How to get free and cheap cinema tickets
Feel like trips to the cinema just keep getting more and more expensive? We've got loads of tips for getting cheap (and free!) movie tickets.
Despite the rise of their cheaper rival, Netflix, cinemas are still hugely popular. But, as great as it is to go out to see a film, it can be seriously expensive (and if you go full whack, prices might verge on the ridiculous).
Thankfully, though, there are loads of ways to save money on watching movies on the big screen – and in some cases, even blag your cinema tickets for free.
We've pulled together all the hints, tips and insider secrets we know, and we can guarantee you'll learn a new trick or two by the end.
How to get free cinema tickets
Film preview screenings are the ultimate way to get free cinema tickets. Here are the best places to find free preview screenings:
Free Movies UK
Free Movies UK is essentially a giant forum where savvy film buffs post links to sign up for free preview tickets, as well as links to competitions where you can win tickets to film screenings and premieres.
Many of the links will be from sites like Show Film First (see below) but it's useful to see everything in one place. And, other users might spot some free film opportunities that you've previously missed.
There's even a forum where people offer up free cinema tickets if they can no longer make it to the screening themselves. It's basically a one-stop-shop to hear of films you can watch without having to pay a penny.
Show Film First
As a member of Show Film First, you'll get to access to free tickets for films, theatre, comedy and gigs. The only catch is that membership is by approval only, and based on your demographic information and location – so there are no guarantees you'll get accepted.
The membership conditions mean you can't brag on social media about your great freebies, and you have to provide constructive feedback afterwards.
You also get offered tickets based on your personal information, so you don't get to pick whatever you want – but as you'll be watching films and shows for free, the limited choice is definitely worth it.
E4 Slackers Club
E4 Slackers club is ideal for any students looking to watch movies for free. E4, in collaboration with Picturehouse Cinemas, offer 16-25-year-olds a free film screening every month – and it's completely free to sign up.
They're pretty decent movies too, so perfect for an end of exams treat – or a free date night option...
Why do film companies offer free film preview tickets?
Companies want people to watch movies when they're first released to help generate word-of-mouth buzz and excitement – and that means they're willing to give away free tickets for film preview screenings.
Ultimately, it's easy marketing to help promote movies, and it just so happens to be ideal for anyone hoping to watch free films.
How to get cheap cinema tickets and save on food
These are the best ways to save money at the cinema and get cheap movie tickets:
Get 2-for-1 cinema tickets
Spending a few quid on some travel insurance for your holiday (you can get a day policy for just a couple of quid) or contents insurance for your student house could come with an extra perk – 2-for-1 cinema tickets for a year.
Take out an insurance policy through the comparison site Compare the Market and you'll be able to opt-in for 'Meerkat Movies', where you're given a code every week that you can use for 2-for-1 movie tickets on either a Tuesday or a Wednesday.
You'll receive your code every week via the Meerkat Movies app, which you simply show at the box office or use when booking online to get your discount.
If you don't have a 2-for-1 code, or you have one that you're not using one week, head over to our Facebook group to make requests and share with other students.
You can also get 2-for-1 tickets if you get a student subscription to The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. The subscription costs £26 a year, and with it you'll get 2-for-1 tickets at Odeon on weekends (you can use your student discount on top of that, too), plus access to free film screenings.
Avoid cinema seat upgrades
Some cinemas are bold enough to charge up to £3 more for seats with the best view, or for ones that have 'extra comfort' and more legroom – don't fall for this.
As long as you book your tickets nice and early, you'll be able to choose a seat directly in front of the expensive seats, with the exact same view for much less cash.
Try Screen Unseen
If you're not picky about your movie choices, or fancy trying something a bit different, then Screen Unseen is definitely worth a try.
You pay just £5 for a ticket (or £5.75 if you buy it online) for a screening – but you won't find out what the film is until you're sat in your seat and the movie begins!
The risk here is obviously that you could end up seeing a movie that you hate – but you could also find your new favourite flick, and save money in the process.
If you're worried about ending up sitting in a terrifying horror movie, don't panic! They have Scream Unseen for the thrill-seekers out there.
Enter film and cinema competitions
There's almost always competitions going on that are offering free yearly cinema memberships to lucky winners.
A good way to stay in the know is to follow all the cinema chains in your area on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – they'll usually post about big competitions there first.
There are loads of tricks you can pull to increase your chances of winning competitions – so much so, we even wrote a guide on how to become a professional comper.
Get a job at the cinema
If you're looking for a part-time job at uni that comes with some serious perks, then a job at your local cinema is a great option.
For example, at Odeon you'll get free cinema tickets to use at any Odeon branch and 12 free tickets for friends and family every three months.
Other perks include 40% off food and drink, including at Costa, Ben & Jerry's and other in-store franchises.
If you can't find any vacancies at the cinema, there are loads of other jobs that come with great perks.
