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When A Movie Ticket Costs $50 -- And That Doesn't Include Soda

[Editor's Note: today's post is by guest author R. Michelle Green, the Principal for her company, Client Solutions. She is a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. Today, she discusses the trend by more companies to charge for their products and services with dynamic pricing techniques.]

By R. Michelle Green

I find great joy in large dark rooms experiencing a well-told story on a big screen. Knowing this, I tend to buy my movie tickets in bulk (AAA pays for itself chez moi...) So I’ve been insulated from the shift in movie pricing these last 2-5 years. Sure I noticed that some theaters had stepped beyond time of day pricing, or that my coupons are no good during the movie’s first week. Some theaters charge more for special events, like the Metropolitan Opera in HD, the 50th anniversary of Lawrence of Arabia, or ST:NG’s 25th anniversary. But a recent conversation on utility pricing struck a chord in me, having just read an article about the $50 movie ticket.

The Hell you say? Oh it’s already happened, a trial balloon less than two weeks ago. In five US cities, $50 bought a ticket to an advance showing of World War Z, a poster, a digital download of the movie, and (drum roll please) – a small popcorn. (jeez Louise, not even a medium???) At a USC panel, Lucas and Spielberg recently said they expect $100 tickets in the near future; that art house and ‘personal’ films could be priced at $7 while the big event movie on the first night might be $100. China has a tiered system of government controlled prices for movies – Iron Man 3 sold out at as much as $25 in some locations. This isn’t a new thought, particularly for economists.

Once you start looking, you see ala carte pricing everywhere. Even some of the major airlines now charge not for picking the desirable seat, but for exercising the right to choose one at all (even the middle seat). Spirit airlines has gone plum crazy IMNSVHO – advertising incredibly cheap fares ($7-25) but then charging you for your carry-on (a gendered price burden, as a women’s purse would be considered the first or free bag). Oh, and don’t procrastinate – they’ll charge you $45 extra if you decide you want a carry on at the gate, and not at the time of online ticket purchase. Airline ancillary revenue is the cash cow now, not flight pricing.

A restaurant I frequent has new management wringing every penny out of the process. Ever gotten take out and decided to sit down and eat it there? They’ll charge you an additional fee to put it on a plate. In a party of three and want to use three credit cards? Not so fast: costs extra to use more than 2 cards.

So what does ala carte pricing for movies look like in practice? Do you know the movie’s title, time of day, day of week, day of 1st showing, version, format? And where are you, how old are you, do you want concierge service? But caveat emptor, right? If the price structure and rules are visible, available before sale, clear, and comprehensible, do I have the right to bitch? I’m here 5 minutes before the movie begins. I’m psyched for the show, my money’s in hand. NOW I learn that noon isn’t matinee pricing anymore AND this is the 3D presentation AND it’s in the deluxe room (where you have to choose a seat and the ushers are also waitstaff). So now my expected $7.50 ticket is maybe $15. At least I knew what the price could have been, and knew what variables could lower the price. The woman in front of me just paid the $15…

Dinner and a movie? Be sure to allow 15 minutes to find and read your menu’s fine print...

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