Reddit tried to reverse-engineer MoviePass’s peak pricing formula

Mondays and Tuesdays are now the best times to use MoviePass.
Mondays and Tuesdays are now the best times to use MoviePass.
Image: AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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MoviePass members have been wondering what to make of the movie-ticket subscription service’s new peak-pricing system since it was introduced earlier this month.

The company said it would begin charging fees to subscribers—who typically pay $9.95 per month for access to one movie showing per day—for tickets to popular titles and showtimes. But it didn’t clearly explain how the app determines what movies or showtimes it says are in “high demand,” how much members will have to pay to get into those showings, and exactly when peak pricing will roll out around the US.

Peak pricing aims to alleviate some of the company’s well-documented financial woes. Shares of MoviePass parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics were down 30% from a month ago at $0.10, as of Friday’s close.

A thriving subreddit dedicated to MoviePass is helping to shed light on how the peak-pricing policy is working in practice. The moderators are reverse engineering the peak-pricing model through a “megathread” that crowdsources users’ experiences. It’s been updated daily since July 12 to show whether peak pricing is in effect and where. The moderators have also been tracking the surging movies and times reported in the thread in this superb Google document.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the thread and the details provided by MoviePass in emails to customers and FAQs. Keep in mind, MoviePass is still testing peak pricing, so this could change at any time.

How does peak pricing work?

If you use MoviePass, you may have noticed that big releases like Ant-Man and the Wasp have been surging at all the theaters in a particular area during their first few weekends in theaters. That’s because MoviePass looks at the popularity of each film by region, not just by theater, when determining whether to impose peak pricing.

“We are not sharing details about the algorithm that determines the peak charge, but it is relative to the average cost of a ticket in individual markets,” Mitch Lowe, CEO of MoviePass, told Quartz in a statement.

How do you know when a movie is surging?

A gray lightning bolt appears next to showings that are approaching peak pricing. A red lightning bolt denotes those already experiencing peak pricing.

When does peaking pricing typically kick in?

Your best bet for avoiding peak pricing seems to be going to the theaters on a Monday or Tuesday, or a weekday before 6pm local time. If it’s convenient, you could also try getting your ticket at the theater earlier in the day before surge pricing kicks in.

(MoviePass members generally check in to showtimes via the app, and are given 30 minutes to buy those tickets at the box office using their MoviePass debit cards like they’d normally purchase a ticket. Tickets can only be ordered on the same day of the showing.)

Waiting a few weeks after a popular movie was released to see it during peak hours could work as well. But Redditors reported that The Incredibles 2 was surging at some theaters on Thursday night, and that movie was released more than a month ago.

Currently, you could get lucky at any time. At 6pm ET on Friday in Manhattan, no movies or showtimes were surging for this reporter. However, a colleague encountered peak pricing for some showtimes in Brooklyn.

What movies are surging?

Simply put, any movie could surge. Users have reported peak pricing on box-office toppers like Ant-Man and the Wasp, new releases like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and low-budget movies like Blumhouse’s Unfriended: Dark Web. It depends on what’s popular in a particular area.

When a movie playing at your local theater isn’t featured in the MoviePass app, members select the “Unlisted Showtime Option” in the app to get a ticket for that film. That option will usually be surging as well if there’s another title surging in the region.

How much does peak pricing cost?

So far, the additional fees to get into movies during peak times seem to be ranging from $2.29 a ticket to $5.84, based on the prices members posted to the Reddit thread. Prices fluctuate by movie and time of day. The MoviePass app displays the price you’ll have to pay after you select the showtime, and on the confirmation screen before you check in to the movie.

MoviePass said it will be introducing a “Peak Pass” in the coming weeks that will waive the peak fee once per month.

Members who paid for an annual MoviePass plan before peak pricing was introduced do not have to pay the additional fees, the company said.

Where is peak pricing rolling out?

Peak pricing is rolling out at theaters nationwide. Redditors in 43 US states, and Washington, DC, have reported experiencing it so far.

It doesn’t seem to have rolled out yet at theaters that offer e-ticketing, or online ticketing, via the MoviePass app, such as Landmark Theatres and Studio Movie Grill locations. MoviePass said in a video explaining the policy that peak pricing would eventually roll out for e-tickets, too.