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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card
Cinema buff? You’re not alone! In this post, TPG contributor Nick Ewen takes us through several ways we can turn a trip to the movie theater, which is getting costlier than ever, into a points-earning extravaganza…or at least a cheaper movie theater experience. If you have to cough up the dough to pay for a pricey movie, plus pricey snacks, you may as well maximize your points-earning potential too, or possibly get that popcorn or movie ticket for free next time around through a movie rewards program. Here’s how.
I’m willing to bet that if I took a poll of TPG readers, I would uncover many movie lovers. However, I would double-down on guessing the most common reason for staying away from the theaters: cost. It’s hard to stomach ticket prices that can eclipse $15 or even $20 for new releases in 3D, and a small popcorn for $8. Talk about a mark-up! However, for the points & miles enthusiast, there are several ways to make a trip to the movies on a dreary Sunday afternoon much more rewarding, and this post will focus on the ins and outs of making that happen in three different ways.
1) Signing up for movie rewards program
2) Purchasing tickets/concessions on a card that awards bonus points/miles for entertainment expenditures
3) Leveraging gift cards (purchased online or in various retail outlets) for even greater earning potential
Movie Reward Programs
For starters, several large national and regional chains currently offer some type of reward program, much in the same way that airlines and hotels offer their own loyalty programs. Some of these are completely free, while others require a small annual fee. Here’s a quick rundown of the programs offered by some of the larger theater chains across North America along with links to those of smaller regional companies.
For anyone with a Regal theater nearby, be sure to sign up for the Regal Crown Club. The program is free and offers valuable point-earning opportunities. Members earn 1 credit for every dollar spent at the box office, up to 20 credits per card per day. Each concession transaction (regardless of the price) earns an additional four credits. These credits will automatically earn rewards every 50-credit interval:
50 credits = free small popcorn
100 credits = free small drink
150 credits = free movie ticket
(This pattern continues going forward, with 200 credits getting you another free popcorn, 250 credits getting you another free soda, etc. Members can also “upgrade” the small drink/popcorn to larger sizes by paying the difference in price.)
In addition, members earn “Star Status” after hitting the 150-credit mark. This provides 5 extra credits for every ticket purchase on Thursdays plus 2 additional credits for every concession purchase every day. Unlike airline and hotel status, this “elite” level (as of now) is permanent, meaning no “movie running” in December to re-qualify each year!
Regular patrons of an AMC theater should consider signing up for their rewards program, called “AMC Stubs”. While the program does have a nominal annual cost ($12/year), it may make sense for frequent visitors. Members earn $10 in rewards for every $100 spent and can upgrade popcorn & drinks to the next size up for free. In addition, ticket purchases made online at Fandango.com incur no fees, potentially saving up to $2 per ticket! You’ll obviously want to crunch the numbers to see if you attend enough movies to justify the annual fee, but even bi-monthly visitors can easily recoup the cost through ticket purchase alone.
For anyone with a Carmike Theater close to home, be sure to sign-up for a free Carmike Rewards account. The program currently offers 5 points just for signing up, and members earn 1 point for every $1 spent at Carmike locations. Every 80 points is then redeemed for a free item. Interestingly enough, the Carmike Rewards website doesn’t include details on exactly how those free items are doled out (though I’d imagine it’s similar to Regal), and several calls and e-mails to their corporate office went unanswered.
For those Canadian readers with a Cineplex theater – or I guess it would be “theatre” up there – nearby, be sure to check out the free Cineplex SCENE program. This one is undoubtedly the most confusing one out there, but it offers members:
– 250 points for joining
– 100 points per adult movie ticket
– 50 points per child movie ticket
– 20 bonus points for online/app tickets purchases
– 75 – 150 points on concession combo purchases
– 10% off snacks & drinks
– 10% off Tuesday admission
1,000 points can then be redeemed (online) for a free ticket or for a large drink & large popcorn.
The program also offers a host of other benefits; check out the program redeem section for additional details.
Each of these four chains does offer a mobile app, through which you can find showtimes, buy tickets, and track your point/credit balances. The easiest (and most highly rated) of the four is AMC. It offers a simple navigation and integrates Fandango ticket purchases – when you add your AMC Stubs account number, the app automatically removes the booking fees.
Showcase Cinemas (primarily Northeast)
Starplex Cinemas (varied locations)
Regency Theatres (primarily California)
Cobb Theatres (primarily Southeast US)
Wehrenberg Theatres (St. Louis & other Midwest cities)
Classic Cinemas (Illinois)
MJR Digital Cinemas (Michigan)
Emagine Entertainment (Michigan)
Showplace Cinemas (primarily Indiana)
Phoenix Big Cinemas (several locations-three different programs that vary by location)
Frank Theatres (varied locations)
The Grand Theatre (primarily Southeast US)
UltraStar Cinemas (Southern California & Arizona)
Paragon Theatres (varied locations)
RC Theatres (mid-Atlantic)
Santikos Theatres (Texas)
Galaxy Theatres (varied locations)
Muvico Theatres (primarily Florida)
Credit Card Bonus Categories
While not nearly as prevalent as other categories (e.g. gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.), certain credit cards do offer bonus points for purchases at “entertainment” vendors, a category that often includes movie theaters. This essentially allows you to double-dip with the aforementioned rewards program and your chosen credit card currency. While you could always use a card that offers everyday bonus earning (like the Capital One Venture card or Barclaycard Arrival, both of which offer double points on all purchases), here are the current cards with bonuses for movie ticket purchases:
Citi Dividend/Dividend Platinum Select (no annual fee): 5% cash back (note that this is the current offer through 9/30 as part of the card’s rotating category bonuses)
Sony Card from Capital One (no annual fee): 3x points per $1
These offerings are (obviously) quite limited. However, be sure to watch for other cards with rotating bonus categories to include movie tickets. And even if you don’t have one of these cards or don’t want to open one just for buying movie tickets, there is another key way to maximize your point-earning potential with these purchases…
The bonuses offered on the aforementioned cards pale in comparison to the earning potential you have by purchasing gift cards in advance and then redeeming them for movie tickets and snacks/drinks. This can happen in one of two ways:
1) Buying gift cards in retail outlets (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.)
