The Ultimate Movie Theater Discount Hacking Guide

Updated on 04/08/2017

There are a lot of different ways to save money in life, but it usually boils down to one of three different ways to reduce costs.  The first two involve either cutting out the expense completely or replacing it with an alternative.  These can be extremely effective, but come with the sometimes difficult decision of weighing how much you value the item/service/experience versus the money that must be spent to have it.  On the other hand, the third option is finding ways to have the exact same item/service/experience for less money out of your pocket.  While the first two are important for establishing a healthy level of spending, the third one removes the philosophical decisions on value versus cost and becomes a straightforward game of find the best deal.

One such cost cutting opportunity I’ve been thinking about lately is movies.  Becky and I are huge movie fans and watch a ton of them over the course of any given month.  For the most part, our cost is extremely small for the amount of hours of entertainment it provides because the majority of movies watched are via streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.  On the other hand, we do enjoy the movie theater experience and end up going to a movie or so per month when there is a new one we really want to see.  The most effective way to reduce your movie viewing expenses, hands down, is to stick to streaming services or stop watching them completely.  If you’re like us though and end up visiting the theater on any kind of regular basis, there are a lot of opportunities to cut down on the cost of tickets.  Below, I’ve assembled a list of all the tips and tricks I know about to save money on movie tickets and they range from simply buying at a discount from the right places all the way to seeing brand new movies completely free, sometimes before they are even released to the public!  Let’s dive right in.

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Image by Forsaken Fotos

Intro

The ability to save money on movie tickets is primarily going to boil down to what city and state you watch the majority of your movies in.  This will essentially determine the average price of a movie ticket in your area, what movie theater chains are available, and whether or not special events are held in the area.  Big cities tend to have higher movie ticket prices, but will also have the largest selection of different theaters and free movie screenings.  Smaller cities on the other hand will probably have lower ticket prices, but might suffer from a lack of options.  Depending on which applies to you will determine which of the below tricks will be most effective.

Those that live in an area with higher average movie ticket prices ($12+ per ticket) should probably focus on Discount Tickets, while those with lower prices might gain more value from focusing on Gift Cards.  Everyone has the potential to benefit from Loyalty programs, but Movie Screenings might only apply to those in larger than average cities.  Overall, there should be something for everybody.

 

Loyalty Programs

Let’s get the simplest and probably most obvious tip out of the way, movie theater loyalty programs.  If you frequent either Regal Cinemas or AMC, joining is a no-brainer because it’s completely free.  AMC also offers a premium paid membership that may be valuable if you watch a lot of movies.  Let’s take a quick look at two of the largest movie theater chain’s loyalty programs, but don’t forget to check if any smaller chains near you offer something similar.

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Regal Crown Club

If you ever watch movies at Regal Cinemas theaters, signing up for their Crown Club loyalty program is a must.  There is absolutely no cost to join or maintain your membership and it’s possible to earn completely free movie tickets along with other rewards.

  • Crown Club is a revenue based program that rewards you for money spent on tickets and concessions
  • 100 credits are earned per dollar spent at the box office or on concessions (no limit)
  • A Free Movie Ticket costs 15,000 credits (or $150 in spend)
  • Depending on the number of movies you attend each year, you can also earn status that gives you additional credits for each visit.
    • Emerald status (6+ visits per year) rewards an extra 250 credits per visit
    • Ruby status (10+ visits per year) rewards an extra 500 credits per visit
    • Diamond status (20+ visits per year) rewards an extra 1000 credits per visit

Basically, you get a free movie ticket for every $150 you spend (minus status bonuses) on other movie tickets and/or concessions.  If you attend 10 movies per year at a ticket cost of $10 each, that works out to exactly 15,000 points ($100 in spend = 10,000 + 10 x 500 Ruby status bonus) for a free movie ticket and an effective return of 10% on your spend.  Not bad for a free program.

You can also redeem the points for free concessions, concession upgrades, or various movie “swag”, but these don’t offer the same kind of return as simply going for the movie ticket does in most cases.

I use the Regal app on my phone and can present that at the time of purchase instead of carrying around a loyalty card with me.  They also offer monthly discounts on concessions through the app such as discounts on combo meals.

Keep in mind, it is still possible to take advantage of the loyalty program when using gift cards or discount tickets!

 

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AMC Stubs

Unlike Regal Crown Club, AMC Stubs has their loyalty program split into two tiers.  The free tier (Stubs Insider), and a higher tier (Stubs Premiere) that costs $15 per year to be a member of.  Which tier makes the most sense for you will depend on how much you spend at AMC on a yearly basis, but there’s no downside to at least signing up for the free tier.

