Why Redbox Isn’t As Cheap As You Think

Redbox has become a very popular option for renting movies at the low cost of $1.50 a night for DVDs and $2.00 a night for blu-rays (before tax). These rates are effective beginning December 2, 2014.

In fact, Redbox is pretty much the only way we rent movies now! We only rent movies when we are going to watch them later in the day and we always return them the very next day so we are only charged for one day. Even though we only keep the movie for one day there are additional expenses we really should consider when renting a movie from Redbox.

You Pay More Than Just the Rental Fee to Use Redbox

Most people consider the cost of a transaction as just the money that gets charged to their credit card or the money that comes out of their bank account. That is not the case though. You really need to consider all of the costs to complete the transaction from getting to the Redbox machine to getting the movie back.

Getting To and From Redbox

The biggest cost for us, other than the movie rental, is getting to and from Redbox. The closest Redbox is two miles from our house. They don’t always have the movie we want so sometimes we have to go four miles to the next nearest Redbox. Of course, we don’t just drive one way, you have to drive there and back so that means we drive 4 to 8 miles to rent each Redbox movie. We also have to return the Redbox rental which kicks us up to 8 to 16 miles driven for a one night Redbox movie rental.

Now that I know how far I have to drive to rent a Redbox movie I have to assign a cost to each mile. There are two main ways to do this in my opinion. The first is just fuel costs and the second is a fully loaded mileage rate that includes depreciation, maintenance items, insurance etc.

If I just want to use fuel cost I need to calculate how much money gas costs per mile. I know my car gets 30 miles to the gallon in the city and right now gas costs about $3.50 a gallon where I live. I take $3.50 and divide by 30 miles to get a cost of  11.7 cents per mile. So, for the nearest Redbox I pay $0.94 cents in gas for each one night rental and for the next closest Redbox I pay $1.87 in gas for each one night rental.

If I want to use a fully loaded mileage rate I defer to the IRS mileage reimbursement rate of 55.5 cents per mile. This is pretty close to accurate for most cars and just in case you were wondering you don’t make money off of mileage reimbursement. So for the nearest Redbox I pay $4.44 in vehicle costs and for the next nearest Redbox I pay $8.88 in vehicle costs if I use this method… ouch.

Redbox Doesn’t Seem so Cheap Now…

The total cost for a one night Redbox rental including gas or full vehicle charges varies anywhere from two to eight times the one night rental cost for me. Of course this assumes that you drive to and from the Redbox machine from your home to both pick up and return the rental and don’t run any other errands when you’re out.

There Is a Way to Avoid Gas Costs

You can avoid the gas costs and vehicle charges by simply picking the movie up when you are out running other errands. Depending on your situation it might make sense to hold on to the movie an extra night rather than making a special trip just to return it. These Redbox machines are actually close enough for us that we could ride our bikes there if we wanted to or take a walk. We normally drive though.

Will This Deter Me from Renting Redbox Movies?

Nope, not one bit! We normally only pick up movies when we’re on our way to or from somewhere. There are quite a few Redbox locations directly on my way to and from work and there are many locations on our way to many of the errands we normally run. After this analysis though we might hold on to a movie one more night rather than paying for gas to make a trip solely to return the movie.

Do you rent movies from Redbox? Had you ever thought to consider the gas and vehicle costs or do you only pick up movies when you are already out running errands?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. The nearest movie kiosk to us ins’t a redbox, it’s a blockbuster express, so maybe it’s a little different. But one of the best parts about it is that you can reserve a movie online. So you know when you leave the house that the movie you want will be there and you won’t have to traipse all over town checking the selection at multiple kiosks.
    It also helps that the kiosk is within walking distance to our house, so it really is a super cheap date night!

    • Ah I have seen one or two of those… You can reserve movies online with redbox too though.

    • For me it is cheap. Blockbuster is now 3 miles away from me. Redbox is just across the street. I use the post office (which is located inside the grocery store) daily and there is redbox machine also inside the store.

  2. I used to be a huge fan of Redbox (except the whole “returning the movie” part) because there are several kiosks within a few miles of my house. However, I realized that there were other costs associated with it – not just the gas, but the fact that I would usually pick up dinner at the same time because one kiosk is next to Subway and the other is close to McDonald’s. It became really easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just get food while I’m out.” Now I rent almost all of my movies through iTunes and my Apple TV; it costs $3.99 to rent most movies, but I don’t have to leave the house and I know I won’t spend extra money on junky fast food.

