Whether it's date night, catching up with friends or trying to entertain the kids, a trip to the movies is always a reliable night out. But if you really want to treat yourself, most cinema chains offer a 'gold class' experience, promising five-star service, comfy chairs and gourmet food and drinks.
But is the big price tag worth it?
We looked at prices across four cinema chains (Event, Dendy, Hoyts and Village) to find out which offers you the best bang for your buck when it comes to the first class movie experience.
When we compared prices for two people on a Saturday evening in various locations across Australia, we were surprised at some of the high costs, and the differences in price that depended on where you lived and which cinema chain you visited.
If you want the first-class experience without breaking the budget, check out our tips on how to save at luxury cinemas.
Best and worst premium cinema deals
Of the cinemas we compared, here are the best and worst deals:
- Cheapest premium cinema experience (2 x tickets plus booking fee) – Event Cinemas Australia Fair, Qld: $56.50 (with an honorable mention to Dendy Newtown, NSW where you'll pay just 50 cents more)
- Most expensive premium cinema experience (2 x tickets plus booking fee) – Village Cinemas Gold Class Jam Factory, Vic: $89
- Most expensive online booking fee – Village Cinemas Gold Class: $5 per ticket, a 400% increase on the regular ticket online booking fee
- Highest mark-up for a gold class ticket compared to a regular ticket (including booking fee) – Event Cinemas Australia Fair, Qld: a 164% increase on their standard ticket (however, they still have the cheapest tickets)
- Worst package deal – the Ultimate Gold Class package at Event Cinemas Australia Fair, Qld: At $155, you could save yourself $5 by separately ordering two tickets, two glasses of wine and five menu items.
Event Cinemas | Gold Class
Qld, NSW, SA and WA
A regular adult ticket at the Australia Fair cinema in Southport, Queensland will only cost $9.50 with an added online booking fee of $1.20. If you're in Bondi in NSW, you can expect to pay double that, at $20 per adult ticket plus the $1.20 booking fee. But if you really wanted to splurge on a luxury movie night at an Event Cinema, how much more would you be prepared to pay?
At Chermside in Queensland, the full 'Gold Class' experience with "wall to wall screens" and "fully reclining armchairs" will cost you $41, plus an extra $3.25 online booking fee. Take advantage of the waiter service and order a seafood platter to share, a bottle of house red, and a dessert tasting plate and your night will blow out to $246.50 (including tickets).
A cheaper option is the Ultimate Gold Class package deal, which costs $155 and includes two tickets, five small dishes, and two glasses of wine. But beware: a premium cinema experience comes with a premium booking fee.
Hoyts | Lux
Vic, NSW, SA and WA
A regular adult ticket will cost $20 plus $1.20 online booking fee at Broadway in Sydney; you'll pay a few dollars less at Salisbury, SA, where tickets are $18.50 plus a $1.20 booking fee. If you want to upgrade to a premium cinema experience at Broadway, a Lux ticket is $39 plus a $3 booking fee, where you can relax in reclining chairs and indulge in "gourmet" food and wine. The Broadway menu offers a range of cuisines; an order of croquettes, butter chicken, a jam donut sundae to share and a bottle of house wine plus two tickets will set you back $190.
Village | Gold Class
Vic, Tas and NSW
A regular ticket in Albury NSW will cost you $17.50 plus an online booking fee of $1 per ticket. If you live in Werribee, Victoria, you'll pay $20 plus the online booking fee. If you want to upgrade to Gold Class (only available in some cities), a ticket at Jam Factory in Melbourne will set you back $39.50, and they'll also add a sneaky $5 fee per ticket just to book online. Village says its premium cinema experience promises to provide guests with a "luxuriously intimate setting" and a "first class quality experience of film, food, beverages and service". An order of dips, baby back ribs, a chocolate brownie sundae, and a bottle of house red plus two tickets at Jam Factory will cost $186.
Dendy | Gold Lounge and Premium Lounge
A regular ticket at Dendy Newtown will cost $19.50 plus a $1 online booking fee per purchase. Upgrade to the Dendy lounge for $27 and a $1.50 booking fee. Dendy says its premium cinemas offer "a special and unique cinema experience", featuring extra-wide leather seats with footrests and personal tables.
Expect to pay even more for that unique experience in Canberra, where an adult ticket costs $39.50. Tickets for two along with arancini balls, a margherita pizza, a "chocolate indulgence" dessert for two, and the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back $169. The Newtown menu has less variety, but a margherita pizza, dumplings, a dessert board and bottle of wine along with two tickets will still set you back $126.
