ATLANTA – The summer movie season has officially started, and we can all agree on the best way to go about enjoying it: with George Clooney, in the private screening room of his fabulous villa on Lake Como in Italy.
OK, who’s up for tips on the second best way to enjoy it? The next three months will feature plenty of cinematic blockbusters – from “Marvel’s The Avengers” to “The Amazing Spider-Man” to “The Bourne Legacy.”
And plenty of sharp elbows, as everyone seems to be angling for the same limited number of opening weekend tickets, parking spots in the multiplex lot and napkins for wiping away the butter from their $8 tubs of popcorn.
Add in the high cost of tickets – $10 at Spokane theaters, plus extra charges for 3-D or Imax – and chances are good you’ll need a second mortgage to be able to afford to take the family to see “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” next month.
Fortunately, help is on the way. Here are six smart ways to go to the movies this summer:
1 Join the club
Membership has its privileges. Most major theater chains have some sort of loyalty program that allows you to accrue points toward discounted tickets, concessions or other goodies. For instance, you earn $10 in “Stubs Rewards” for every $100 you spend at AMC theaters. That’s not much more than a family of four spends to see a movie and buy nachos. Regal’s “Crown Club” members receive one point per dollar spent purchasing tickets, with rewards starting at 50 points (one free small popcorn) and escalating upward (300 points gets you one free movie ticket).
Of course, there’s no entirely free popcorn … er, lunch: You have to spend a bunch of money before getting any of it back. (Indeed, there’s a $12 annual fee to join AMC Stubs.)
But there are other benefits to joining: AMC Stubs members are waived the annoying “convenience fee” ($1 or more) when buying tickets online.
2 Go big or stay home
Another way to save is by buying multiples of tickets at once – if you can get in the actual or virtual door to the store. Several big warehouse shopping clubs offer special movie deals to members. Costco sells four-packs of tickets to AMC and Regal theaters online for $34.99. In addition, two-packs of tickets for $15.99 are available in some Costcos. In all cases, the tickets are valid seven days a week and have no expiration date.
3 Like them. Really, really like them!
Social networking can be a good way to snag hard-to-come-by tickets or cut costs on concessions. Groupon and LivingSocial.com periodically have advance deals on tickets for specific movies, while gift card websites often have discounted fare (PlasticJungle.com was offering 13 percent off on $25 and $100 AMC gift cards last week).
Easier still is “liking” theater chains on Facebook and following them on Twitter. Facebook pages in particular are good sources of info on early ticket sales for blockbuster flicks (“ ‘The Hunger Games’ is back in IMAX one week starting Friday!” AMC’s page reported recently, along with a link for tickets), contests to win free tickets, tie-in merchandise and DVDs, coupon offers and more. Possible drawbacks: More time spent hunched over your office computer pretending to work when you’re actually on Regal Cinema’s Web page waiting for a new concessions coupon to be revealed every Thursday. (It’s good for a week.) Measurable benefits: AMC’s “Tax Relief Offer” was good for a free small popcorn April 13-15.
4 Stay ahead of the crowd
Not everything’s about money. Sometimes, avoiding long lines and crowds is a bigger deal – if you can even get tickets for that summer blockbuster movie.
If you absolutely positively have to be there on opening night, stake out Fandango or Movietickets.com to buy tickets as far ahead of time as possible. (Again, Facebook and Twitter can help out by letting you know the minute advance tickets for, say, July’s “The Dark Knight Rises” go on sale. Just be aware that if you follow those links or click “purchase tickets” on the various chains’ websites, you’ll likely end up on Fandango.)
For last Friday’s opening night of “Dark Shadows,” I could get tickets two weeks ahead of time on Fandango.
The bad news: the dreaded “convenience fee.”
The good news: Many theaters now accept tickets purchased online and printed out at home or even sent directly to a mobile device. So, no more having to wait in line anyway at the box office to pick up those tickets you had purchased well in advance.
5 Repeat after us: “I do like Mondays”
Studio moguls, theater owners – they all love to talk about the size of the weekend box office for their blockbuster films. But what nobody likes discussing is how much less crowded theaters are on the other four days of the week. Any week.
“Monday-Thursday are often good opportunities for guests looking for more ticket availability,” the spokesperson for one major theater chain wrote in an email, declining to be quoted directly.
Savvy moviegoers may take advantage of this fact by waiting out “Prometheus” or “Men In Black 3” openings by just a few days and then having their pick of stadium seating on a Monday or Tuesday night. They may also enjoy various incentives theaters offer to bring them in on off days.
Regal Crown Club members get five extra points with paid admission on Thursdays and there are $2 candy and popcorn deals on Mondays and Tuesdays.
6 Take a Viewcation
Like a Staycation, only better! By taking a day off from work, school or running a household, you can take in as many as three movies in a day, either in different theaters or in the same multiplex. Start with a morning matinee, when ticket prices usually are lower. (At many AMC theaters, for example, the first shows start in the 10 a.m.- 11 a.m. hour and cost $6.) Make sure to schedule your Viewcation for Monday-Thursday, in order to make the best use of the above tips.