    • That can be killer. Glad you found what works for you. Even though you pay more for the movie you probably save in terms of overall spending.

  3. We rent from Redbox occasionally but I prefer Netflix. If we want a newer movie we might visit a Redbox but we have 2 within a 1 mile distance, so it’s really not that big of a hassle or additional cost to go get one.

  4. lol, it’s funny, I never thought about the gas charges. For my wife and me though, we usually get a redbox movie if we’re grocery shopping or at the pharmacy anyway. So it’s not an extra trip out (and we live where there’s TONS of redboxes around). So I think it’s not as big a deal for us. But it’s still cheaper than Blockbuster, right? Are they still in business even?

  5. I use Netflix or the book store. And the only reason I use the book store is I might get charged a little more but part is credited if I return them in one day. Which means I get a nice surprise the next time I go to rent a movie. (Very rare as I normally just use Netflix)

  6. I have Netflix and I usually get about three movies a month by mail and stream another 3 movies for the kids a month as well. I guess if you divide that by the 17 dollars a month fee it comes to 2.84 per movie. Which is much more expensive Redbox excluding travel costs. I just like the streaming aspect of it.

  7. Jason Clayton | frugal habits says:

    Nice thoughts on the gas costs. I rarely think of this when including it in the costs of renting from Redbox – although I usually take my bike if I’m just picking up a movie.

    Now a days with kids, we rent a good amount of movies from the library. It’s free and easy to find movies that are appropriate for my little girls.

    I see a lot of people use Netflix, can you find recent movies or is everything 6 months old, etc?

  8. Wow. Cool stats. I like the bike idea. Something like 90% of all trips under 2 miles people make using a car (don’t have the number handy, but I’m close). You’ll get exercise and avoid the driving expense. Double win!

  9. Personally I’ve never tried renting a movie from one of those movie kiosks. Really it’s been a number of years since I rented any movie and I grew up working in a video rental store. If I were to use one though I would combine it with a grocery shopping trip since the ones here all seem to be in grocery stores. I could actually even walk to one from my apartment.

  10. If you sign up with the redbox website and give you email and cell #, they will send you a code for a free movie every few weeks. You have use it that day, so it might not always be convenient, but it’s free!

  11. Good thinking!

    It gets even worse when you arrive at the kiosk and find the movie you want to rent is out. We have a double kiosk very close to us and when that happened to us three times in a row we simply stopped using them.

    We don’t watch more than one or two movies a month and we simply get them on Pay Per View. We get exactly what we want when we want, with no hassle, and not more than a couple of dollars an month extra.

  12. I just get all my dvds from the library. You can request them in advance and make only 1-2 trips a week and check them out/return them in bulk. The only cost is fuel and time, but I’d rather do that than daily rental fees or buying them.

  13. We have one in our normal grocery store, so we have to be there anyways. That being said, I’d rather rent a movie on my xbox. I get a free Gold subscription every now and then (i know people) and then get free points, so my rentals are free, and I don’t have to go anywhere.

  14. Justin @ The Family Finances says:

    We have Netflix streaming, and never use redbox. But if we did, we have so many of them on my commute to work that I would have no need to factor in the cost of transportation. I swear I drive by 10 of them every day.

    • I used to have netflix but their selection was awful for the types of things I’d want to watch. Plus I don’t want to have to pay for streaming and for the DVDs. I did like them when they first started out though.

  15. I don’t think I have rented a movie in years. I have discount movie tickets and I am selective which movies I see. I think I watch more shows recorded on my DVR. I am probably the exception!

  16. I haven’t rented from them in a while, mainly because whenever I go to one, it NEVER works. It’s really been making me angry haha. But when I do go up there, there are tons of them along the way and back from it, so it’s never too out of the way for me.

  17. I’d rather pay extra and rent off of “on demand” feature with our cable. Netflix seems like a good option as well, although I”ve never tried it.

  18. Nice analysis! The first time I used Redbox and got a movie for $1, I was hooked! Cancelled Netflix that same week (also during their whole price raise fiasco). Luckily, there’s one on my way home from work so the cost of gas thing doesn’t really apply. But good point that for others it may! Driving movies back is a pain in the butt. I’d go back to Netflix just for that reason, but they’re jerks….

    This whole thing won’t really matter in about 2 years when they finally allow new movies to be streamed digitally. Netflix was sorta on to that, but their “new movie” selection was really lame (last I remember).

  19. Advantage to be in a urban area is I can walk to a Redbox. You can also catch discounts or even free movies from Redbox is you sign up for their texting option or get their email spam.

