Competition Bureau targets Cineplex over misleading ticket prices

The lawsuit is in regards to the $1.50 online booking fee

Cineplex building

Canada’s Competition Bureau is suing Cineplex for reportedly misleading ticket price advertisements.

Cineplex is calling the lawsuit “meritless” and expects a swift dismissal by the bureau, as reported by The Star.

The Competition Bureau, in a news release issued on Thursday, alleged that Cineplex violated the law by advertising movie tickets at prices lower than what consumers ultimately had to pay. The bureau contends that Cineplex adds an additional booking fee at checkout, which raises the total price of tickets purchased through the company’s website and mobile app. “Consumers expect to pay the advertised price. We’re taking action against Cineplex because misleading tactics like drip pricing only serve to deceive and harm consumers,” said Matthew Boswell, commissioner of competition at the bureau.

In response, Cineplex expressed disappointment at the bureau’s statements, noting that the case had not yet been reviewed by the Competition Tribunal. The company firmly believes that its online booking fee is neither misleading nor in violation of any laws.

The Competition Bureau’s investigation found that consumers cannot purchase tickets online at the advertised prices due to the mandatory addition of a $1.50 booking fee. The bureau considers this fee an example of misleading drip pricing, often referred to as a junk fee. It’s worth noting that the fee is waived when you’re a CineClub member ($9.99 per month) and discounted if you’re a Scene+ member.

For example, I tried to book a ticket for the Super Mario Bros. Movie. The ticket is advertised as $16.50. Upon checking out, the inevitable tax is added, alongside the booking fee. In my case, since I am a Scene+ member, I only pay $1 for the booking fee instead of $1.50.

In-person purchases made at the box office, ticket kiosks, or concession stands are not subject to the booking fee.

Also worth noting is that Cineplex added the online booking fee in June last year, and has been charging customers the fee since then. We’re unsure why the Competition Bureau is just now starting to take action against it. “We have been working with the Bureau, since late 2022, in an open and transparent manner,” reads Cineplex’s statement. “Our online booking fee is entirely optional and provides the convenience of advance seat selection. All of this information is clearly stated on our website.”

According to documents filed with the Competition Tribunal in the Notice of Application case, the bureau cited Cineplex’s quarterly and annual reports, which revealed that between June 23rd, 2022, and March 31st, 2023, the company generated over $385 million in revenue from combined box office sales and online booking fees. Of this amount, $17 million was derived from booking fees.

Image credit: Cineplex

Source: The Star, Cineplex

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