It’s become downright expensive to take a family out to the movies, with some theaters charging $10 or more for regular shows and $13 for 3-D features.
But there’s really no need to pay that much.
With a little advance planning, it’s easy to see movies for less, and even at the higher-priced venues, you can shave 25 percent to 50 percent off the box-office price.
For those who see movies regularly, those savings can really add up.
The first and most obvious thing to do is know your options. At movies theaters across the Greater Charleston area, ticket prices range from $3.25 to more than $10 for standard movies.
Gas is expensive, but for a big family heading out to the movies, it might be worth a drive to the Cinemark 8 in Ladson ($3.25) or the Carmike 8 on James Island ($6).
Of course, a great way to save money at most theaters is to go during the day — a great option for the retired, and for at-home parents with children who aren’t in school. Matinee prices will knock $2 to $3 off each ticket at most area theaters.
Some theaters also have special discount days, and those are worth knowing about. Cinnebarre in Mount Pleasant, for example, offers $5 tickets on Tuesdays, which is more than half off. During the summertime, at the Terrace Theatre on James Island and at other venues, look for showings of classic films with free tickets for children.
Most theaters regularly offer discounted tickets for children, usually up to age 11, but don’t forget to ask about discounted tickets for seniors, often starting at age 62, and for members of the military and college students.
Also, don’t forget to sign up for free theater loyalty programs that earn you freebies for spending certain amounts of money. At Regal’s theaters, for example, you get a free movie ticket after spending $150, which is tracked on your loyalty card.
People who don’t qualify for any discounts, and who aren’t free to see movies during matinee showtimes, also can score big savings at some popular theater chains.
If you’re a AAA member, you can buy discounted tickets at the car club’s locations in Mount Pleasant, West Ashley and Summerville for Regal Entertainment theaters only. Discounted tickets are $8 for new releases and $7 for restricted tickets.
But you don’t have to be a AAA member to get discounts. In fact, you can get bigger discounts by purchasing directly from the theater chain, but you might need to collaborate with some friends because bulk purchases are required.
Regal Entertainment (Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres) sells unrestricted movie passes online for $7.50 each, which is a 25 percent discount from the typical $10 ticket price, but you have to buy at least 50. The passes don’t expire, so chip in with some other families and you’ve got a deal. There is a surcharge for 3-D movies.
Southeast Cinemas (it has multiscreen theaters at Citadel Mall and Northwoods Mall) sells advance tickets to regular-priced shows at matinee prices, saving $3 per ticket, but they sell them only in blocks of 100. They are sold at the theaters, and are only good at those specific theaters.
Restricted passes can offer additional savings. Regal sells restricted passes for $6.50 (if you buy 50 or more), and AAA members can buy any number of them for $7, but with those passes you’ll typically have to wait until a movie’s been out at least 12 days.
Of course, if you’re going to wait, you can save some serious money by waiting until the movie comes out on DVD. There used to be a long delay from theater to rental, but these days a film that you just missed on the big screen may already be sitting in the dollar rental kiosk.
The remake of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” for example, was just released to generally good reviews in the U.S. on Jan. 6, according to imdb.com, and I saw it available for rent in the dollar box two weeks ago when I went grocery shopping.
A dollar rental is hard to beat, but “free” is the price of movies offered by area libraries, which don’t just lend movies but also screen a nice selection of films. Offerings at Charleston County libraries this week, for example, include “War Horse” at the Sullivan’s Island branch Thursday evening, the 1935 classic “The 39 Steps” Friday morning at St. Andrews Regional, and the kid-friendly feature “Bolt” at Folly Beach on Friday afternoon. Check out www.ccpl.org.
Finally — and this one may sound silly, but I got five movie tickets worth $50 this way a year or so ago — keep an eye out for a promotion that Kellogg’s has run several times. The way it works is, you collect codes printed inside Kellogg’s products such as cereal or crackers, enter them online, and get a movie ticket for each six codes entered.
So, six boxes of cereal gets you a movie ticket. The current “Spidey codes” promotion runs through June 2013, and there’s a limit of 30 codes (5 tickets) per email address registered.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @ DSladeNews.