  • Insider members receive 20 points per dollar spent while Premiere members receive 100 points per dollar spent
  • 5,000 points can be redeemed for $5 towards concessions for both tiers, but the Premiere tier can also use the $5 credits on tickets or membership renewals
  • Members get discounts on movie tickets on Tuesdays ($2 discount for Insider, $5 for Premiere)
  • Premiere members also receive free concession upgrades (example, pay for a medium but get a large) and get all online ticket purchase fees waived.  Insider members only get online ticket fees waived if they are buying at least 4 at once.
  • All members get a free large popcorn on their birthday, while premiere members also get a large soda

As mentioned, there is no downside to signing up for the free tier, but you are effectively only getting 2% back on your movie theater spend in the form of concession gift cards.  The other benefits may be marginally beneficial, but aren’t anything to get too excited about.  The premiere membership on the other hand offers a decent 10% back on purchases that can be used for movie tickets, but only makes sense IF you are spending more than $187.50 per year at AMC to offset the annual fee of $15.

The free birthday gift, concession upgrades, and Tuesday ticket discounts can also help offset the annual fee if you would normally purchase those things.

 

Movie Gift Cards

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you know I’m big on gift cards.  In addition to reselling them as a small side-business, I also use them on as many everyday purchases as possible to reduce expenses.  Movie theaters are no exception and gift cards can often be found with a 10-20% discount from gift card marketplaces such as SaveYa, Gift Card Zen, and Raise.  Using a tool like Gift Card Wiki is my preferred way to see which marketplace offers the best deal on any given brand.

In addition to searching for the specific theater’s gift card you are looking for, don’t forget to check movie ticket websites like Fandango as well.  Keep in mind buying tickets online often comes with additional fees that going directly to the box office won’t have.

 

Bulk Ticket Sales

The three biggest movie theater chains each have a way to buy tickets in bulk for a fairly large discount.  These bulk discounts are primarily meant for businesses, but there are no restrictions on taking advantage of them as an individual.  The only limiting factor is the minimum ticket order of 50 tickets.

If you go to a lot of movies, have a larger family, or can split the set of tickets with friends, taking advantage of these bulk rates will probably make a lot of sense.  They all never expire, so even if it takes a couple years to go through them, the savings might still make pre-paying all of your tickets worth it.  After paying for shipping, the cost per ticket will range from $8-9.50 depending on the chain selected.  That can cut the price per ticket in half compared to buying at the box office in a high cost of living location!

While these bulk tickets generally work for any regular movie (even opening weekend), be sure to read the restrictions that apply.  They might not work in certain states or for certain movies depending on which chain you purchase them for.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to purchase these bulk tickets with gift cards.

 

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Regal Cinemas Bulk Ticket Sales

Regal’s bulk sales are the most straightforward with consistent pricing and restrictions across the US.  The actual tickets are physical Premiere Movie Tickets that you redeem at the box office for the movie of your choice.

  • Cost per ticket: $8.50
  • Minimum Shipping Cost: $8 (bumps the price of 50 tickets to $8.66 each)
  • Minimum order: 50 tickets
  • Valid for all films and showtimes
  • Surcharges apply to IMAX/3D and other premium tickets (typically just the difference in price from a regular 2D ticket)
  • Tickets must be redeemed at theater box office (can’t be used online)
  • Tickets never expire

Link to Purchase Regal Movie Tickets in Bulk

 

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AMC Theatres Bulk Ticket Sales

AMC bulk tickets come with a few important restrictions and are more expensive than Regal’s.  The most important restriction is that they are not valid on movies distributed by Disney such as Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and of course Disney movies.  The tickets themselves are physical AMC Yellow Tickets that can be redeemed at the box office for the movie of your choice.  If you live in CA, NJ, or NY, be sure to select the Black tickets which work out to be a bit more expensive, but still much cheaper than buying at the box office directly.

  • Cost per ticket: $8.50
  • Minimum Shipping Cost: $9.95 (bumps the price of 50 tickets to $8.70 each)
  • Minimum order: 50 tickets
  • Valid for all films and showtimes EXCEPT Disney movies (including Pixer, Marvel, and Star Wars among others)
  • Surcharges apply to IMAX/3D and other premium tickets (typically just the difference in price from a regular 2D ticket)
  • Tickets must be redeemed at theater box office (can’t be used online)
  • Tickets never expire

Link to Purchase AMC Bulk Tickets

 

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Cinemark Bulk Ticket Sales

Cinemark also offers bulk tickets with very little restrictions, but the price will depend on what state you are ordering from.  The tickets themselves are physical Platinum Supersaver tickets that can be redeemed at the box office for the movie of your choice.

