friends Venmo you back.
It’s also a good idea to check theater chain websites for promos on gift card purchases. Regal Entertainment, for instance, is currently offering $10 in concessions for every Regal e-card purchased.
Utilize a Shopping Portal
Shopping portals offer an additional way to earn on your everyday spending. While most shopping portals exclude gift cards from earning cash back or points, there are a large number of portals that do include Fandango and other movie ticket sellers as an option for bonus points or cash back.
It’s hard to keep up with which portal offers the best option at any given point in time, so we highly recommend using a shopping portal aggregator such as EVRewards.com or CashBackMonitor.com (my personal favorite) which visually lays out your options side-by-side to help you make the most informed purchasing decision. But if you don’t want to deal with gift cards, this is an easy way to earn some extra points. And that’s even before we get to the rewards you earn from Fandango or the theater loyalty program itself!
Sign up for Movie Rewards Loyalty Programs
Movie tickets add up quickly, and concessions are even more of a financial burden when a large popcorn and two drinks can easily cost more than $20. Many of the theater chains offer loyalty programs, which allow you to accumulate points for each dollar spent at the theater. Some of these programs even stack with MoviePass ticket purchases, although I can see this perk quickly vanishing as more moviegoers join the MoviePass family.
Here are just a few examples of what you can earn by signing up for membership with the following theater chains:
The Alamo Drafthouse is a regional, beloved theater chain with nearly 30 locations primarily in its home state of Texas, although the chain is rapidly expanding across the nation. This is one of my favorite cinematic venues of all time, and I pretty much won’t watch a movie in Austin unless it’s screened at an Alamo Drafthouse. The chain has its own movie app and loyalty program called Alamo Victory, which offers e-tickets and allows members to accumulate “Victory Rewards” toward free movies, food, events and special screenings.
This nationwide movie theater chain, which is the largest in the world, offers two tiers within its rewards program, called AMC Stubs. Registration is available both online as well as at the box office. The free version is called AMC Stubs Insider, and offers one complimentary popcorn refill per visit, as well as special savings on movie tickets every Tuesday (the discount varies by location).
Furthermore, members earn 20 points for every $1 spent at the box office and concession stand, and get $5 off 5,000 accumulated points. AMC Stubs Insiders also get a free large popcorn on their birthday, as well as waived online ticketing fees when purchasing four or more tickets. Insiders also receive access to exclusive offers and invitations to special screenings.
The AMC Stubs Premiere membership costs $15/year, but comes with additional perks. Premiere members will also receive a complimentary popcorn refill for each visit and savings on Tuesday movie tickets. But Premiere members will earn 100 points for every $1 spent at the box office and concession stand, which means paid members only need to spend $50 to get $5 off 5,000 accumulated points. Premiere members celebrating their birthdays will also receive a free large popcorn and large soft drink, waived online ticket fees and other exclusive offers. Just keep in mind that neither AMC Stubs program can be combined with MoviePass.
The third-largest movie chain in the US offers two different rewards programs. The free one, called Cinemark Connections, earns points on ticket and concession purchases, with each transaction being worth 10 points — no matter how much or little it’s for — and a 25 point daily cap on total points. Points can then be redeemed for movie swag, digital downloads and sweepstakes.
Cinemark’s paid loyalty program option, called Cinemark Movie Club, is more extensive. For a price of $8.99 per month, you’ll get one free ticket to any 2D movie every month, and unused tickets will roll over to the following months. You’ll also get 20% off concessions, waived online fees and the ability to buy a second ticket for a companion for the same $8.99 cost when you’re redeeming your own free monthly ticket. Finally, in addition to the perks above, you’ll earn Connections points on all Cinemark purchases as well, essentially stacking the benefits of the two programs together.
The Regal Crown Club is a great option for moviegoers whose cinema of choice is a Regal theater, especially since Regal is the second-largest movie theater chain in the US. The free program allows members to earn 100 points per dollar spent at the box office, with no limit on earning potential. The Crown Jewel bonus program offers accelerated points-earning potential for frequent moviegoers, tiered at Emerald (6+ visits per year), Ruby (10+ visits per year), or Diamond (20+ visits per year). Credits can be redeemed for free popcorn, drinks, or additional movie tickets.
If Fandango is your choice for movie ticket purchases, make sure you sign up for Fandango VIP, the company’s free rewards program. You’ll earn 150 VIP+ points for every ticket you buy, and every time you earn 600 points, you’ll get a $6 reward to use for discounts on Fandango tickets, FanShop movie gear or streaming movies on FandangoNOW. The one downside is that you only have 14 days to use your $6 reward once you’ve earned it.
That being said, a really neat feature is the ability to stack rewards from Fandango VIP with other movie theater rewards programs by linking the programs together. Fandango partners with AMC Stubs, Regal Crown Club, Cinemark Connections and many other chains (though not Alamo Drafthouse), so you can double-dip on rewards and in some cases even redeem rewards from other programs when making purchases on Fandango.
Additional reporting by Nick Ewen and Brendan Dorsey.
Featured image by Shutterstock.
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