In March of this year, Odeon Cinemas launched a new ticketing option, a direct competitor to the long established Cineworld Unlimited Card scheme. Is this a brave new era of subscription services or the opening of a new front in the battle for bums in seats? Odeon have recently been widely criticised for adding ‘blockbuster’ premiums to the ticket prices for showings of the latest big releases (for example, at the moment you’ll pay around £1.50 extra per ticket to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” at Odeon compared to other movies they are showing) so there’s an obvious appeal in being able to ‘fix’ their ticket prices through a monthly subscription fee.
Survey after survey has shown that the number one driver in cinema choice is the films on offer followed by proximity. If you only have one local cinema, your choice of whether or not to buy into one of these subscription services will be easier. However if, like me, you have a choice between nine cinemas (and four chains) all within a reasonable half hour’s travel, which scheme offers you the best value and best options?
THE MONEY PIT
First, let’s compare the cost. Odeon comes in slightly more expensive here, at £17.99 per month (£19.99 if you want the central London cinemas included) which gives you ‘Limitless’ access to their screens across the country. Cineworld Unlimited will cost you £16.90 (£19.90 including London West End). So, apart from seeing as many movies as you want/ have the time for, what else do you get for your money?
THE PERKS OF BEING A CARDHOLDER
Having newly launched, Limitless is a bit Spartan when it comes to additional benefits. You’ll have to pay an uplift fee for Premier Seats, 3D films and IMAX/ D-Box etc. You won’t be subject to the blockbuster price hike though. The card doesn’t offer any further discounts in the cinema and there are no discounts through partner organisations at the moment.
Cineworld’s Unlimited, being the more mature scheme, brings quite a few benefits and even offers a second tier of membership after a year (Premium Unlimited, a free and automatic upgrade). From the moment you join, you can get 10% off all food and drink purchased in the cinema as well as 25% off food from Pizza Hut, Chiquito and Frankie & Benny’s. You’ll stay pay an uplift fee for 3D glasses, luxury seats and IMAX. After a year, your food & drink discount in cinema jumps to 25% too and you’ll no longer pay an uplift for 3D films.
Another big benefit of Cineworld’s membership scheme is its frequent Cineworld Unlimited Screenings – exclusive advance screenings of movies for Cineworld Unlimited cardholders only. Occasionally they also throw in a mystery screening where the title is withheld until the lights go down but usually they’re advertised well in advance and at the moment are averaging about two a month, sometimes more frequently.
By contrast, Odeon offers its celebrated Odeon Screen Unseen showings for the bargain price of £5 a ticket. These are open to the general public but you can use your Limitless card to cover the cost of your ticket. To date, there have been no exclusive Limitless Cardholder screenings but this may change in future.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Cineworld are extremely flexible when it comes to using the Unlimited card as part of a multi-ticket booking. Both the website and at the box office, you can use your card in conjunction with 2 for 1 offers such as Meerkat Movies so you and a friend can go and see a movie for ‘free’.
With a standard Unlimited membership you can book up to two Unlimited tickets in advance and after a year, Premium Unlimited members can book three films in advance. Special Unlimited screenings don’t count towards this allocation, so you can book them in advance as soon as they are available. There’s no limit to buying tickets on the day in cinema, provided the film times don’t overlap!
By contrast, Odeon Limitless is somewhat antisocial in that your only option to book tickets alongside the Limitless card (in the same transaction) is to pay for the other tickets. At the moment, you cannot use your Limitless Card and Odeon Premiere Club points in the same transaction and you cannot use Limitless with Meerkat Movies or other 2 for 1 deals. You can’t even book other Limitless tickets if your friends are cardholders on the same booking, so you’ll have to coordinate seats across multiple bookings and hope somebody else doesn’t book the seat(s) in between you while you’re hopping from booking to booking. As far as advance booking for the lone wolf Limitless cardholder goes, you’re limited to two advance bookings at a time, but you can buy as many as you like on the day.
Both cinemas allow the use of a CEA Card with their membership schemes though.
So, just how Limitless is Limitless? Well, possibly not quite as limitless as you might expect. At the launch, and when you get your card, there is the promise of ‘more to come’ and it may be that as the scheme gains traction it will start to build out its offering to provide the same kind of value as the Cineworld Unlimited scheme does but there remains a pretty sizeable gap to fill.
It’s an easy decision to make if you go to the cinema a lot and there’s only a Cineworld or only an Odeon nearby but when you’ve got both, it’s hard to deny Cineworld offers better value for money at the moment. Another factor may be the cinema itself. If one is a brand spanking new multiplex and the other’s old or a bit tatty that can make a huge difference.
I’ve always preferred my local(ish) Odeon over the Cineworld cinemas near me but Unlimited made too much sense to ignore. My choice was also made easier by the fact the Odeon near me simply shows a greater variety of films than my two closest Cineworlds so there’s a good chance something I want to see won’t be accessible with just my Unlimited card so I took up Limitless too.
One other point worth noting is, since recent updates and ‘improvements’, the Cineworld website is awful, nearly to the point of unusable (thankfully you can still access the previous iteration here) and their iOS App has recently followed suit. The booking process on Odeon’s website and App is, by contrast, much better especially if you’re browsing for something to see (which you’ll do more of as an Unlimited/ Limitless customer) rather than booking a specific film. It’s worth noting too that Cineworld charge a booking fee for normal tickets whereas Odeon do not.
THE THIRD MAN
And where does this leave Vue, the UK’s third largest cinema chain? The number of people who go to the cinema often enough that a subscription service makes financial sense is likely to be a relatively modest proportion of the overall cinema going population. The subset of them for whom it makes sense to hold two subscriptions (such as, me) will be even smaller. The proportion of them who would then be willing to fork out for a third subscription must be vanishingly small and apart from their immediate catchment areas it’s hard to see them being able to make any inroads to the loyal subscription market if Limitless manages to establish itself as a credible alternative to Unlimited.
CLASH OF THE TITANS
Will Limitless manage to establish a foothold in the shadow of Unlimited and will it make inroads into Cineworld’s subscription dominance? With the UK’s two biggest cinema chains offering subscription memberships, does it signal a shift in the market and what impact will that have going forward? With the number of ‘must see’ films seemingly growing year on year there’s going to be no shortage of demand for money saving options when it comes to going to the cinema. Are you a member? Are you thinking about joining a second scheme or ‘defecting’ from one to the other? Do you think these membership subscriptions are a bargain or a waste of money? Let me know in the comments section below!