So if you are one of the few people that haven't yet seen the Harry Potter movie, don't despair. There is still time to order your tickets online and go see the movie (which I recommend, even if you have escaped reading any of the very fine books). I mention this not to be trendy and topical, but because three online sites have sold more than a million tickets to the flick, if not more by the time you read this essay.
The Hollywood trades are saying the movie has set all sorts of records, both for online advance sales and opening weekends and the like. Some theater operators, after monitoring the advance box office collected by their online ticketing agents, even added show times to accommodate the demand. Now that is the real magic! Imagine a business getting such great real-time purchasing information and being able to fulfill their customers wishes so easily. Too bad the airline industry can't step up to the plate and do something similar here, but I'll leave that for another time.
Moviefone.com is probably the best of the three online ticketing services and has the largest number of theaters that you can purchase tickets from (UA, Pacific, Mann and Loews chains are covered). It has been around the longest, and was an outgrowth of their 777-FILM telephone information system and sales business. It is fast, efficient, and the computer page layout is logical. They used to have a much more logical layout before they updated their site that followed the same menu prompts and structure of their phone service, but since AOL/Time Warner bought them they have made some "improvements." They also now charge a buck a ticket as a service fee when it used to be free for a while. That is a minor nuisance. You can set your location with a cookie so that every time you bring up their home page you can see your local theater listings, a nice touch.
Fandango.com is the second service. They cover Edwards, GC, Regal, Century and Loews chains. They also charge a buck a ticket for service. To set your local listings, you will need to register and login to the service and give them your email address prior to making any purchase. In my area of the country (suburban New York City), they have fewer theaters that you can buy tickets than Moviefone does.
Finally there is Movietickets.com. They cover AMC, national Amusements and some other Midwestern chains. What I liked about this site is that if they couldn't sell you a ticket at your local theater, they would bring up Moviefone's service and complete the transaction. That is smart. The service charge varies anywhere from 50 cents to a buck also.
When I first started using these services -- even before Harry flew into the movie theaters -- I was a bit hesitant. I would print out the ticket receipt or email receipt and bring it with me to the movie theater. But then I got used to the service. The nice thing about each of these is that if your local theater has a special kiosk for the service, and if the kiosk is working (both aren't foregone conclusions), you can avoid the long lines and get into the theater and into your seat in a New York minute. That is a nice feature, and one that will keep me coming back to these services, provided they don't continue to raise their fees to Ticketmaster-style levels in the future.
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