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6 ways to cut movie ticket prices

More people are picking the pricier options of IMAX and 3-D, but there are still deals to be had.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 24, 2012 11:45AM

This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.

 

SmartMoney on MSN MoneyMovie theaters are pushing 3-D screenings and fancy new amenities to justify higher ticket prices, but experts say there are still bargains at the box office.

 

Given the choice between seeing a movie in a regular screening or 3-D, more consumers are opting for the latter -- and are paying a premium of $3 to $4 over the regular ticket price, says Jeffrey Logsdon, an industry analyst for BMO Capital Markets. When a movie is shown in both formats, 3-D represents half of ticket sales, up from 40% in 2010.

 

IMAX movie showings, which carry a roughly $5 price premium, are also rising in popularity, he says. In fact, not counting 3-D screenings, the average price of a movie ticket nationwide actually dropped during the first three quarters of 2011, from $8.06 to $7.96, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

 

Experts say the high-tech showings are part of a broader industry trend to turn a movie outing into a fancier experience, replete with cushier seats, gourmet concession offerings and special events. Ironically, such offerings are becoming more popular because consumers have been cutting back in recent years, making the trip for fewer films and spending less at the concession stand, says Agata Kaczanowska, an industry analyst for consulting firm IbisWorld.

 

"Theaters are looking to have wider profit margins per customer," she says. A better experience, even at a higher price point, may be attractive to moviegoers, she says.

 

But industry experts say bargain hunters still have plenty of ways to cut the bill for their movie habits. Here are six:

 

Monitor the market. Nearly six months before "The Dark Knight Rises" arrives in theaters on July 19, some locations are already selling (and quickly selling out of) special IMAX tickets for a midnight showing. Enterprising buyers are offering the tickets -- which originally sold for about $20, depending on the theater -- online at eBay and Craiglist for upward of $100 apiece.

 

But Kaczanowska says there's no need for diehard fans to pay a premium, since more midnight showings are likely to open up as the release date gets closer. "If theaters see a demand for seats, they could definitely increase the number of screens," she says. Post continues below.

Join the group. Half-priced movie tickets have become a common offer on Groupon, LivingSocial and other daily deal site competitors. In November, Google Offers had a deal for a large popcorn and two movie tickets to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, worth up to $39, for $14. Lion's Gate also tried a Groupon for 54%-off showings of "The Lincoln Lawyer."

 

Expect more of the broad ticket deals and few, if any, of those specific to one movie, Logsdon says. Unless the movie is a dud: "Maybe it takes that promotional push to get people in," he says. But experts say consumers should read the offer terms before buying, since many group deals expire quickly or require all purchased tickets to be redeemed in one transaction.

 

Buy in bulk. Theater chains and warehouse clubs offer multipacks of tickets and concession-stand vouchers for less than the going rate. A 10-pack of AMC Gold Experience movie tickets costs $83 at Costco, for example, cutting roughly 35% from the box office price. Daily deal sites may be helpful here, too. KGB Deals recently had four Fandango.com tickets for $24, half the going rate.

 

But buyer beware: Moviegoers can't always use such deals during the early weeks of a movie's release, and they don't cover the surcharge for 3-D and IMAX screenings.

 

Visit on bargain days. Theaters have traditionally offered matinee tickets at a reduced rate, but more properties have begun experimenting with other discount offers on less-trafficked days, says Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners. National theater chain Cinemark, for example, offers reduced prices every Tuesday. On the flip side, some theaters charge a slightly higher price for peak Friday and Saturday night visits.

 

Check out independent theaters. Indie theaters are more likely to have unique touches like fancy food or seat reservations, says Logsdon. And prices can be cheaper, especially at so-called dollar theaters. Of course, the trade-off is that the movies on offer may not be the big box office hits, or could be a month or two old. At Cinemark Movie 10 in Plano, Texas, where prices start at 75 cents, current movies include "Happy Feet Two" and "Moneyball." 3-D showings cost just $3.75.

 

Watch from home. Studios and cable companies have begun experimenting with video-on-demand offerings as soon as 30 days after a movie appears in theaters, Kaczanowska says. Last fall, for example, Universal Pictures made "Tower Heist" available to select Comcast subscribers three weeks after it debuted in theaters, for $60. An earlier DirecTV test made some movies available for $30, 60 days after their release in theaters. "It's a good opportunity for consumers to have some friends over and watch the movie together," she says.

 

But the offerings aren't yet widespread, as studios try to figure out how to attract viewers without losing box office revenue, she says.

 

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2Comments
Mar 7, 2012 5:52PM
avatar
Don't forget loyalty cards. AMC Stubs, for example, allows you to buy tix online w/o having to pay Fandango surcharges. You will get credited on your account the full price of the ticket when you use the Fandango deals you bought on Groupon/LivingSocial/etc rather than the price you paid. This also works when using the Silver Tickets. So, you paid $6 for the Silver Ticket but you'll get credited the full $11 when reimbursed at the theater. For every $100, you get $10. When you accumulated your $10 rewards, ask to put it on a gift card. When you leave it on the Stubs card and use it at the counter or concession stand, you receive no points for using the credit. But when you use the money on a gift card, you do. You'll rack up points without actually spending additional money.
Jan 24, 2012 2:23PM
avatar
Bring back drive-ins.  One driver, 5 people in the trunk.  Ahhh, memories!  Smile
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