Buy off-peak cinema times
Getting your timing right can make a substantial difference when it comes to cinema tickets. Big chains such as Odeon, Vue and Cineworld offer 15–20% discounts on tickets for screenings before 5pm Mon–Thurs (excluding bank holidays).
Vue cinemas also run 'Super Mondays', where tickets are generally around 18% cheaper than a regular ticket (although discounts vary depending on location). Claim your Super Monday code here and use it at checkout to get your discount.
Invest in a cinema membership card
If you're passionate about the silver screen and you have a reliable network of cinemas near you, investing in a membership card could save you a lot of money on films. These cards allow you to see as many movies as you want for a set monthly fee.
You only need to go to the cinema around three times a month in order to break even, so any additional trips will basically be free. But don't invest in a membership card if you won't go often enough to save cash!
Picturehouse student memberships cost £25/year and this will get you two free tickets a year and 25% off food and drink.
If you have a Showcase cinema near you, their Insider Club also offers discounts on tickets all day Monday and Tuesday, and on Sunday showings after 7pm. The membership is free, and also comes with money off food and drink – you just need to fill out an online form. Apparently, they sometimes dish out tickets to free film previews, too!
Use student discount at the cinema
The easiest money-saving trick in the book is to make use of your student discount!
Make sure you always take your student ID with you, as a lot of cinemas won't print you a student ticket unless you have proof.
A TOTUM card will do the same trick, and amazingly, Odeon cinemas also offer an additional 25% off student-priced tickets if you have one. Wowzers.
Get cinema tickets on O2 Priority and Vodafone VeryMe
Anyone who's on O2 or Vodafone will already be familiar with the plentiful perks of O2 Priority and VeryMe Rewards respectively.
Amongst other deals like cheap meal deals and various freebies, you can often get 50% off full-price tickets at major cinema chains.
However, the great news is, even if you're not an O2 customer, you can use this trick to take full advantage of Priority perks!
Bring cheap cinema snacks
We all know just how criminally overpriced cinema food is, and the simple solution is: don't buy it.
Choosing your cinema snacks carefully is important though – you don't want to be that guy noisily munching your way through carrot sticks during an intense thriller.
Look out for food and drinks deals (such as half-price pick n mix) for extra savings.
Buy large cinema food
If you are going to splash out on some cinema food (we admit, a movie without popcorn can be a sorry state of affairs), make sure you get your money's worth.
One large drink and large popcorn is substantially cheaper than buying individual small ones, and will deliver you a similar quantity. Of course, the big catch here is that you'll have to share your food.
It's worth remembering, though, that the mark-up on cinema popcorn is insane.
For example, you can get two 170g bags of Butterkist toffee popcorn (340g altogether) from Tesco for £3.18*. But, a large popcorn at the cinema is usually about 250g, and you'd generally expect to pay at least £5+ for it – so you'd be getting less popcorn, for more money.
Because of this, if you are buying food at the cinema, try to be realistic about how much you'll be able to eat – going large just because it seems like better value is a false economy.
* Price is correct as of May 2020.
Use cashback sites to buy cinema tickets
Keep an eye out for cashback deals from the likes of Quidco and TopCashback. There are often some great cashback deals floating about, particularly when it comes to paying for your monthly cinema membership card online.
Make sure you understand exactly how earning cashback works before you sign up – we've got an online cashback guide to help you with that.
Use cinema loyalty cards
Loyalty cards are a great way of saving money on cinema tickets.
For example, if you have a Nectar card, 500 points will get you a £2.50 discount on a ticket at Vue cinemas. Just hand over your Nectar card at the ticket desk and tell them how many of your points you'd like to spend (you can pay in blocks of 500 points).
Tesco Clubcard holders are also able to exchange points for Cineworld tickets – and at a higher value than the points are worth! Every 50p of Clubcard points is worth £1.50 to spend at Cineworld on tickets or snacks.
If you have a Tastecard, you can get up to 40% off tickets at Vue, Cineworld, Picturehouse, Showcase and... too many more to mention.
Go to independent cinemas
Independent cinemas are usually cheaper than the big chains. Sure, the screens are generally a bit smaller and they might not always be showing the big blockbusters, but you'll get to see a lot of great indie films that won't always make it to the bigger screens.
Plus, it's always good to support your local independent cinemas.
Avoid 3D screenings
3D screenings usually cost around £2 more than a 2D ticket at the same cinema.
So it's worth asking yourself if it's really worth the extra cash – would you be just as satisfied if you watched the film on a standard big screen?
If you don't have 3D glasses of your own, you'll need to shell out for those too. You can get them for as little as a quid these days though, so just make sure you hold on to them for the next round.
Have a movie night at home
Sure, a trip to the cinema is always going to be fun, but you can't beat a good movie marathon at home with friends.
Planning on grabbing a bite to eat after that cheeky trip to the cinema? Take a look at our guide to eating out on a budget.