  • Cost per ticket: $7-8.50 (majority of states are $8, while Utah is $7 and California is $8.50 per ticket)
  • Minimum Shipping Cost: $10 (bumps the price of 50 tickets to $7.20-8.70 each)
  • Minimum order: 50 tickets
  • Valid for all films and showtimes
  • Surcharges apply to IMAX/3D and other premium tickets (typically just the difference in price from a regular 2D ticket)
  • Tickets must be redeemed at theater box office (can’t be used online)
  • Tickets never expire

Cinemark offers the cheapest bulk tickets with the fewest restrictions, so if they have a chain in your area if might be your best choice for bulk purchases.  I’m not sure if the state selected when purchasing the tickets is enforced to match the address they are shipped to, but if you’re willing to take a try you might be able to save $1/ticket.

Link to Purchase Cinemark Bulk Tickets

 

Non-Bulk Discount Tickets

While buying in bulk will often result in the lowest cost per ticket, there are also some other avenues to get the same sort of prepaid tickets for much less than paying directly at the box office.

 

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Costco

Costco offers both Regal and Cinemark movie tickets at a discount from the regular price (depending on what a typical ticket costs in your area).  Both 4 and 10 packs are available online, but it might be possible to buy different quantities (possible at different prices) directly from the brick and mortar location.  You can purchase the tickets online without a Costco Membership, but there will be an additional surcharge.  This surcharge can be avoided if you have Costco Cash cards (gift cards).  Keep in mind, even buying them with the surcharge is likely cheaper than buying tickets without a discount from the box office.

The print at home tickets are a better deal because you don’t have to pay for shipping.

The price of the Regal tickets varies depending on what state you are ordering from.  The price will increase by about $1 per ticket for shipping to CA, NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA, or DC.

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Sam’s Club

Much like Costco, Sam’s Club also offers discount movie tickets online.  It might be worth checking your local brick and mortar store for better deals if you have a membership.  Once again, you can purchase these tickets online without a Sam’s Club membership, but there will be a 10% surcharge added to the cost.  This surcharge can be avoided by registering your guest account with a CA address (you don’t have to ship them to California!).  Once again, even buying them with the surcharge is probably a better deal than just going to the box office.

The tickets sold by Sam’s Club are physical tickets, but they offer Free Shipping.

 

Advance Movie Screenings

How does seeing a movie for $0 sound?  What if you were able to see that movie weeks before it was officially released?  Both of these are possible with Movie Screenings, but there is a couple catches to be aware of.  First is that the availability and frequency of these screenings is heavily dependent on where you live.  Second is that getting tickets can be rather difficult if you don’t act quickly.  Third is that you’ll have to arrive to the theater fairly early to make sure you get a seat because they overbook the showings.

Despite all of that, I highly recommend taking advantage of them when you can.  In the past week, Becky and I saw both Daddy’s Home and The Big Short which don’t come out for another week or so.  We also have passes to see Concussion in a couple days which doesn’t come out until Christmas.  The timings won’t always line up with your schedule and quality of movie will vary, but it’s hard to beat free movie tickets, especially if you put any value on being one of the first to see it!

Availability

Living in a big city will most likely mean there are a lot more movie screenings available, but that is not always the case.  For example, I saw several screenings in the small town of West Lafayette during college, but that was probably due to them looking for a college audience.  Regardless of where you live, it doesn’t hurt to check.

Finding Out About Screenings

Screenings are typically announced in different places depending on who the distributor of the movie is, what movie it is, and where the movie will be playing.  Staying on top of all the screenings yourself would be next to impossible, but there is a great website I recommend called Advance Screenings.  They aggregate all of the movie screenings they find out about and how to get tickets to them on their website.  The best part is being able to sign up for notifications when a new screening is announced in your area.  This gives you the best chance to grab passes before they run out.  Even though they overbook the theater to ensure they meet capacity, the number of passes given out is still limited.

Arrive Early!

Deciding when to arrive can be rather difficult, but it is important if you want to actually get into the theater as they let most people with passes in on a first-come first-serve basis.  In order to ensure the theater is at capacity, many more passes will be given out than there are actual seats in the theater.

