Sneaking snacks is one way to save at the movies.

5 ways to save at the movies

A long time ago, in a movie-loving America far, far away, people didn’t pay as much for popcorn and soda as they did for a ticket.

They also went to the movies more often than we do now, according to a recent study by polling firm Harris Interactive. But it’s not because we’re binging on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. It’s because Americans feel gouged by greedy theaters owners — and the guy sitting next to them is noisily live-tweeting the whole film.

“If one counts high prices or rude people among the stresses of everyday life, then a night at the movies may not be quite the escape it’s cracked up to be,” Harris reports. “Concession prices (62 percent) and rude moviegoers (56 percent) are the top selections — by a wide margin — as the worst things about going to the movies.”

To make filmgoing worthwhile again, try these tips…

1. 3D: Go Imax or go home

Harris surveyed more than 2,300 adult moviegoers, and more than two-thirds (69 percent) think 3D movies are a not-so-cheap trick — just another way for the theater to make an extra buck. When is it worth it? Here’s how you figure that out…

Was the movie made for 3D or converted for it later?

Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film, Gravity, is an example of a movie shot in 2D and converted to 3D. Usually, a film shot in 2D and converted afterward isn’t worth the extra cash and may not feature scenes that showcase the technology as well as a movie made for the format.

What kind of 3D is it? What are all these acronyms?

RealD pioneered the most widely used, fully digital 3D technology today.

IMAX 3D has been around since the 1980s and features two projectors instead of one. The screen is larger and curved screen and the audio quality is uncompressed.

Theaters like Regal now offer a “Premium Experience,” or RPX for short. Cinemark has XD, and AMC has its own “Enhanced Theater Experience,” or ETX. Paying for these extra letters sometimes means seeing higher quality pictures and hearing richer sound, in auditoriums with better digital projectors than Imax and Dolby’s Atmos sound technology.

But the problem is, many of these improvements were built into older theaters. And the price difference between them and IMAX may only be a couple bucks. Bottom line: If you live near an IMAX theater, go there.

2. The earlier the showtime, the cheaper the ticket

Morning and afternoon sessions are always cheaper than evenings — and that usually applies to 3D, too. Here’s a quick cost comparison we did for the same film (Lone Survivor) at different theaters and showtimes…
Cinemark

  • 3:35 p.m. matinee: senior $7.50, adult $8, child $7
  • 6:35 p.m. evening: senior $7.50, adult $10.25, child $7
  • XD 4:30 p.m. matinee: senior $10.75, adult $13.25, child $10.50
  • XD 7:35 p.m. evening: adult $13.25

AMC

  • 12:10 p.m. matinee: senior $9.25, adult $9.25, child $8.25
  • 6:30 p.m. evening: senior $10, adult $11, child $8.25
  • ETX 1:15 p.m. matinee: senior $12.25, adult $12.25, child $11.25
  • ETX 7:25 p.m. evening: senior $13, adult $14, child $11.25

Regal

  • 1: 15 p.m. matinee: senior $7.50, adult $8, child $7
  • 7:05 p.m. evening: senior $7.50, adult $10.25, child $7
  • RPX 12:35 p.m. matinee: senior $13.50, adult $14.50, child $13.50
  • RPX 7:05 p.m. evening: senior $13.50, adult $16.50, child $13.50

You’ll notice kids and seniors don’t save as much during matinees, since they already get discounts just for being young and old. But even a couple bucks per head adds up quickly for a family outing. In general, daytime screenings Monday through Thursday or before noon on weekends are cheapest, according to Real Simple magazine.

3. Skip, sneak, or go large

Moviegoers only hate one thing more than the annoying brats that kick seat backs, people who text during the screening, those ads that run before previews, and missing anything crucial on a bathroom run: the cost of food and drink.

Sixty-two percent of the moviegoers in Harris’ survey feel concession prices are the absolute worst thing about the cinema. That could explain why 58 percent admit sneaking in food.

If you’re going to pay, maximize your value. Theaters like Regal offer free refills with purchases of large popcorn and soda. Cinemark sells refillable popcorn buckets and soda tubs for $6.50, which you can use to pay just $3 per refill throughout 2014.

4. Snag all the freebies

Join loyalty clubs, check the Internet and credit card reward programs, and call local theaters about giveaways, savings, discounts, and coupons. They’re everywhere.

Regal Cinemas offers the Regal Crown Club card for those wanting to win free sodas and popcorn with ticket purchases, while AMC has its own Stubs rewards program, and Cinemark emails special coupons and offers weekly. Here’s what to know about these discounts…

  • Regal’s Crown Club card comes with daily perks at participating theaters.
  • Cinemark and others offer exclusive online discounts as well.
  • American Express cardholders can pay for tickets with points, Chase Freedom members are offered two tickets for the price of one at some theaters, and Visa Signature users can save 20 percent on a $25 Fandango purchase.
  • Children, students, veterans, and seniors need to bring their photo ID to earn their discount, while the rest of us should take advantage of these programs and offers.

5. Bulk purchases and drive-ins

Tickets cost $8 on average, but some theaters and ticket vendors like BulkTix, Fandango, and Movietickets.com offer “economy” tickets for as little as $6. (Watch out for online-order convenience fees that can knock the price back up, though.) Costco warehouse club members can save money with movie ticket 10-pack offers for Regal theaters, AMC, and Cinemark for $70 to $90.

And if family outings aren’t your cup of tea, a date night at an old-fashioned drive-in theater is usually cheaper to an auditorium with walls. Check Drive-Ins.com for locations and prices.

Credits

You might be able to sit and home and watch almost any movie how and when you like, but there’s still nothing like the experience of a new movie in the theater. So leave the binge-watching habit at home, and bring food-stuffed pockets and coupons to enjoy quality pictures and sounds you can’t get anywhere else.

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