What others say
We asked our Facebook members to comment with some of their luxury cinema experiences. Here's what some of them had to say.
Kevin: "They can charge what they like of course, they are running a business, but I think I'd rather watch the movie in a cheap seat and then go out to a nice restaurant for the same money."
Brett: "I enjoyed it; if I had the money, I'd do it all the time. I was surprised one time because some people kept talking; it's a hell of an expensive place to go for a chat!"
Nadine: "The food and drinks are really ordinary and ridiculously overpriced. Charging high-end restaurant prices for drive-through quality food."
Most respondents thought the seats were comfortable, but the tickets and food were both overpriced.
We asked the cinemas why tickets and food are so pricey, but unfortunately all declined to comment.
Higher booking fees for 'gold class' experiences
Getting slugged with a booking fee has become the norm when booking tickets online, and the cinemas are no exception. Village says on its website that booking fees "cover the costs of administration, development and maintenance required on software", while the Hoyts website says booking fees are essential to provide a "priority service" that allows you to get the seat and session of your choice.
What the websites don't disclose is why premium cinema tickets attract a higher fee than a regular ticket. For example, when booking online with Hoyts, the booking fee is 150% more for a Lux ticket than for a regular ticket. With Village, the mark-up was even greater, at 400% more than the regular ticket booking fee. Dendy charged the lowest booking fee for its premium cinema tickets, at $1.50, but it's still 50% more than what you'd pay to book a regular ticket.
We asked each cinema chain why there's such a massive mark-up on booking fees for their luxury cinemas, but again, they declined to comment.
First-class cinema experience for less
Want the luxury cinema experience without blowing the budget? Here are some tips on how to make your money go further:
- As our sample shows, ticket prices vary from cinema to cinema – compare prices and value at all the luxury cinemas in your city.
- Eat before or after the movie if possible, as the price of food and drinks was the biggest gripe for our Facebook community.
- Look for cinemas that offer inclusions as part of the ticket cost. For example, at Hoyts Lux you'll get a small popcorn and soft drink with each ticket purchase. While it might not be the healthiest option, it could be just enough to stop you from spending up big on pricey menu options.
- If you're flexible with your viewing times, some cinemas offer lower prices for mid-week and off-peak sessions. At Dendy's Premium Lounge in Canberra, for example, you'll pay $10 less per ticket from Monday to Wednesday compared to weekends.
- Do the maths and work out if any value deals are worth it. For example, we found one Event cinema where a package deal combining tickets, food and wine came out more expensive than ordering the same items separately.
- Check whether membership to the cinema offers discounts on ticket prices, and make sure the discount at least covers any annual membership fee.
- If you're happy for an economy-class experience, we've got more tips for saving money at the movies.
A first-time fancy flicks experience
Natasha Patch rates her first Gold Class experience at Event Cinemas George Street in Sydney recently.
"I wasn't too sure what to expect given this was my first gold class cinema experience. The pre-cinema bar lounge was luxurious and comfortable. I ordered the 'Trainwreck' special which included a peach cocktail, two mini sliders, a side of arancini balls with dip, and parmesan fries. For $40 I thought it was a relatively good deal considering the cost of all the other menu items.
"The service was relatively good; the staff member who took my order was friendly and offered to 'customise' my cocktail (as I told him I wasn't a huge fan of bourbon.)
"The food arrived quickly and was arranged on a wooden board which I later tipped onto myself, spilling crumbs and salt flakes over my lap and probably into the crevices of the recliner, which is part of the peril of eating in the dark. The fries and arancini balls were tasty but the sliders left lots of room for improvement. The chicken patty tasted slightly rubbery, as though it had been heated in the microwave.
"The lounges were very comfortable and clean (prior to spilling my food). The two desserts arrived half way through the movie. The very small slice of Lindt dark salted caramel cake lived up to its expectations but for $19 was a rip off. The Spanish churros tasted like they'd been fried in old oil, accompanied with a small spoonful of chocolate fudge. I've had better elsewhere.
"Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first gold class experience; drinking cocktails, reclining, and eating hot food in a cinema was a novelty. The movie was exceptionally funny and I felt extremely relaxed (the alcohol and one hour Thai massage I had earlier that day may have attributed to this). That said, it came with a $220.50 price tag. For the same cost I would much rather buy a regular ticket and enjoy a gourmet meal at a fine dining restaurant."
- Meal: Average at best
- Experience: Enjoyable
- Value for money: No
- Would I go again: Yes, if someone else was paying.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.