For the more popular movies (you’ll have to use your best judgement), it’s possible for the line to get in to fill up over an hour before the movie screening is scheduled to start!  On the other hand, a less popular movie might not fill up at all.  Becky and I usually shoot for showing up about an hour before for most movies so we get a good seat, but will often add another half-hour to 45 minutes on top of that if we expect the screening to be popular.

 

The Unlimited Movie Pass

Not too long ago, Movie Pass launched a theatrical subscription service that allows you to watch up to one movie per day for a flat monthly fee.  The cost of the pass varies from $30-49 depending on the area, but it works at a lot of theaters.  For example, Regal, AMC, and several smaller local theaters are all options to use the pass near me in Seattle.

The pass only works for a single person, so you will have to compare the cost to how much you spend on tickets per month and whether or not your preferred theaters are allowed under the program.

I haven’t actually purchased this for myself, but I can see the potential benefit for someone who attends a lot of movies.  The website isn’t super clear on all of the restrictions, but it appears you have to check into movies via their app before attending and then pay for your ticket at the box office with your membership card (which appears to be some kind of debit/credit card).  The website specifies you can see one 2D movie per 24 hours, but also mentions “…you can see each movie one time.” in a couple places which implies you can’t see the same movie twice on different days.

If you have any questions or concerns about Movie Pass, I recommend contacting them before starting your membership.

One thing I noticed is that the Gift Membership of 3, 6, or 12 months appears to have a fixed price regardless of the location you’re in.  Depending on the cost per month in your area, it might be cheaper to buy the membership through their gift option (at least to start it out) if you don’t mind committing to that length of time.

Overview

Overall, I covered Movie Theater Loyalty Programs, Gift Cards, Bulk Ticket Discounts, Non-Bulk Ticket Discounts, Movie Screenings, and an “Unlimited” Movie Pass.  A lot of information to take in at once, but hopefully offered up a tip or two you didn’t know about saving money on movie tickets.

If you are typically spending $12 or more per ticket in your area, I highly recommend looking into the Discount tickets.  Buying in bulk is the cheapest (Except for AMC!), but if you don’t want to commit to that many movies, using Costco or Sam’s Club can save you a lot of money on smaller quantities.

If the typical price of a movie ticket is in the $8-12 range, you might be able to save the most money by buying Discount Gift Cards and simply using them at the box office or online.

Regardless of how much you are typically spending on movie tickets, definitely check if there are loyalty programs at your favorite theaters and look out for free movie screenings in your area.

Thanks for reading, leave a comment below if I missed any other great ways to save money on movie tickets!


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24 thoughts on “The Ultimate Movie Theater Discount Hacking Guide

  1. Carmike Cinemas is not mentioned. You can purchase Dealbucks (Dealflicks) through Rush 49 which can be them used for movies at Carmike Cinemas. $16 will get you $30 in Dealbucks. $10.50 in Dealbucks will get you movie and a popcorn for about $6.

    1. I tired to focus on the three biggest theater chains in the US and I think Carmike happens to come in at #4. They do have a loyalty program similar to Regal, but the rewards require a little more spend. I also don’t know of any consistent way to get great discounts on their tickets, but would love someone to point me in the right direction if they exist.

      I hadn’t heard of Dealflicks before, but it looks like a good deal if they happen to work with theaters in your area. From what I can tell, they don’t have any specific partnership with Carmike as the one I’m familiar with isn’t participating. The discount on Dealflicks gift cards (Dealbucks) seems like a limited time offer, but would stack with the discounted tickets for a great deal as you mentioned. Overall, it looks like an amazing deal if the availability lines up with your local theaters.

      Thanks for the info!

  2. Until the end of the year, this is the deal I plan on using for a number of my AMEX cards: my Regal is offering a $10 bonus certificate (which does have an expiration date on it) with each purchase of $50 in gift cards (you can split the $50 in different denominations–great for gifts!). You must be a Regal member (free) as the $10 certificate will be sent to you via email. On top of that, I’ll use my AMEX card to get the AMEX Offer (you’ll need to check each AMEX card to see if you have the offer, but I think it was widely available–I had it on 3 of 4 cards) for a $10 credit for a minimum $30 purchase–at theaters only (no online). So, net spend of $40 for $60 of GCs. In my city, pretty much buy 4 tickets, get free.

    1. Combining the Regal Amex Offer with their current gift card deal is a great idea, that one was available on Twitter when it come out so a lot of people probably have it loaded already.

      If Regal lets you split the transaction across two cards and buy $60 instead of $50, you could actually get $70 worth of gift cards for the same $40 because you’ll get to use the Amex Offer twice! Either way is a great deal, thanks for the tip!

