Cineplex is moving to devalue its Scene loyalty program, with big point increases to premium movie tickets set to take effect this fall.
Currently, Scene members can exchange 1,000 points for any tier of ticket, including regular admission, 3D films, IMAX, UltraAVX, D-Box and VIP. As of Nov. 4, the redemption costs on premium tickets will be going up between 50 and 100 per cent.
VIP tickets will require 2,000 Scene points while all other premium tickets will cost 1,500. Regular admission tickets will still require 1,000 points.
Ticket prices can differ across the country. In Toronto, adult VIP and IMAX admission generally has a cash value of $19.99, AVX and 3D are $15.99, D-Box are $20.99 and general admission are $12.99.
More than 6.6 million Canadians are Scene members, according to Cineplex. Aside from the basic loyalty card, the theatre chain has a partnership with Scotiabank where Visa card holders earn points at an accelerated rate.
The changes were first reported by users on RedFlagDeals in May, who were directed to a survey by Cineplex via email. The survey mentioned the changes and proposed several further modifications to the Scene loyalty program, including the possibility of members buying half-price tickets at the last minute.
On July 25, a forum user posted a photo of a handout obtained from a local Cineplex theatre, adding that “they probably had them out by accident since the URL on it doesn’t work yet.” (It does now.)
A number of forum users are upset about their points being devalued. Scene points are earned either through purchases at Cineplex theatres or the company’s website, or in the case of Scotiabank card holders, via all purchases.
“Canadian companies can never come up with a good idea, so they always cut back and provide less or meaningless value,” wrote one user. “Yet another example of mediocrity.”
“They really are greedy for doing this to loyal Scene members. I am very disappointed in Cineplex for this move,” wrote another.
Cineplex said the changes are the result of the chain offering many more premium ticket options than it did when the Scene program first started in 2007.
“We’re now in a position where we need to make changes to the Scene program,” said Pat Marshall, Cineplex’s vice-president of communications and investor relations.
“Some of our Scene members would not like there to be any changes, but we’ve also had a lot of feedback saying, ‘We’re surprised it’s taken you so long to make these changes.’”
Marshall added that some new offers for members based on feedback from earlier surveys will be forthcoming in September, although she would not elaborate.
Cineplex Entertainment chief executive Ellis Jacob said during an investor conference call in May that the Toronto-based company is in the process of studying how it prices tickets.
“It was cheaper to see a movie today than it was 10 years ago and that to me is something that we have been able to manage as a result of the premium offerings and our execution,” he said.
“But there is flexibility and we are also looking at other opportunities as to how we can get the best value from a pricing perspective and that is a study we have undertaken and we will continue to focus on it.”
Canada has no rules against the devaluation of loyalty programs, despite consumer groups urging the creation of regulations. In a 2013 report, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre noted that consumers have little recourse when a company devalues the points they have spent time and effort acquiring.
“PIAC is calling on policy makers to define ‘loyalty currency’ as a form of non-cash payment, with the intention of having loyalty currency enjoy protections similar to other forms of payment under the payments system in Canada,” the group said.
John Lawford, executive director of PIAC, said this week that little has changed since the report was issued.
“Retailers should brace for a backlash… The more people rely on these points and closer they are to value, the more an argument for lots of notice and some rules about convertibility sound sensible.”
The points devaluation comes on the heels of a recent move by Cineplex to shrink the size of its drink cups while keeping prices the same. The company said the nation-wide move is in response to customers’ desires for smaller sizes, and to prepare for Ontario’s Making Healthier Choices Act, which takes effect in 2017.
The new law doesn’t limit cup sizes, but will require food and beverage vendors todisplay health information such as calorie counts.
Marshall said the changes to Scene points and cup sizes are unrelated. “That was really a price increase and it was unfortunately not presented as such.”
Cineplex is also in the process of dealing with malfunctioning mobile apps that incorrectly display members’ Scene point totals. A representative said in June there was no timeline for fixing the issue. Marshall said a solution had been found but could not comment further.
Cineplex controls nearly 80% of the movie-going market in Canada, after acquisitions of rival operations from AMC in 2012 and Empire Theatres in 2013.