By Kelli B. Grant
Nickels and Dimes: Last week, I received a postcard from AMC Theatres with my very last free reward — a choice of either a free ticket or large popcorn-and-soda combo.
The theater chain switched from its free MovieWatcher program over to a new, $12-per-year one called Stubs a few weeks ago, and the rewards will keep on coming for members. But even though I’m a rewards junkie with 15 loyalty cards on my key chain and another half-dozen in my wallet, I’m not planning to participate. The annual fee just isn’t worth it for my movie-watching habits.
Annual fees for loyalty programs are pretty rare, says Kelly Hlavinka, a managing partner for loyalty research firm Colloquy. The few chains that do charge tend to fall into the entertainment arena: think Barnes & Noble’s (BKS) $25-per-year membership with extra discounts and free express shipping, or Borders (BGP) $20 Borders Plus with members-only discounts and $5 rewards for every $150 in spending. “Companies do that so they can offer richer rewards that are really appealing to those enthusiasts; the avid readers and avid movie-goers,” Hlavinka says.
The new Stubs program is no exception. Members earn a $10 reward for every $100 in spending at the box office and concession stand, get free upgrades to the next size popcorn or soda, and avoid the ticket fees of up to $2 apiece when buying online at Fandango or MovieTickets.com.
That’s a faster schedule and more generous benefits than the old free program, which awarded two-points-per-ticket purchased (maximum four points per visit) and none for food. At the 10-point mark, you were rewarded with a free small popcorn; 20, a free small drink; and at 30, your choice of a free ticket or a free large soda and popcorn combo. That cycle repeated until 100 points, when you’d get a free ticket, free small popcorn and a free small drink. Points only expired after 24 months of inactivity.
But as with credit cards that charge an annual fee, there’s a higher benchmark for opting in to a rewards program that does so, Hlavinka says. (AMC did not respond to requests for comment.) You need to be spending enough to more than offset the fee — in this case, $200 per year to get two $10 rewards. You must also be willing to condense spending — if you haven’t already — to only visit that one retailer.
And it’s that dual consideration that has me planning to bow out where a family of four or an amateur movie critic might sign up in a heartbeat. I head to the movies maybe six times a year, always on a discount ticket, and often switch up theaters. (Not only do the Regal and AMC locations across the street from each other here in NYC rarely overlap on movies, but there are also plenty of independent theaters with ticket prices $2 to $3 cheaper than the chains’ going rate of $13.) Scared off by the idea of spending $20 to eat multiple Big Macs’ worth of fat in one sitting, you’re not going to catch me at the concession counter, either.
How about you? Does the new program meet your movie-watching needs?
Nickels and Dimes will keep tabs on new and rising fees and surcharges eating into your bottom line. Have one to share? Email email@example.com.