If you go to cinemas every week, you probably have wondered how to save on movie tickets; even if you watch only one movie per month, probably it’s exactly because these days watching movies in cinemas can be very expensive. A Saturday night IMAX 3D movie at San Francisco AMC Metreon costs $19.5, so a couple having an Iron Man 3 movie night can easily spend more than 50 bucks on tickets and snacks. That’s simply terrifying. Here are some of my tips on getting cheap movie tickets, they aren’t magic, just some simple rules and maybe a little bit extra work before you leave home for the cinema.
Tip #1: Go to matinees. Most theaters have matinee showings priced down to around $7, at least 30% off evening ticket price. And going early helps you avoid the (loud and lousy) crowd.
Tip #2: Keep your mouth shut. “No talking” is basic courtesy, but “no eating” can be a challenge. Yet the fact is, a popcorn/drink combo usually costs as much as a movie ticket and it is not even healthy.
Tip #3: Spend wisely on IMAX or 3D. See Gravity in 3D on the largest IMAX screen within a 25 miles radius of your home, but I, Frankenstein on Netflix. (Wait, why even bother watching it?)
Tip #4: Know your special discount. If you are a student or senior, you are likely to get tickets at a discounted price. Some cinema chains have students day and/or senior day as well, like AMC and Cinemark.
Tip #5: Cinema reward programs. AMC and Regal (who has no presence in SF/South Bay though) have reward programs that basically give back ~10% of your expense every time you spent $100 or $150 on tickets and concessions. If tip #2 does’t help, this sure does.
Tip #6: Online promotions. Credit cards, Fandango, Facebook pages and movie theaters sometimes have 2-for-1 special and many other deals, don’t miss them.
Tip #7: DVD promotions. For example, I bought a G. I. Joe Bluray disc for ~$10 and redeemed the attached code for a free ticket to G. I. Joe 2. I’m pretty sure the same type of promotion applies to many sequels.
Tip #8: Free screenings. If you don’t mind long waiting line and a full house of audience, sign up for free screening sites. Many screenings require RSVP code that is hidden in your local newspaper or radio station, but I’ve been to plenty that are open to everyone. Here are some sites you can sign up for or check regularly: advanced screenings, Gofobo, See It First, Fox Searchlight, Sony/columbia, Relativity Media.
Tip #9: Bulk purchase. Besides these tips, many theaters have discounted tickets (~30% off compared to regular price) sold in bulk quantity. If you are a frequent movie goer like me, check them out. Don’t get intimidated by buying 50 tickets at a time, that’s just half a year’s stock for a couple who see one movie a week.
Gold/Silver Experience tickets are sold online in bundles of 50 at $8/$6.5 per ticket. Gold ticket is valid for all regular showings while silver ticket is valid for movies after its second week of theatrical run (usually after the second weekend). IMAX, 3D and other surcharges apply to both tickets. Based on my experience, don’t use these tickets on IMAX or 3D movies because it usually does not save you any money at all. Unfortunately, Gold/Silver tickets are not eligible towards earning AMC stubs rewards. [Update: In April 2014 I redeemed a silver pass for a silver-pass-eligible $12.50 face price movie and was asked to pay $1.5 surcharge…damn!]
Cinemark includes Cinemark, Century, CineArts, Tinseltown and some Rave cinemas. In Bay Area, most Cinemark theaters are Century or CineArts. Platinum Supersaver tickets are sold online in bundles of 50 at $7.5 each. Platinum ticket is valid for all regular showings while IMAX, XD and 3D surcharges apply. The way Cinemark calculates the surcharge is that a platinum ticket always covers up to $11.75 value, and you pay the rest — so do use it for XD or 3D movies. For example, a Saturday morning 3D movie is about $11, which means you don’t need to pay any surcharge with a pass. Sweet!
Landmark is the nation’s largest independent cinema chain, with three theaters in San Francisco, two in Peninsula and four in Berkeley area. Their discounted ticket, Aficionado tickets, are sold on-site and online. It is a booklet of 25 tickets at $8 each. Aficionado ticket is valid for all regular showings in Bay Area locations except that there is a flat $2.5 per ticket surcharge at the newly remodeled Embarcadero Center Cinemas and $2.5 for 3D movies. Keep in mind that Landmark matinee (first showing of each movie before 2pm) ticket can be as low as $6, so ask for regular price before using Aficionado ticket.
Camera Cinemas have three theaters in San Jose area and cover movies from Hollywood blockbusters to foreign language award winners. Their discounted ticket program is a Discount Card that is sold on-site and online, you can refill values in the card in increment of 10 tickets at $7 each (used to be $6, price raised in March 2014). The card is valid for all showings except Saturday after 6pm. Surcharges apply.
Roxie is a San Francisco movie theater dedicated to indie films and documentaries. Monday is Roxie’s discount day, with ticket price marked down from $10 to $7.5. If you go there often, consider joining its membership program. Roxie Membership can be obtained by donating online at a monthly ($30) or yearly ($275 for individual; $500 for dual) basis, which entitles member free admission to all showings (except film festivals), five guest passes and free popcorn for every show. Roxie is a 501(c)3 organization, so your membership donation is tax deductible.
Stanford Theater in downtown Palo Alto is the heaven of Hollywood’s classic (black & white) movies. Discount ticket is sold on-site (cash only), one discount card of $24 for 4 tickets. Almost all Stanford Theater showings are double feature, so that’s $6 for two movies. Isn’t that awesome?
[last update: 2014-05-17]