My reporting instincts and wariness of questionable deals kicked in last summer when I heard about a movie pass that let you see a movie a day for only $10 a month.
In theory, you could see 30 movies in 30 days for 33 cents per movie. Just seeing one movie per week cost only $2.50 per movie. It has to be too good to be true, I thought, and I watched the mania over Movie Pass spread for a few months to see how it played out.
There must be a catch, and I was waiting for it. Would the company take customers’ money and not give that what it promised? Would their personal information be hacked from the site’s servers and sold to ID thieves? And, of course, could customers really see up to one movie per day for only $10?
The servers at Movie Pass were overwhelmed by the initial response of customers, and there were some reports that customer service wasn’t great and that the pass wasn’t working well.
After waiting a few months for the kinks to be worked out, I bought a Movie Pass in November, and so far it has worked great and is the best $10 I’ve ever spent. There have been a few problems, but nothing major, and I saw five movies in November: Thor, Murder on the Orient Express, Coco, The Justice League, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
December is about half over and this month I’ve seen Lady Bird, and Roman J. Israel, Esq. Saturday I’m going to see the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, with a Movie Pass ticket I bought earlier. I’m taking the last two weeks of December off and should see at least three more movies with the pass, especially with some top movies set to come out Dec. 22.
I don’t expect every month to be as full of top-notch movies, but just going to two movies a month makes the pass worthwhile. Here’s how it works, and what I learned about it during almost two months of usage:
First, buy a Movie Pass
I signed up through the Movie Pass website. I gave the site my credit card number, which is billed each month. About 10 days later, I got the Movie Pass card in the mail, which I activated through its phone app.
The card is a red debit card. Every time you check into a movie on the app (more on that later), the cost of the ticket is loaded onto the debit card and the theater swipes the card like it would any other debit card with MasterCard as payment.
Sign in for a movie
All major movies and theaters are included, and the app tells you which theaters in your area accept Movie Pass. The app only allows you to browse theater showtimes for the current day. It doesn’t allow you to buy theater tickets ahead of time, though I found a workaround for that.
You can only check into a movie on Movie Pass when you’re within 100 yards of the theater. I’ve found this to usually be the case, though I live a few miles from a theater and have sometimes been able to check in from home or a library a few miles away.
Have good WiFi
If you don’t have good cellphone service — I have Sprint — then you may have trouble signing in on the app and checking in to movies through it. And that’s key with using the pass. You can’t buy a ticket until you check in to a movie and pick a showtime.
Without good phone reception, I’ve had to walk a block or so to a nearby Starbucks for free WiFi. Even then it may not work.
I ran into this problem this week and found out through the customer service chat service on the Movie Pass app that the service was suffering a temporary glitch and couldn’t allow customers to check in for movies. Instead, it was telling customers to buy a ticket and to email a photo of the ticket and receipt to the company, and the money would be refunded to their credit card on file.
Luckily, the glitch was fixed about 10 minutes before my movie started, so I was able to use the app.
An unhappy clerk
The first time I used Movie Pass, a clerk mockingly laughed at me and said “I hope it works” before swiping the Movie Pass debit card. Sometime it works and sometimes it doesn’t, he said. It did and I got my ticket.
He also told me that the theater, Cinemark, wasn’t a willing participant in the Movie Pass program, but it still accepted its debit card.
Because it’s used as a debit card, I got the sense that Movie Pass paid the full price of the ticket to the theater. How Movie Pass makes money by paying $9 every time I see a movie is something I can’t explain. Maybe the company is hoping I’ll forget about my automatic monthly payment and won’t see any movies. Good luck with that thinking.
Getting seats together and early
Most of the theaters where I live have reserved seats. They recline and are really comfortable, but are harder to get because there are a lot fewer seats in the theaters than there used to be. For blockbusters or opening weeks, this can require buying tickets at least a few days early if you want to get a seat.
My wife also bought a movie pass — every pass holder has to have their own pass, email and Movie Pass app on their iPhone or Android phone, and they must be 18 or older — so we have to buy out tickets separately at the box office. To see a movie together in assigned seats, we buy immediately after each other so we can select seats together.
Movie Pass doesn’t allow you to buy a ticket to a movie a day or more in advance, but there is a simple workaround: Check in to a movie today and tell the clerk that you want to buy a ticket for whatever film you want to see in two days or so.
Once you’re checked in on the app, the cost of the ticket is loaded on to your Movie Pass debit card. The theater doesn’t care which movie you’re seeing and when, though it won’t have enough money on it to pay for a 3D movie.
We did this on the weekend when Coco opened. The times we wanted to go on a Sunday were sold out, so we signed in to see Daddy’s Home 2 and then bought tickets to see Coco another day. If that doesn’t work, then try buying tickets in the morning for the show that night.
Getting your money’s worth
Sometimes when sitting through movie previews in a theater, I’ll turn to my wife and say “rental” or “Netflix,” meaning the movie doesn’t look good enough to spend $10 to see it in a theater, but is worth $2 to rent or view at home on Netflix.
Now, Movie Pass allows us to see questionable big-screen movies without paying $20 or more for both of us to see it. Or to at least see movies that are somewhere in the middle, like Roman J. Israel, Esq., that I’d either skip entirely or see on TV if it gets there in six months or so.
Most movies are much better on the big screen. I’m already planning on seeing the latest Star Wars film a few times with my Movie Pass.