Online booking fees aren’t enough — Cineplex jacks ticket prices for Barbenheimer

Cineplex has been charging more for Barbie and Oppenheimer than other movies, depending on the theatre


If you saw Barbie or Oppenheimer in Canada over the weekend, you may have paid more than usual.

The Globe and Mail reports that Cineplex was adopting “variable” or “dynamic pricing” for these films, meaning it charged more for them than other titles due to increased demand. The so-called ‘Barbenheimer’ double-feature led to Cineplex’s biggest summer weekend to date.

As The Globe points out, Cineplex hiked general admission prices, not premium formats like IMAX, depending on the theatre. For example, Cineplex’s Yonge-Eglinton theatre in Toronto charged $14.50 for Barbie and Oppenheimer, versus $13.50 for Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning — Part One at the same location. However, another Toronto theatre, located in The Beaches, sold tickets for all three films for $12.99. Meanwhile, Barbie was priced at $15.50 at Vancouver’s Scotiabank Theatre, compared to $14.50 for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. 

In a statement to The Globe, a Cineplex spokesperson claimed “this is a practice that has been in place for a number of years; anticipated consumer demand is one of the factors considered when determining pricing, as well as location, a guest’s age, day of week and others.” They added that “there are no surprises and a guest is fully aware of what they are paying when they select their ticket type.”

Of course, one could argue that many people likely aren’t aware of this practice, especially if they don’t go to the movies often and may have only been going due to the whole “Barbenheimer” craze. It’s not as if Cineplex makes this information readily available. To that point, Cineplex doesn’t clearly list price breakdowns on its website, so users can only figure out exact costs upon checkout. Therefore, there is no clear frame of reference for whether tickets in one area of Toronto might cost more than those sold at another location in the city.

Cineplex’s lack of clearly listed ticket prices is actually a key point of contention in a lawsuit filed against the theatre chain by Canada’s Competition Bureau. Matthew Boswell, Canada’s commissioner of competition, argues that the company’s $1.50 online booking fee is “deceptive” since customers aren’t able to easily gauge the base cost of a ticket, to begin with. Cineplex claims that it doesn’t list prices because they vary depending on location and movie format and, therefore, an “interactive” approach — the checkout process — is required.

“Cineplex also glosses over the fact that when the price of a movie ticket is disclosed on the ‘tickets’ page, Cineplex does not actually adjust each price representation to show the full price,” added Boswell. “Rather it adds up the cost of each movie ticket and the cost of the online booking fee (which can be charged up to four times per transaction) all together, leaving it to consumers to figure out that the per-ticket cost has increased.”

The Globe adds that Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob told the publication last year the only “variable pricing” it does is with premium admissions like IMAX and Ultra AVX. “We haven’t gotten to the point where we have premium pricing because it’s ‘X’ product. We will look at that and do it if we see it works. But for us, it’s driven by the experience we’re offering you,” he claimed.

Of course, what Cineplex has done with Barbenheimer runs counter to that, so The Globe asked for clarification. In response, the Cineplex spokesperson said Jacob wasn’t referring to a single week of screenings but, rather, the entire run of a film.

“We currently apply the additional charge for a number of weeks on select high-demand films. When determining ticket price, additional factors considered include the duration it will run and the anticipation of the film’s success,” she said. “We do not include an upcharge on most films we show in our theatres.”

A reason as to why Cineplex is charging more for the same movie at different theatres wasn’t provided. That said, while Cineplex is Canada’s leading theatre chain with a roughly 75 percent market share, Landmark, the country’s second-largest exhibitor, also adopted variable pricing for Barbenheimer, reports The Globe. 

Image credit: Universal

Source: The Globe and Mail