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Will You Take the Senior Discount at the Movies?

Whether we speak up and ask for cheaper tickets says a lot about who we think we are

posted by Jane Gross, September 15, 2012 More by this author

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Jane Gross, a retired correspondent for The New York Times and the founder of its blog The New Old Age, is the author of A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves (Knopf 2011, Vintage 2012).


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The weekend box-office lines are long at the 12-screen All Westchester Saw Mill Multiplex Cinema in suburban New York, so I had a substantial audience when it was my turn to buy my ticket.
 
"One senior," I declared, almost defiantly saying it in a big voice, not a shame-faced whisper.
 
"Eight seventy-five," the gangly teen at the counter requested.

Senior prices and the ages of eligibility vary from theater to theater, so even though I just turned 65, I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s one of life’s small pleasures.

Savings That Add Up

Someone behind me in line that night said, "You don’t look like a senior." I smiled, flattered. That is the first of the pleasures that come with this exchange — the discussion of whether I look old enough. The official age for a discount ticket at the Saw Mill Multiplex happens to be 60 and few of us in this generation have dowager’s humps, need walkers or allow our hair to go gray at that age anyway. Still, I like to hear it.

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On our way to the theater, I had told my companion, who is 58, that I could ask for two senior tickets for us, or she could just ask for a discount ticket of her own. I have yet to see anyone "proofed" for a senior discount at a movie theatre. I wonder sometimes if they would challenge a 12-year-old who claimed to be "old" and worthy of a discount because of his venerable age or pensioner status.

If only it had been so easy to pretend to be 18 when I was a teenager and that was the drinking age. I was still being asked for my driver’s license, and being embarrassed by it, when I was in my mid-20s. Bartenders obviously take this age business a lot more seriously than the kids at the multiplex.
 
But my friend, schooled by nuns, chose honesty and forked over the full $11.25. That I saved a piddly $2.50 was my second pleasure of the night, even knowing that I couldn’t buy a gallon of gas, a "tall" latte or a bottle of aspirin with that sum. Still, as a movie junkie, these little savings add up. Thirty-five movies a year, a not outlandish number for me, would amount to $87.50 saved, still mostly symbolic, but why give away money you’re entitled to? Calculating backward to my 60th birthday, if I live to be 88, as my mother did, then I would end up saving $2,450 in all. Not enough to finance a long old age, but enough to cover an iPad, the repair of the dings on my car, a gym membership, a high-end bottle of single malt scotch and my dog’s much-needed teeth cleaning — five items on my current wish list.

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A random sample of theaters in the New York metropolitan area turned up savings as high as $4 per ticket and as low as $1.25. My Saw Mill Multiplex falls in the middle, except on Wednesdays, when senior tickets cost just $5.50, a savings of $5.75 per film — or $201.25 a year if I were to see all my movies there, and only on Wednesdays.

Who Wouldn't Take the Discount?

But no matter how generous or paltry the discounts, I always marvel at peers who are entitled to them but will not — emphatically will not — buy a senior movie ticket, as if by declining the offer they actually changed how old they were, or miraculously stopped the one clock that can’t be stopped. Hey, all of you self-deluding Manhattanites, paying $14 instead of $10.50 for a movie is not going to make you 40 when you’re really 64.
 
Some peers, when challenged about this vain or irrational behavior, tell me that they would never, in a million years, announce in a public place that they are over 60, or even over 55 if they were at one of the theaters that sets their senior-discount bar that low. They would not admit it in a voice loud enough for others to hear, not even pianissimo. Fair enough. But what about on the Internet, where so many of us buy our movie tickets anyway? Do you see those little boxes? Check the one that says Senior. Print your ticket in the privacy of your own home. Hand it to the usher. It looks exactly like everyone else's.

Small pleasures.