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How to Maximize Points and Save Money at Movie Theaters

by on September 23, 2013 · 15 comments

in Maximize Monday

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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.

movie-theater-inside-amc-pacific

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.

Regal Entertainment Group is the largest chain of theatres in the U.S. and their Crown Club offers a great way to earn free concessions and movie tickets.

Regal Entertainment Group is the largest chain of theaters in the U.S. and their Crown Club offers a great way to earn free concessions and movie tickets.

Regal Cinemas:

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!

Maximize Mondays: Movie Theater Reward Programs

Though it is a paid membership, AMC Stubs can be a great money-saver for regular patrons of AMC theaters nationwide.

AMC Stubs:

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.

Maximize Monday: Movie Theater Programs

Another large national theater chain, Carmike Cinemas has a free rewards program.

Carmike Rewards:

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.

Maximize Mondays: Movie Theater Rewards

Cineplex SCENE is a great option for our friends north of the border.

Cineplex SCENE:

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.

Maximize Mondays: Movie Theater Programs

For even easier account management, be sure to check out these programs’ mobile apps.

 Mobile Apps:  

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.

Other chains:

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 Thank You/Thank You Preferred (no annual fee): 2x points per $1. Read about the card’s new bonus categories here.

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 (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…

Gift Cards

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.

Grocery Stores

Drugstores

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

Staples

Try ordering online from Staples.com

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 SPG 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

Staples Regal Entertainment Group

Staples.com has both Regal and AMC gift cards that offer no-fee email delivery within 24 hours.

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!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Matt

    I just browsed without reading too much into this… But I didn’t see anything for visa signature+fandango bogo on Fridays…

  • http://travelwithgrant.com/ Grant

    That ended a few weeks ago, but it was a great deal.

  • Eric

    I thought Chase Sapphire Preferred also had a special 1x a month at select Movie theatres (friend works at chase and mentioned this perk…not so sure of truth behind it) Also—Chase Freedom 5% this year was on movie theatres

  • Hastin Zylstra

    Most employers have discount tickets as well, which save way more than any program could. Gold AMC or Regal tickets through my work are $8.50 – which is about 1/2 off the standard Box Office price. I always keep a few in my wallet, just in case.

    However, I do buy gift cards for cash back, and then use the gift cards at the theater with the rewards program for concessions.

  • Jerry

    Scene is a pretty good program in Canada, half price on Tuesdays, but you still earn 120 points when booking online

  • Dan

    oh my god, this is an awesome post! I will apply to all the credit cards listed so I can get an extra 10 points when I go to movie theaters which is once a month! Cha-ching for me for the extra 50 pts and for TPG for the extra $300 for each approval!

  • www.Fishing4Deals.com

    Fandango offers 20 percent off on ticket and gift card purchases if you pay with a Visa Signature card. Can’t beat that!

  • sowhat

    minutia

  • Steve A

    While you and most TPG readers may be too young to take advantage of it, an AARP membership gives a GREAT discount for small popcorn/soda at Regal. 32 oz soda + 64 oz popcorn is $5.50 (almost 50% off) and I’ve been able to up-size either/both for a nominal charge. You have to present your AARP card as I believe they have to swipe it to get the discount.

  • Gregory Feczko

    Don’t forget that if you have Visa Signature card, you can get a freebie ticket once a month on a Friday — that is 12 free movie tickets a year! More than able to cover the cost of your annual fee :)

  • Gregory Feczko

    I wonder if that works for AAA members :)

  • Jenny

    I buy all of my Regal tickets at Costco. They’re $16.99 for a pair. On the back of the ticket there’s a QR coupon for $1 off popcorn. Also, if you get the regal app, they have monthly coupons you can use every day. Last month was $3 off popcorn, this month it’s $3 off your drink. And if you sign up for the newsletter, they’ll tell you about upcoming deals and specials.

  • SM

    I recently joined Carmike Rewards, and remembered reading this post. Here’s their rewards schedule, copied directly from their member website:

    Points will reset to 0 after reaching 1000 points.
    Break LevelReward(s) Earned801 Small Popcorn1601 Small Drink2401 Medium Popcorn3201 Free Ticket4001 Small Popcorn4801 Small Drink5601 Large Popcorn5602 Medium Drink6401 Free Ticket7201 Small Popcorn8001 Small Drink8801 Medium Popcorn10001 Free Ticket10001 Small Drink10001 Small Popcorn

  • SM

    The “1′s” are a formatting issue, so it’s 80 points gets you 1 small popcorn, 160 small drink, etc. Yes, very similar to Regal, only 80 point increments rather than 50.

  • Sara S

    Carmike rewards print out at the theatre automatically when you reach the next level and can be used any time before they expire. It is an awesome program if you’re a frequent movie watcher.

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