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Get a discount, then pay extra

AMC has unfairly added a 'location surcharge' to discounted movie tickets used at certain theaters.

June 04, 2013|David Lazarus
  • AMC has decided to turn the screws on some of its best customers by charging them more for certain shows at certain theaters. Above, the Universal Citywalk.
AMC has decided to turn the screws on some of its best customers by charging… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

Sherry Tedeschi is an avid moviegoer, typically hitting a film a week, sometimes two or three.

The Beverly Hills resident usually patronizes the AMC Century City 15 multiplex so she can poke around the Westfield mall after the show. She buys packets of discounted AMC tickets at Costco.

So it was with more than a little dismay that Tedeschi, 69, learned recently that, beginning July 8, her discounted AMC tickets will be slapped with a $2 "location surcharge."

Such fees are a sneaky way that ticket prices are being jacked up at a time when audiences are shrinking and average costs to catch a flick already are near a record high.

Moviegoers nationwide paid an average $7.94 per ticket in the first quarter of this year, according to the National Assn. of Theater Owners. Ticket prices in Southern California typically run at least several dollars more.

The national average is down a smidge from the record $7.96 set a year ago. Movie theater attendance, meanwhile, fell 13% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the website Box Office Mojo.

So let's recap: Fewer people are going to the movies, perhaps in part because ticket prices are pretty much higher than ever — and perhaps in part because Hollywood churns out mindless noisemakers such as "Fast & Furious 6."

Some people, though, remain loyal movie-theater customers, and are rewarded for their loyalty with discount tickets that allow them to save a few bucks per show.

But now, AMC, the country's second-largest theater chain after Regal Cinema and a subsidiary of China's Dalian Wanda Group, has decided to turn the screws on some of its best customers by charging them more for certain shows at certain theaters.

"You buy these discount tickets so you can save money and keep going to their movies," Tedeschi told me. "And then they do this?"

John Hande, 57, of Glendale goes to the movies several times a month, usually at the AMC Burbank 16 multiplex.

Like Tedeschi, he buys packets of AMC's discount tickets at Costco. And like Tedeschi, he's none too pleased about the location surcharge.

"They want me to pay twice for the same ticket," Hande said. "That's not right."

The surcharge applies to AMC's Gold and Silver tickets. Gold tickets cost $8.60 each. Silver tickets run $7.10 apiece but come with limitations, such as not being able to use them until two weeks after a movie opens.

Beginning July 8, AMC will apply the $2 surcharge for any Gold or Silver ticket used after 4 p.m. at the AMC Burbank 16, AMC Burbank Town Center 6, AMC Burbank Town Center 8, AMC Century City 15 and AMC Santa Anita 16.

I had to make repeated calls to AMC and send in multiple emails before a company spokesman, Ryan Noonan, would answer my questions.

He wasn't particularly forthcoming.

"We periodically evaluate and modify our pricing based on competition and market conditions, and the $2 surcharge for shows that begin at or after 4 p.m. is necessary at a handful of our L.A. locations," Noonan said by email.

I asked him to elaborate.

"After evaluating competition and market conditions, which we do regularly, we felt the surcharge was necessary for our business at those locations," Noonan replied. "Gold and Silver tickets still provide a minimum 20% savings at the box office at those locations."

Maybe I'm missing something, but "competition and market conditions" don't exactly explain why some of AMC's most frequent customers have to pay more for the privilege of bringing AMC their business, nor why a surcharge is "necessary."

Maybe AMC's new Chinese owner is trying to recoup the $2.6 billion it spent buying the chain.

When it comes to competition and market conditions in Southern California, the only other location surcharges I could find were at Regal's Island Cinema 7 at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

If you attend any movie at the theater using Regal's Premiere or VIP discount tickets, you'll get hit with a hefty $6 surcharge for ordinary films and $9 for 3D flicks.

Russ Nunley, a Regal spokesman, explained that the surcharges were introduced when the Island Cinema 7 reopened in 2011 as a "luxury" venue, with leather seats and more upscale dining options.

"If you attend a movie at that theater, there's a surcharge because that theater has higher average ticket prices than the rest of our circuit," he said. "It's a luxury theater."

If local moviegoers aren't keen on paying for all that luxury, Nunley added, they can go instead to Regal's nearby Big Newport 6 theater, which doesn't have any surcharges.

I asked AMC's Noonan why his chain singled out five of its most popular Southern California theaters for surcharges. He declined to answer.

I can't speak for all the theaters, but I was at the Century City 15 recently and didn't notice any leather seats or fancy foods.

A business is entitled to charge any price it wants for its goods or services. It's up to customers to decide whether they want to pay that price.

But it's a nasty trick to charge a set price for discount tickets and then to hit customers with an additional fee when those tickets are used — especially when there doesn't seem to be anything except corporate greed to justify that extra cost.

Oh, did I say corporate greed? I meant competition and market conditions.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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