2) Buying gift cards online
The best thing about these gift cards is that when you purchase movie tickets or concessions with them, you can still earn reward points with Regal Crown Club, AMC Stubs, etc. Unfortunately, this is generally only applicable to the larger theater chains. My investigations of online offerings and visits to local retailers along the Treasure Coast of Florida found Regal and AMC to be the only widely available chains. Be sure to check your local gift card outlets for other offerings with smaller more regionally-based chains.
The first (and easiest) way to increase your point-earning is by simply purchasing gift cards at a retail outlet that offers a category bonus on one of your credit cards. Common spots for gift card racks (and the respective category bonus-earning credit cards) include:
Office Supply Stores
- Chase Ink Plus/Ink Bold/Ink Cash/Ink Classic all offer 5x points/5% cash back
- Simply Cash American Express offers 5% cash back at U.S. office supply stores, U.S. wireless telephone service providers and 3% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations up to $25,000 in purchases per year, 1% cash back on other eligible purchases.
- Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express offers 6 points/$
- Hilton HHonors American Express offers 5 points/$
- Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card offers 3 points/$
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold, U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature and Barclaycard Rewards MasterCard offer 2 points/$
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express offers 6% cash back (for up to $6,000 of supermarket purchases annually; then 1%)
- Blue Cash Everyday from from American Express offers 3% cash back (for up to $6,000 of supermarket purchases annually; then 1%)
- Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card offers 3 points/$
By using any of these cards to purchase gift cards and then redeeming them at the theater (presented along with your theater loyalty card), you are getting bonus points for your movie theater purchases that wouldn’t happen if you had used that card directly at the box office. For example, if you used the Chase Ink Plus card to purchase a $25 Regal Gift Card at Staples, you would earn 125 points (5 points/$), whereas that same purchase directly at the theater would only net you 25 points (1 point/$).
However, before you head out to a physical store, an even more lucrative way to do this is by leveraging online shopping portals to buy gift cards online. By first going through the portal, using a card with a category bonus, and then redeeming the gift card (with your Regal Crown Club or AMC Stubs card), you are now triple-dipping. Many sites even offer you the ability to purchase Regal and AMC gift cards with e-mail delivery, thus saving on shipping costs that could negate the value of any bonus points you accrue.
Here are the retailer websites at which I was able to find Regal and/or AMC gift cards for purchase:
– Amazon: both
– WalMart: both
– Staples: both
– OfficeMax: both
– BJs: Regal
– SamsClub: AMC
As TPG has mentioned before, the best site at which to check for online shopping portal bonuses is EVReward.com. Many of these retailers partner with BigCrumbs, eBates, Ultimate Rewards, and various other airline/hotel programs, and it’s up to you to choose not only the best one for you but also to decide which one offers the best category bonus.
How does this work in action?
My wife and I recently decided to take a trip to our local Regal Theater to see We Are the Millers (which is absolutely hysterical, incidentally). Now, anyone not up to speed on the points & miles game might put the spend on a basic fixed-value credit card (like the Bank of America Cash Rewards Card) or another card without any specific movie theater bonus (like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express). Heck, they might even pay for it in cash! They purchase two regular tickets at $10.50 apiece and then spend $14 on concessions ($6 soda and $8 popcorn). Their earning looks like this:
Total cost: $35
Total points/miles earned: 35
We took a different route. My wife has the Chase Ink Bold card, which offers 5 points per $1 at office supply stores, and Staples.com was (at the time) offering 5% cash back on eBates.com. She clicked through eBates and purchases a $50 Regal Gift card with e-mail delivery within 24 hours. When the gift card arrived, we headed to the theater. When we purchased the tickets for $10.50 each, we give the box office clerk our Regal Crown Club cards and earn 11 credits on each (Regal rounds to the nearest whole dollar). We then proceed to the concession stand and use the gift card pay for the $6 soda and $8 popcorn. We make sure to ring this up in two separate transactions, with one credited to my Regal Crown Club account and the other to my wife’s (4 credits plus 2 extra credits due to our “Star Status”).
Total cost: $35
Total points/miles earned: 175
eBates cash back: $1.75
Total Regal Crown Club credits: 34
With just a few extra steps, we quintupled our point earnings, got 5% cash back, and earned a significant number of Regal Crown Club points towards future concession items and movie tickets. Not too shabby!
What movie theaters do you have near you that aren’t included above? Any other suggestions for maximizing purchases? Please feel free to share in the comments section below!