Montreal man behind Cineplex 'drip pricing' class-action lawsuit

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A Montreal man who purchased a movie ticket online for a local Cineplex theatre is behind a new class-action lawsuit targeting the company for misleading advertising.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for anyone in Quebec who paid the company’s online booking fee while buying tickets online or through its mobile application.

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The suit argues the company uses distracting visuals during the checkout process to purposely obscure the additional fee.

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“This misleading marketing practice lures customers with an unattainably low purchase price, while concealing the ultimately higher final price,” reads the lawsuit, filed on Jan. 19.

In the lead plaintiff’s case, the man purchased a ticket online to see the movie Avatar: The Way of the Water at the Cineplex theatre in the old Montreal Forum building on Ste-Catherine St.

Though the ticket was listed at $22.50, he was charged $23.50 plus tax when the booking fee was included.

The lawsuit alleges that although Cineplex shows the fee during the check-out process, it does so in a deceptive way, including by using a smaller font size.

“The online checkout process … employs distracting visual features that include floating ribbons and urgency cues, such as a countdown timer, to hide the mandatory additional online booking fee,” the lawsuit says.

Screen grabs included with the lawsuit show that when a customer goes to purchase a ticket online, a banner pops up at the bottom of the webpage, hiding the information about the booking fee if they don’t scroll down.

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The lawsuit states Cineplex introduced the fee, usually $1.50 for those not part of a rewards program, in June 2022. Between then and April 2023, it adds, the company generated nearly $33.8 million in online booking fees alone.

The class-action request still needs to be authorized by a judge to move forward.

In an email response, a spokesperson for Cineplex Inc., based in Toronto, denied any wrongdoing on the company’s behalf.

“We are confident our online booking fee is not misleading and fully complies with the spirit and letter of the law,” the spokesperson wrote.

They noted that buying tickets online is an optional service that allows customers to select their seats.

“Cineplex’s guests also have the option of purchasing their tickets at their local theatre without paying this modest fee,” the spokesperson added. “All of this information is on our website in a clear and conspicuous manner.”

The class-action request comes after Canada’s Competition Bureau took aim at Cineplex over the same issue last year.

The bureau argued the online booking fee amounts to a practice known as “drip pricing”  —  when a product or service is offered at a certain price, but consumers must pay an additional fee to buy it.

“Recent amendments to the Competition Act explicitly recognize drip pricing of mandatory charges or fees as a harmful business practice,” the bureau said at the time, adding that it’s considered misleading under the law.

Beyond seeking reimbursement and punitive damages for customers, the class action is also calling on Cineplex to be ordered to change its practices around the fee.

The law firm behind the action, Slater Vecchio LLP, has also launched a similar suit in British Columbia.

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