Ten tips for saving money at the movies

Want to buy cheap cinema tickets? Or see free movies? Follow our handy guide

Want to save money at the cinema? Well, here’s how to do it. Time Out’s crack team of film writers has put together the ultimate guide to discounts, deals, loyalty cards and other tips for making the most of Britain’s cinemas for less.

1. Avoid busy times

Weekday afternoon screenings are rarely busy, so you’ll find that most cinema chains charge a good deal less at these times. Of the major chains, Cineworld and Vue cinemas currently offer the most favourable discounts (up to 25 per cent) on off-peak seats (weekdays before 5pm). This amounts to a £2.50 saving on the price of an evening ticket. Odeon offers a slightly lower discount with its 15 per cent Super Saver deal for Monday to Thursday performances before 5pm.

2. Become a loyal customer

Rio Cinema Rio Cinema - © Ben Rowe

If you’re a regular filmgoer, you could save a few pounds by purchasing a loyalty card. Most of the big chains offer some sort of incentive. Cineworld has the most attractive offer. Its Unlimited Card costs £14.99 per month (£17.99 including London’s West End) which should save you about £40 per year and as much as £100 if you see everything. Odeon’s Premiere Club works like Airmiles or Nectar, with ten points given for every pound spent (film tickets amount to around 800 points). Their ‘Classic Film Fan Package’ costs £1.99 for an initial 100 introductory points. Finally, the smaller Picturehouse chain offers attractive deals through its membership system. For a reasonable £39 per year (three months extra free if paid with direct debit), members get three free tickets a year, a £2 discount on other tickets and a saving of £1.60 on the booking fee and 10 per cent on food and drink.

3. Go to the movies as a family

Imax Cinema Imax Cinema - © Andrew Brackenbury

If you go to the movies as a family, you’ll have a better chance of grabbing a cheap seat. Most of the big chains offer family packages but we think Vue’s one child-price for all – ie mum and dad only pay the price of child’s ticket each – is a tough one to beat. The catch is that you’ll need a minimum of four people, including two children. That’s the dysfunctional family out of the equation, then!

4. Seek out promotions

If you have a mobile phone account with Orange you can take advantage of its well publicised and popular two-for-one Orange Wednesdays deal. Simply text 'FILM' to 241 or call 241 from your mobile and Orange will text you an e-ticket which you present at the box office. Orange Wednesdays applies to pretty much every cinema in the country. Another workable but long-winded method is to scour the web for vouchers. It’s often a game of luck, since most promotions only last a set period of time (Discount Vouchers, for instance, has just finished offering 40 per cent discount vouchers for Odeon cinemas). But keep your eyes peeled on the web and you’re sure to find a deal. At the time of writing, Cineworld has a joint promotion with Morrisons. Better buy more bacon, then.

5. Go 2D instead of 3D

The third dimension is here to stay. Its existence is as much to do with the prevention of piracy (3D is impossible to pirate) as it is to do with eye-candy razzmatazz. But 3D films cost more (around £2 extra) and can be a pain in the eye, so remember there are always 2D screenings of 3D films and you’ll be doing your eyes and wallet a favour by plumping for the cheaper 2D version. It also looks sharper and bigger (3D visuals are invariably blurry and everything looks small, as if you’re watching through a toilet roll). Some cinemas will charge you separately for the glasses (currently Odeon does; Vue doesn’t) – though in many cases you can keep them, saving up to 80p on the next 3D screening.

6. Act your age

© Scott Wishart

One of the benefits of getting old is the freebies and discounts that become available on your sixty-fifth birthday. The same discounts often apply to students too. But not every cinema chain offers discounts to OAPs or students, so it’s best to check with your local screen first. If you’re aged 13 to 18, you might wish to take advantage of Teen Screen, a catchy moniker applied to screenings specifically for youngsters. Seniors are also offered occasional cheap off-peak screenings, often quaintly accompanied by cake and a cup of tea. Finally, if you have children in tow (and enjoy a kids' flick as much as they do), take advantage of some of the major chains’ weekend kids matinee screenings. Vue Cinemas figure best here with weekend morning screenings for just £1.25 a ticket.

7. Avoid major chains

Screen On The Green, Islington Screen On The Green, Islington - © Ben Rowe

They’re everywhere and practical to visit, but most multiplexes are cold, clinical and expensive. So consider giving your custom to the small independent screen down the road. They may not have all the facilities of the majors and you might have to wait a week or so to see the big releases, but in many cases their seats are cheaper, their ambience more agreeable and they’re more likely to have a proper projectionist. Besides, the indie is a dying breed and needs all the support it can get.

8. Sign up to a free previews website

There are several websites that specialise in gathering information for free public preview screenings. Free screenings are not only offered to media and industry freeloaders. By offering occasional free previews of films to the public, distributors hope that people who have seen their latest pride and joy will tell all their friends, who’ll eventually pay to see the film when it opens officially. You win, they win. You’ll find two such websites at FMUK and Tellten.

9. Seek out cheap or free film clubs

London is full of small independently run film clubs showing an eclectic range of films at low prices. If you don’t live in London, chances are your city or town will have some too. Sure, you won’t get to see a current major release, but there’s no shortage of other great films to choose from. Some screenings are even free. We suggest you scour websites and local press for your nearest cinema club (FindAnyFilm is a good place to start) or, if in London, keep coming back to this site!

10. Eat before the movie

© Ben Rowe

There’s something about the smell of pocorn that gets the tastebuds going. If you want to save money, don’t be tempted. Cinema food is expensive (popcorn, for instance, has a 1,000 per cent mark up), so it stands to reason that you’d save a lot of money by either eating before entering the cinema (which is better for everyone else in the auditorium) or purchasing your snacks at a local shop. No major cinema chain to our knowledge has a policy that excludes the consumption of foodstuffs bought elsewhere. Nevertheless, subtlety is the order of the day. So don’t blow it by rocking up with a burger and fries.