A Story Proving “Free” Isn’t Always Worth It

by Travis Pizel · 16 comments

I love getting things for free, so I was excited when my wife said she’d won free movie tickets through a Facebook promotion by a local television station. The tickets were for a pre-release viewing of a comedy that wasn’t due to hit theaters for several weeks. Free tickets to an unreleased movie? Count me in!

Unfortunately, free isn’t always as awesome as it sounds.

There was a very important detail that wasn’t revealed until she received a follow-up email. Apparently, the television station wanted to ensure the theater was full, so they purposely overbooked the event. They suggested an early arrival to the theater, as the ticket handout was set to begin an hour and a half before the movie. Since ticket handout was at the time we normally eat dinner, my wife and I planned to show up, grab our tickets, and then have dinner at a nearby restaurant.

The Downside of Free

When we arrived, we discovered that “ticket handout” really meant wait in line until they opened the movie theater doors. So we stood in line for 45 minutes, then sat in the theater for another 45 minutes before the movie started. We became very hungry, so luckily the theater served some food.

Our quiet pre-movie dinner plans turned into scarfing down chicken strips and fries while standing in line.

At 7 pm sharp, the theater lights went down, and the movie started. Putting our mediocre dinner and long wait behind us, we settled in for some laughs — but the movie was horrible. It was a couple hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

You take a risk with every movie, and I accept that. But had I known we were going to wait around for an hour and a half, we would’ve made alternate dinner plans to make sure we at least got something good.

Instead, our free movie really meant shelling out close to $30 for lukewarm chicken strips and soggy French fries.

Have you ever received something for free, only to have it not be worth it?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Priswell says:

    Free ain’t what it used to be, so I’m cautious. Nowadays, in order to get that freebie, you have to give away your email address or other personal information that puts you on someone’s mailing or phone list that you can never get off of.

    Free can be good. Free apps, a free item to try here or there, etc., but I always tread through “free” cautiously.

    • Travis @Debtchronicles says:

      I had that happen to me at a RibFest recently. I signed up to win a free car….but what I really won was a telemarketing call from a vacation travel agency!

  • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

    Sorry to hear about your “free” experience Travis. At least next time you know to grab food before you get there. And if you are entrepreneurial enough, you might even want to buy more so you can sell them during the lineup (make sure you find out if this is even legal first though :))!

  • Alex @ Credit Card Xpo says:

    Waiting 1.5 hours for 2 free movie tickets (about $30 value in NYC) is not that bad, especially for a movie that hasn’t released yet which is somewhat hard to put a price tag on. Like you said, you probably wouldn’t be complaining if the movie or the food wasn’t so bad. =)

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Movie prices in the Midwest are a bit cheaper. But even if it was a $30, I think our time is generally worth more than that. 🙂

  • Naomi @ Rising Net Worth says:

    My goodness, what a waste of time! I hate to admit it but I’m a sucker for free stuff (only the free stuff in person, no email, address or other info involved) if I’m out somewhere and they are giving it away bet I’ll be there with hands outstretched. I think it has to do with the thrill of “free”, even if its complete crap somehow I still want a part of the action. You’d think I would’ve grown out of it by now… nope!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      FREE + the thrill of seeing something others can’t yet gives a person a feeling of exclusiveness. Had the movie been awesome, I probably wouldn’t be complaining at all. 🙂

  • Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans says:

    This has definitely happened to me before. In fact, the line into the movie was so long that my friends and I just decided to go and do something else!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      We got there early enough where the line was fairly long…but we knew we would definitely get in. If the line was much longer we had agreed to do exactly the same thing. It probably would have turned out better if we had, and just went somewhere nice for dinner. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa!

  • Prudence Debtfree says:

    Free stuff is often not very useful – it’s probably free for a reason – and it just clutters up a home for a period of time before getting tossed. I don’t get excited by offers of freebies – unless it’s good food : )

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Oh, I dunno, Prudence….I once found a grill for free by the side of the road. I used it for three years before it finally bit the dust. 🙂 You do have to be VERY careful about what you’re getting yourself into though.

  • Retired by 40 says:

    That’s ridiculous! I’ve heard of these prescreening things before. They promote them on facebook all the time. But, you’re right on point with what actually happens. You can sign up for the “free” tickets, but you have to wait in line for hours before the doors actually open and hope you got there soon enough to actually get a ticket. It says in in the fine print, but most people don’t read that. Doesn’t sound like a relaxing evening to me.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Well, the good news is, retired by 40, that any time spent with my wife is enjoyable (I know, I know…I’m sappy that way). 🙂 Next time we do something like this I’m definitely reading the fine print, and planning accordingly!

      • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

        Good attitude Travis! Any second spent with wife is time well spent for sure!!

      • Steve says:

        Yeah right. You could do anything else with her that would be better than that. I learned a long time ago. Nothing in life is free. We discard all the free vacation offers, free time share weekends, free cruises, and all else. We would rather pay for what we want then have to jump through the hoops they come with, as well as all the strings attached.

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