April 21, 2010 in Smart Money
6 ways to get free movies and discounts

Going to the movies is more than mere entertainment for some people, even when they strive to be frugal. That’s why families are looking for free movies and ticket discounts.

“For a lot of families, it’s a special occasion,” says Linsey Knerl, community manager for personal finance Web site Wise Bread and host of the podcast “The Dealista” for the Web site Quick and Dirty Tips.

There’s still no substitute for the “larger than life experience” of watching a movie in a theater, says Clark Howard, host of “The Clark Howard Show,” a radio program that provides money-saving advice. (It also airs on HLN on weekends.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep those trips to the movies within your budget.

Go to matinees

For years, theaters have offered bargain prices for matinee showings. Today, a growing number of theaters offer lower prices all day on weekdays, says Erin Huffstetler, who is in charge of the frugal living guide for About.com.

For example, AMC Theaters has a promotion called “Weekday Escape” that offers half-price tickets Monday through Thursday. Carmike Cinemas has “Stimulus Tuesday,” which offers $1 popcorn, $1 drinks and $2.50 candy all day Tuesday.

“This is something that’s emerging out of the recession,” Huffstetler says.

In the summer, many theaters have free family movies on weekdays, Huffstetler says. Check local theater websites to find who offers these discounts, she says.

Go to a drive-in theater

Last summer, Huffstetler, her husband and two daughters saw the new “Harry Potter” movie at the drive-in for $12. That amounts to just $3 per person, a big savings over the total admission cost for four people at a regular theater.

In addition, the family didn’t have to wait a few weeks after the movie opened before snagging the discount — the movie started playing at the drive-in the same night it started playing at regular theaters.

“One of my family’s favorite things to do is go to the drive-in,” Huffstetler says.

Cut back on concessions

There are easy ways to cut the cost of these expensive goodies. Knerl often buys a kid’s snack tray for herself. It’s only a few bucks and has a lot less calories than adult-size snacks.

Knerl also recommends buying concessions just before the movie starts. If you buy too early, you may munch your way through your snack quickly, causing you to run out for more food during the movie.

“Resolve that you’re going to watch a movie, instead of dropping a ton of money at the concession stand,” Huffstetler says.

Howard promises his kids ice cream or a snack if they behave during the movie. That way, he doesn’t have to fork over a ton of money for overpriced concessions.

Use rewards programs and other discounts

Some movie chains have rewards programs that get you free or discounted tickets and concessions when you have enough points.

Leah Ingram and her family always use their Regal Cinemas rewards card because almost every local theater is a Regal. She even makes sure her kids use it when they go with their friends.

“It doesn’t add up to huge savings, but I’ll take savings wherever I can get them,” says Ingram, author of “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less.”

Many retailers also offer coupon codes for free movie tickets. For example, cereal boxes or websites might offer coupon codes for free or discounted tickets or concessions.

Finally, you may be able to score discount tickets if you belong to certain organizations. AAA sells tickets to members at a discount of up to 20 percent. Meanwhile, Howard buys all of his tickets from Costco and they range from $6 to $8.

Buy tickets in bulk

Many theaters offer matinee prices if you buy 50 or more tickets at a time. Regal Cinemas and Rave Motion Pictures charge $7.50 per ticket for blocks of 50. Meanwhile, Cinemark and Cobb Theatres charge $7.25 and $7, respectively.

“That’s a great idea if you’re a super movie junkie and you know you’re going to go to the theater a lot throughout the year,” Huffstetler says.

Go less often to the theater

One of the easiest ways to cut your movie-going costs is to simply stay home.

“I’m not sure that going to the movies holds the same allure it used to, especially from my frugal perspective,” Ingram says.

If your children complain about not going to the theater, try to recreate the cinema excitement inside your own home.

“Give them incentive of letting them invite friends over,” says Ingram, whose daughter recently had 10 friends over to watch on-demand movies.

Of course, there are ways to cut the cost of movies in your home. Services like Netflix and Blockbuster let you rent an unlimited number of movies per month for a set fee. Knerl subscribes to Netflix, which allows her to watch any Starz movie online.

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