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Ways to get cheap seats at movies ; Looking for discounts, special deals can cut cost of film experience

Americans can watch movies at home in high definition on large screens and with surround sound. They also have a growing number of sources for movies, including on-demand from their subscription TV service and various online services.

Even so, Americans still love going to a movie theater. Frugal moviegoers, however, don't always pay full price.

Movie ticket prices this year are averaging $7.85, a nearly 5 percent increase from last year, according to Hollywood.com. That's due in part to theaters charging more for 3D movies. Still, compared with ticket prices to attend a professional sporting event, live theater or popular music concerts, going to the movies is cheap entertainment.

But you can make it cheaper.

Besides the obvious advice of going to less-expensive matinee show times and skipping outrageously expensive popcorn, candy and soft drinks, here are a few tips to spend less when going to the movie theater.

*Check theater websites. You can often find discounts and coupons for tickets or concessions, and special programs for kids. AMC Theatres, for example, recently offered a $10 gift card if you see five new movies from a list of 17 before Jan. 6. Similarly, some theaters offer discounts through such social media as Twitter and Facebook, so it can pay to be a "follower" of a chain or to "like" a theater.

*Loyalty programs at theaters. Avid moviegoers might benefit from joining a loyalty program, where going frequently earns free tickets and concessions. Examples are the Regal Crown Club and AMC MovieWatcher Rewards.

*Entertainment Books. The little, fat coupon books, sometimes sold as fundraisers, usually have coupons for movie theaters. See entertainment.com. It's also worth thumbing through local newspapers and tourism guides. And if you're a fan of daily deal sites, such as Groupon.com and Kgbdeals.com, keep an eye out for movie ticket deals.

*3-D scrutiny. Movies in 3-D are a hot trend, but they cost more and are not always worth it, said Stacie Hougland, content editor at Movies.com.

"Toy Story 3" and "Tangled," for example, worked perfectly well in the traditional two-dimensional format, while "Clash of the Titans" was actually made worse by its clunky, inferior 3-D conversion, according to Movies.com critics Jen Yamato and Dave White.

"Before you pony up for the extra charge, do some reading to find out if 3D is necessarily a worthwhile addition for the movie," Hougland said.

*Warehouse clubs. If you belong to a warehouse club, check for discount movie theater tickets. Costco, for example, offers discounts on tickets to theaters run by AMC, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark Theatres.

*Card-carrying discounts. Identification cards for senior citizens, students and military personnel score you a discount at some theaters. Even your credit card might earn you a discount. A recent Visa Signature promotion offered "buy one, get one free" movie tickets on movie site Fandango.com.

*Membership and associations. Some AAA locations offer discount movie tickets, as do local companies and nonprofit organizations, churches and schools and condo and homeowners associations.

*Get group discounts. If you're going to the movies as a group, call ahead to the theater and book a party. You can get deals on tickets, popcorn and soft drinks, Hougland said.

*Bulk-buying websites. If you don't mind jumping through hoops for discounts, try a site like the new MovieBuzzed.com, where you can pay about half price for tickets. The site offers "certificates" for bulk-buying tickets: $25 worth of movie tickets for $12, for example. Certificates can be used to get "codes," which are used to buy and print movie tickets at Fandango.com.

But many significant restrictions apply. First, certificates expire after five months. Second, when you redeem your certificates, getting your Fandango codes by e-mail takes 10 to 12 days.

So, these discount tickets are only useful if you're planning to visit the theater in about two weeks, not if you want tickets for tonight. Third, after you receive your Fandango codes, you will have 14 days to use them before those codes expire. So, your window for going to the movies is roughly between 10 and 24 days after you buy certificates at MovieBuzzed.com. Fourth, you must use your entire certificate amount in that period.

When you initially buy your certificates, moreover, you pay a processing fee of $5.50 to $6.75 on a single order, depending on which ticket package you order. So, the smallest package really costs $17.50 for $25 worth of tickets, a 30 percent discount. Finally, make sure Fandango.com offers tickets to theaters you want to go to.

Bulktix.com and MovieTicketSavings.com are different, but also offers discounts. They, too, come with restrictions and time delays.

*Smuggle refreshments? Yes, you could try to sneak in your own snacks into a theater. You would save money over buying wildly overpriced items at the concession stand. But that's clearly against most theaters' wishes and/or policies, and some theaters have recently begun strictly enforcing their rules banning outside food and drinks. Let your conscience be your guide.