Cineplex VIP Cinemas: worth the cover charge?

Cineplex VIP mini logo

As I prepare my Cineplex Cinemas Lansdowne & VIP review, I have one main question: is the VIP cover charge worth it? During the weekend, VIP costs more than double the price of a traditional movie ticket. I’ve taken into consideration the many aspects of VIP Cinemas, and my review will look at the pros and cons of this format fairly. Until then, here is a summary of VIP, with a bonus commentary on Cineplex’s Prime Seats gimmick.

Landmark offers complimentary premium seating

Landmark RRR

Reserve Recline Relax is Landmark’s response to Prime Seats and VIP.

If you can’t beat them, don’t join them, but offer a premium experience at no extra cost. That’s Landmark’s philosophy with their new Reserve Recline Relax offering. Rather than offering all the bells and whistles of Cineplex VIP Cinemas, this theatre format focuses on just three aspects: the comfier sofa-like recliner seats, the ability to reserve seats in advance and the cozier setting with reduced audience sizes.

This concept is available at two Landmark Cinemas: the London 8 and the Country Hills 16. The latter has come a long way: it opened at a SilverCity in May 2000, was sold to Empire and renamed Studio 16 in September 2005 and sold to Landmark in October 2013. Prior to the seating upgrade, Mike Rivest reported that this theatre had an immense capacity of 3,932 seats, with an average of 246 per screen. With Reserve Recline Relax now fully implemented this spring 2016, Landmark now has a total of 1,770 seats. Of the 16 screens, half of them feature 69 seats each.

Some other Landmark Cinemas locations do not offer Reserve Recline Relax, but they do offer complimentary reserved seating. This is the case at Kingston and the first run West Kelowna locations for all seats and at the Surrey location for some seats. In addition, both Cineplex and Landmark also offer complimentary reserved seating on many of their premium movie experiences.

What about premium travel?

Cineplex’s decision to add a cover charge for VIP Cinemas is reminiscent of choosing business over economy class for a flight or train ride, even according to Cineplex management itself. Is this comparison really fair, however? Upon comparing two airlines for flights from Toronto to Ottawa, I discovered that Porter offers a $121 ticket that includes many amenities not offered by Air Canada’s $133 ticket: comfier seats with complimentary snacks, wine, beer, snacks, newspapers and lounge access. Given the complications that arise with airplane travel and the lack of other amenities such as reserved seats, however, I thought it was more appropriate see how VIP Cinemas fares compared to VIA Rail Business class. Tickets for the latter are $126 from Toronto to Montréal, about two and a half times pricier than an Escape ticket in Economy class. Both classes include a complimentary stopover in Ottawa. The table below compares VIP Cinemas to Business.

Comparison

Here is a summary table to compare the top 10 traditional, Reserve Recline Relax, VIP Cinemas and VIA Rail Business class amenities:

Traditional Reserve Recline Relax VIP Cinemas VIA Rail Business
Large screen yes yes yes N/A
Small audience no yes yes yes
Comfier seats no yes yes yes
Reserved seats $2 or 500 Scene [1] yes yes yes
Lounge access depends [2] no yes yes
In-seat service no no yes yes
Meal included no no no yes
Snacks included no no no yes
Wine included N/A N/A no yes
3D movies $3 fee $3 fee $0 fee N/A
Premium fee ($) N/A N/A $7.50 to $13 $42 to $158
Premium fee (%) N/A N/A 40% to 52% 53% to 60%

Notes

  1. Based on Prime Seats, available at all Cineplex in Ottawa (excluding StarCité Gatineau) and the Varsity location in Toronto. As stated in the previous paragraph, a few Landmark Cinemas locations offer complimentary reserved seating on traditional theatres.
  2. Only some theatres offer a licensed lounge, which can be accessed by any guest of legal drinking age.

Prime Seats: forget about it!

There is a gimmicky rip-off fee shown in the table above and it is the Prime Seats fee. The only “benefit” this offers, as the table shows, is a reserved seat in a traditional theatre. That’s it. These aren’t comfier seats like in the other categories, though Cineplex’s marketing sure gives the impression that Prime Seats is supposedly fancy. The truth is that Prime Seats 3D and UltraAVX 3D movie tickets cost the same, even on Tuesday. Why not simply buy UltraAVX 3D, with a 32% bigger screen and 4K projection compared to Cineplex’s traditional 2K theatres? Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane (2D) and The Jungle Book (3D) sure look stunning in UltraAVX.

Somewhat condescending, or an oversight at the very least, is the explanation Cineplex offers for Prime Seats. Pat Marshall, spokeswoman for the company, compares it to premium theatres and business class flights. I personally find that Air Canada and WestJet offer too little amenities with premium tickets, so I compared Cineplex and Landmark to VIA Rail Business instead. As can be clearly seen in the table, Business offers at least seven advantages unavailable with Prime Seats, so Marshall’s analogy is inapt.

Please do not fall for the hype. Prime Seats was conceived to cash in on sold-out movies like Star Wars. If all traditional seats are sold out, moviegoers wishing to watch a specific title will be forced to pony up another $2 or 500 Scene points for the remaining 21 to 30 or so seats. Instead of paying Cineplex’s “because we can” reservation fee, customers should vote with their wallet by either only purchasing traditional tickets or purchasing premium tickets (such as UltraAVX, IMAX or VIP Cinemas) that they believe are worth the money.

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