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Updated on Friday, February 2, 2018
It seems that all of a sudden all my friends got MoviePass, a subscription service that allows users to purchase one movie ticket per day for a flat monthly fee of less than $10. That’s cheaper than a single admission at some theaters!
I’m not a frequent moviegoer, but I was immediately sold, thinking it was a good deal even if it could get me through the awards season.
Three weeks in, I have to say, MoviePass is indeed a great deal when it works, but the service got me on edge when it didn’t work quite well: The app is glitchy, and its customer service is lacking — when there is any.
A rocky start
The first red flag popped up nine days after I joined MoviePass and paid my first-month subscription fee. I received an email from my MoviePass Concierge notifying me that my card should have arrived, but it hadn’t, and the company had provided me no shipping information.
The message included a link so I could report that I had not received my card — but it didn’t work. Three days later, I sent an inquiry asking about the shipping status of my card via the MoviePass app’s chat feature. I received no response. I then sent a ticket to its support center online. Silence. Meanwhile, I could not find a customer service line on the MoviePass website.
The MoviePass app, by the way, is slow and clumsy, and the GPS location finder doesn’t always work. It lets you check in for movies outside its allowed distance — 100 yards — from a theater.
My card finally arrived four days after the email said I should’ve received the card, to my excitement.
I scanned through the three-sentence instruction that came with the card, checked for available movies on the app and decided to go to a member theater, an AMC Loews in Manhattan, for the 6:15 p.m. showing of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
I didn’t notice the fine print below the check-in button saying I had to be within 100 yards of the theater to actually check in, but the app still allowed me to do so from my office, 0.4 miles away from the theater. No error message popped up.
When I arrived at the theater, my MoviePass, essentially a MasterCard debit card that’s supposed to be loaded with the money for a ticket upon checking in, didn’t go through at the kiosk. The message on the app was telling me I had already purchased a ticket that day.
That’s when the cashier told me I was supposed to swipe my card within 30 minutes after checking in on the app at the theater. The instructions I received with my card said nothing about the 30-minute time frame. Dumbfounded, I paid out of pocket for the ticket. The cashier assured me that if I contacted MoviePass, explaining the situation, they’d refund me for the ticket.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with MoviePass lately,” she shrugged. “You get what you paid for.”
Wait a minute. No, I didn’t get what I paid for — I had to pay out of pocket for a movie ticket, on top of my subscription.
Before the movie started, I contacted the support center via the app, attaching my receipt and screenshot of the message on the app. I also sent in an inquiry via email, to no avail.
At this point, I was worried I was involved in a scam, but I decided to give it a second chance. Before trying the service for the second time, I carefully read the detailed instructions on the MoviePass website.
This time around, my card went through at the kiosk at a different theater after I used the app to check in on the spot. I was thrilled. At the same time, I was frustrated with my MoviePass experience when I had run into trouble, and it turns out, I wasn’t the only one.
Why is it so glitchy?
I ran into a fellow MoviePass holder at the second movie theater, who asked if it was the first time I was using it. I replied, “First time using it the right way.” He then went on to complain that he’d never heard back from its tech support team when he reported an issue.
I later tested the app for a third time. Knowing that I shouldn’t be able to, I once again successfully checked in from my office at the movie theater 0.4 miles away. And when I tried to cancel the purchase, the app wouldn’t let me, despite the fact that MoviePass allows you to change your mind after checking in. Even more strangely, a different movie appeared in my movie-watching history than the one I’d actually picked.
Curious if these issues were widespread, I went to the MoviePass Facebook page and its support center page, only to find they were flooded with complaints from customers who also experienced late arrivals of cards, billing and technical issues and unresponsive customer service.
In an open letter to users in August, the company explained it had seen an overwhelming increase of members that month, when it dropped the monthly fee to $9.95 from $39.99.
“An unprecedented volume of traffic” caused its system to crash, the letter reads. The issues, in turn, significantly increased incoming inquiries for assistance.
Indeed, interest in the service skyrocketed since the price adjustment. The number of MoviePass subscribers reportedly jumped from about 20,000 in early 2017 to 1.5 million as of January.