    • We use their codes. Also you can use each code once per credit/debit card so we’ve gotten a ton of free movies with their free movie codes.

  20. …….If you’re that concerned with mileage cost, and this cost and that cost then don’t rent movies in the 1st place. If you factor in mileage cost for everything you do then everything cost more. For example: going to the bank-cost more to cash check or get money out, grocery store-cost more to buy food, going to do anything will cost more if you’re constantly aggonizing over the cost of mileage. Suggestion: walk or ride a bike !
    And for the movies, get NETFLIX !!!!!!!!!!!

  21. There are two redboxes less than a half a mile from so the gas problem isn’t an issue with me. Many times I just walk. A lot of people have redbox locations very close to them. The gas situation really wouldn’t be any different if you were renting from an actual video store where the prices are higher.

  22. Never thought of gas and vehicle costs it would take to rent Redbox movies because I’m always in the area of 3 food stores where Redboxes are located within walking or driving distance.

    A long time ago when film production companies Sony, Lorimar, MGM, and the like were cranking out movies, I used to rent at least 3-6 movies per weekend but in the past several yrs., there weren’t many movies that I wanted to see.

    I’ve rented cheap movies from Blockbuster that was within walking distance but it closed on Feb 4, 2013, and now their online movies/mo. go for $9.99 for 1 disc, $14.99 for 2 discs, and $19.99 for 3 discs. Never used Netflix because there were few movies that I was interested in plus I didn’t like the idea of it keeping credit card information. Paid $159/mo. for cable but had it disconnected. Not only did the cable company charge a month in advance, it charged hook-up, administrative fees, communication fees, and fees for this or that. In addition, I only looked at 7 of the many duplicated stations provided and the $159 didn’t include premium channels!

    Thank you so much for the information. Redbox sounds like it would be for me; this weekend I’ll see how it works out.

  23. Christoph says:

    I have a Redbox right where I work since I work at a grocery store. I do live 24 miles out of town so I only rent if I am working the next day so I can return it. Plus I always use codes and rarely pay for a movie. So far I haven’t this year paid 1c to Redbox yet.

    Plus usually I will rent more then 1 for free on the same day so my cost is a bit less if I only rented one at a time (if gas money were invovled)

    Last year I watched an average of 8 free movies a month and paid a total of $11.58 for the whole year.

    So far this year I watch an average of 20 movies a month for free. I really have no need for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Google Play, Redbox Instant. Since I can get all the latest releases for free from Redbox.

    • Very cool! Living so far away, even if you did rent for a day extra it’d be more than worth the $1.20+ than to pay gas to go return it if you weren’t headed into town for something else.

  24. lisagee1234 says:

    You can return the movie or game to any redbox, not just the one you rented from. I do NOT use them anymore as the last game my son got was so scratched his xbox could not read it. Then we took it back 1/2 hour later, and had to wait 3 days for the refund. I will NOT use them again at least for video games and in that respect for movies either.

  25. What I am truly sad about is that this is the only way for me to rent a movie. The last video store my town had shut down about a year ago.* I liked the idea of video stores because it gave people jobs and having a larger variety of movies to choose from. 🙁 I tried my best to support video stores when they were open.

    *About 3 to 4 years ago, there were 3 to 4 video stores in my town. Red box is partially to blame along with Net Flix. And I’ve heard that Net Flix has been cutting back quite a bit on their movie selection. At least I don’t have to have a subscription just to rent a movie, hopefully that will always be the case.

    • Video stores are almost all gone for sure. Unfortunately, the RedBox model is more efficient. There will always be a way to rent movies, but I do think eventually it will all be over computers or TV boxes. hopefully the price comes down though.

  26. Redbox kiosk days are numbered. They soon will be replaced by streaming. You can rent a new release on Google play for about $3.99. No need to spend money on gas to pick up and return movies. You can get movie instantly. So convenient and worth paying little extra.

    • If they could get the streaming cost down a bit it would definitely replace Redbox. Either people need to realize they’re spending more than they think going to Redbox or they’ll have to drop streaming prices.

  27. Jim Duncan says:

    For those looking to save money, don’t rule out your local library. Mine has thousands of DVDs to checkout and they always order so many of the new releases as they come out. I use Redbox too, but always search my library online to see if they have it first.

    • Libraries are definitely a great resource, especially for things like books and DVDs. Our library also has a pretty good selection, but it is pretty far away from our house so the gas and mileage on our car costs us more to go there vs redbox.

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