  3. Just as Jan mentioned earlier, taking advantage of various AMEX offers is another great way to get really cheap movie tickets. Several months ago, AMEX had the $20 off $20 at Sam’s Club. I used that to aquire 12 movie tickets for $22.
    http://www.fptgiftbox.com/12-cinemark-movie-tickets-for-22/

    Smart & Final deal was $25 off $50 (50% discount). Recently there’s the $15 off $60 Amazon deal (25% discount) and $20 off $100 Staples. There’s also Home Depot, Toys R Us, Walmart, and several other offers where you can use to get cheap movie tickets or gift cards.

    Also the Visa Signature offer at Fandango is 20% discount, up to 4x$25 gift cards per month per card.

    Now if you’re really good at this, you can stack AMEX offers with discount gift cards with loyalty rewards program for double, triple, and even quadruple dipping. 😁

    1. Amex Offers are a great way to save money on ALL kinds of gift cards, but I’d be hesitant to use some of the better ones on movie gift cards. The Sam’s Club deal you linked is the best of both worlds because you’re buying discount tickets AND using an Amex Offer, but I definitely wouldn’t use the Amazon or Staples offers on movie gift cards.

      Saving ~25% on Amazon purchases is WAY more valuable than saving 25% on movie gift cards because it’s often possible to get close amount of savings by buying discount cards or tickets directly. Same thing for most of the others you listed because it’s easy to pick up more valuable gift cards instead in most cases.

      The 20% off Fandango is pretty sweet though if you prefer buying your tickets online, thanks for the tip!

      1. I had to buy some Fandango gift cards on Raise yesterday in order to book Star Wars tickets in advance!
        I have many movie passes on hand (bought at a huge discount) but they are useless as Star Wars tickets for the next few days are mostly sold out already. Two x 3D tickets in my area (SF Bay Area) were $33!! Ouch. I’ve never paid that much for movie tickets before. I’m used to paying less than $5 per ticket!

        1. If you didn’t already know, you can take the movie passes to the box office and get tickets for days in advance. Any ticket available on Fandango will also be available at the box office without any of their extra fees.

          This does require a trip to the box office though, so may or may not be worth your time depending on the savings you get.

  4. Two other ideas you might mention are purchasing gift cards on the spot via United’s MileagePlus X app (AMC and Regal both get 5 miles per dollar, plus any air travel bonus that might be associated with MPX) and entertainment book coupons. Regal was especially generous with something like 8 $2 off per person coupons in last year’s entertainment book – they only offered two coupons this year but it’s worth clipping if you have one!

    1. I’d much rather save 10%+ cash by buying discount gift cards than getting them through the MPX app at 5x United miles. Having said that, it certainly beats paying directly with cash/credit.

      The Entertainment book is one that I originally was going to put in the post, but determined that the savings won’t make sense compared to the discount tickets available at Sam’s/Costco. Plus, the actual coupons in the book vary pretty heavily by what city you are in, I don’t think there were any Regal/AMC coupons in the physical Seattle book this year. They do sell discount tickets directly online that can be printed out for Regal and AMC, but the prices are pretty much the same as buying at the places listed above.

      Thanks for the ideas!

  5. R/C Cinemas in PA has $5 movie tickets on Tuesdays. Do most theatres still do matinees or special pricing on a day of the week?

    1. I’m not very familiar with R/C Cinemas, but I can report that most theaters I’ve visited do still have matinee pricing for movies starting before 4pm or so which can save a couple bucks per ticket. I believe Regal’s loyalty program also does free popcorn on Tuesdays, but I don’t know of any special day of the week pricing other than that.

    1. Second paragraph:
      “One such cost cutting opportunity I’ve been thinking about lately is movies. Becky and I are huge movie fans and watch a ton of them over the course of any given month. For the most part, our cost is extremely small for the amount of hours of entertainment it provides because the majority of movies watched are via streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. On the other hand, we do enjoy the movie theater experience and end up going to a movie or so per month when there is a new one we really want to see. The most effective way to reduce your movie viewing expenses, hands down, is to stick to streaming services or stop watching them completely.”

      I agree streaming/downloading movies is by far the best way to save money and still watch movies, but ourselves and others still like to visit the movie theater from time to time. This post is for people like us.

    1. I know for Regal, they must be redeemed at the box office in person. For the other two, the terms state they also must be redeemed in person (no online tickets), but I’ve never actually used them in practice.

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