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How to go to the movies for free

All it takes is a little scrounging.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:49AM

After a year without going to a movie theater, I'd pretty much forgotten how expensive tickets are. That's why I was shocked to pay $10.25 to see "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" earlier this summer. I'm not alone in my dismay; plenty of those who commented on a Smart Spending post about sneaking candy into the movies groused about ticket costs along with the price of Jujubes.


I paid cash to see "Kit" because I was writing about the movie, so the cost of the ticket was a business expense. However, I've seen several movies since then and haven't paid a dime. 


Instead, I use movie tickets that I ordered through the My Coke Rewards program, which offers vouchers to AMC Theatres. I live two blocks away from an AMC theater here in Seattle, and others are a bus ride away. If I have to use public transit, I wind up spending just $1.50 to $3 for an afternoon at the movies. When fall quarter starts, I'll get a free bus pass as part of my tuition, bringing the cost of my entertainment to exactly $0.


How it works
Each bottle cap from a Coca-Cola product (including Powerade, Minute Maid bottled juices and flavored Dasani waters) has a code that's worth three points. Multi-can packages have codes worth anywhere from 10 to 25 points.

I buy my Diet Coke in 12- or 24-packs, but I also get codes from relatives, from boxes in the recycle bin (as apartment house manager it's my job to check it) and from bottles discarded on campus. Sometimes I get codes from empty boxes at my favorite teriyaki restaurant; the cashier, bless his heart, helps me get them off the boxes. All you Dumpster divers could likely score a lot of free codes, too.


For quite a while a movie ticket voucher cost 220 points, but that number recently went up so I ordered a whole bunch of them. Am I glad I did: It just went up again, to 485 points. You can pay 530 points for a gold ticket, good for "special engagements" like the opening week of big Hollywood films, but I stick with silver.


On the bright side, each ticket now comes with a coupon for a free large fountain drink. Obviously that's a ploy to get you to spend a whole bunch more on other concessions, but you may be able to resist that. (I can.) 


Another movie-related prize from My Coke Rewards is a coupon good for a free small popcorn with the purchase of any fountain drink. It costs 32 points and does not expire until Jan. 15.


Currently I have 23 free movie tickets sitting on top of my microwave, despite having given a bunch to relatives over the past few months. The tickets do not expire, so I'm looking forward to seeing more films for free. They make good stocking stuffers, too.


Another way to get in free
I'm also a fan of MyPoints, a program that gives 5 to 25 points for clicking on e-mails, filling out extremely brief surveys (sometimes it's just one question!), signing up for online newsletters, joining book clubs or using services like discount airfare search engines. If you buy things from MyPoints partners, you can earn hundreds of points per transaction. 


Points can be exchanged for gift cards at more than 70 stores and restaurants. One of those is the Regal Entertainment Group, aka Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theatres and United Artists Theatres. Movie gift cards cost 1,450 points ($10 card), 3,500 points ($25) or 6,750 points ($50).


Although I rarely buy things online, my point balance still rises fairly quickly. One way to increase your take is to go to the MyPoints home page daily and look for those one-question surveys; each gets you 5 points. Another is to buy things you were going to buy anyway, like office supplies, through MyPoints. There's also a MyPoints credit card that gives points for dollars spent, but I already have enough credit cards.


One caveat: Start a new e-mail address just for MyPoints, because you will start getting a lot of spam. Personally, I think it's worth it. Among other things, I've used those points to buy gift cards to give as Christmas gifts and also to help pay for the food at my daughter's wedding.


More freebie strategies
Another possible source of free movie tickets is to transfer a prescription in order to get a free store gift card, then use that card to buy a gift card to the movies. For example, I transferred a prescription to Safeway and got a $25 gift card; although I used it for groceries, I could have used it to buy a gift card to a couple of different movie chains.


And if the pharmacy or supermarket to which you transferred the prescription does not sell movie theater gift cards? Check out the secondary market  for gift cards. Maybe someone wants to trade a movie gift certificate for your store gift card.


If you live in or near a metropolitan area, you may also be able to get free tickets from the radio or the newspaper -- and you'll be seeing them before anyone else. Radio stations often partner with movie studios to stage advance screenings, and give away tickets to listeners. 


Studios also run newspaper ads for free screenings. Two alternative newspapers here in Seattle, The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly, have ads almost every week for at least one free film and sometimes several. Watch for ads in your own area newspapers, both alternative and mainstream; I've gotten free tickets from the Seattle Times.


Although you're sometimes required to pick up passes at local businesses, generally you mail in a self-addressed stamped envelope. I've gotten a lot of free tickets this way in the past four years, and all it cost was the price of two stamps: one to send in my request and one to bring the ticket to me. Usually the passes are good for two people.


Free screenings may beget more free screenings. One Seattle publicist sends e-mail invitations to those who match the demographic of upcoming films, such as librarians and English teachers for literary films. Another one has a screening "club" that offers free passes to fans, but only if they use them; after three no-shows, your name gets taken off the list. 


Seattle and Portland are home to a unique program called The Warren Report, which offers free screenings on a first-come, first-served basis and other movie-related events. You can pay a $20 annual fee and get other amenities, or you can go to the site and sign up. But just as with the screening club mentioned above, you must go to the shows you request or risk a year's exile from the club.


Although I like the idea of a film club or The Warren Report, I'm too busy right now to commit myself to regular attendance. For true cinephiles, regular attendance sounds like heaven. Those of you who are somewhere in between should begin saving rewards points for AMC or Regal tickets, listening to the radio or reading the paper. 


I've had great luck in particular with getting those newspaper tickets. In fact, the only one I sent away for and didn't get was for the "Sex and the City" screening. But I wound up seeing it anyway, with a My Coke Rewards freebie. I didn't sneak in any candy, though. Honest.


Published Aug. 13, 2008

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