In particular, MoviePass says its membership went from 1 million to 1.5 million in a month, from December to January, a result of the company’s partnership with Costco, whose members can get a yearly deal with MoviePass for $89.99. Gabriel, a MoviePass customer support member, told me this when I called the customer line for Costco members. (I am not a Costco member, but someone posted the number on Facebook so I tried it.)
Although MoviePass has tripled the number of its support staff over the past month, they still couldn’t keep up with the demand, Gabriel said. He wouldn’t provide his last name when I asked to interview him about the issues.
“We are really happy to have so many customers,” Gabriel told me after he finished handling my refund request. “Unfortunately we just don’t have enough people at this time, but we are hiring as fast as possible. We are doing everything we can to try to prevent that from happening in the future.”
How to correctly use MoviePass
It seems that it may take a while for the company to fully staff its customer support team. We put together a step-by-step user guide with important notes, hoping that you will avoid some common mistakes and make the most out of the service without having to contact MoviePass.
Step 1: Order a MoviePass card
Download the MoviePass app from the App Store or Google Play Store. You will be asked to enter your address and credit card information upon registration. You can also sign up for the membership online. MoviePass charges your first monthly subscription fee upfront. MoviePass says your card should arrive within five to seven business days. But based on my experience and the experiences others shared online, it could take longer.
Step 2: Activate the card
My card came activated, but you may need to activate yours when it arrives in the mail. Follow the steps listed here.
Step 3: Use the card
- Find showtimes in your area by entering your ZIP code on the app.
- Pick a theater where you want to see a particular movie.
- Go to the theater with your MoviePass card. Choose the showtime for the movie on the app. Click “CHECK IN” to buy your ticket.
- The screen then shows, “SUCCESS! Go purchase your ticket.”
If you accidentally picked the wrong movie or showing, click “Sold Out? Change Mind?” at the bottom. It didn’t work for me the first time I tried, but it allowed me to cancel a different purchase a few days later. Given my hit-and-miss experience, I’d advise you use the app with extra attention to details to make sure you get what you want.
- Swipe your card at the kiosk or a ticketing machine to purchase your ticket. Your MoviePass will be activated for 30 minutes for the purchase after you check in on the app, so don’t wait too long to buy your ticket.
A few things to note
- You can only see 2D movies with MoviePass.
- You can use MoviePass to see as many movies as you like in a month, but you can only see one per day. And you can only purchase a same-day ticket.
- You have to check in at the movie theater — you can’t book a ticket in advance at home. MoviePass may not work if you want to see a newly released box hit that may be sold out by the time you get to the movie theater. For big releases, you may have to arrive in the theater earlier to lock the ticket in for a later showing.
- Not every theater accepts MoviePass. The company claims MoviePass is accepted at more than 91% of theaters — more than 4,000 — nationwide. Check the theater map to make sure its service is available in your town before you sign up for it.
If you still have questions…
MoviePass recommends members use the real-time chat feature on the app or submit an email inquiry through its website. As I noted before, I had no success either way.
Head to the MoviePass Support Center online. On this page, the company lists answers to common-user questions.
Gabriel said the company hasn’t set up a direct service line open to all customers yet; it’s work-in-progress, but Costco users can call 1-855-336-3632 for help, which I used, despite not having a Costco membership. The call center greeting message says it’s a MoviePass customer service line, not a line specifically for Costco members.
When I called it a week after my first call, another customer service worker named Jason said MoviePass had disabled the number when subscriptions skyrocketed, because the call center wasn’t able to take care of the flooding inquiries. Although the number is not listed on the MoviePass website nor on the app, Jason said the team is indeed taking MoviePass subscribers’ questions as the company beefs up the staff. MoviePass did not respond to an email request from MagnifyMoney seeking to verify the number as an official customer service line.
My refund was processed immediately when I called in, to my surprise. (Disclosure: I explained I was working on an article about MoviePass after customer service resolved my personal issue.) To add another level of complexity, I initially received a refund of $0.15, instead of the $15.19 I paid for the ticket, which prompted another call to the MoviePass customer support center.
MoviePass expects its membership to rise. It better speed up the hiring process!