Netflix Raises Blu-ray Rates: Time to Switch to Blockbuster?

Buying a new movie on Blu-ray may be getting cheaper these days, but renting one is actually getting more expensive. Netflix has announced it's raising its Blu-ray surcharges, replacing the $1-a-month flat rate introduced last fall with a new tiered alternative. Translation: Your bill will go up by anywhere from $1 to $8 per month, depending on which plan you've chosen.

Thinking of jumping ship and switching over to Blockbuster? Read on to see if it'd be worth your while.

Netflix's New Blu-ray Plans

Artwork: Chip Taylor
First, how the Netflix Blu-ray change will affect you: Basically, the higher your monthly bill, the higher your Blu-ray fee will soon be. If you pay $13.99 a month for the two DVDs at a time plan, for example, you'll have to pay $3 a month extra for access to Blu-ray titles under the new system. On the other end of the spectrum, if you pay $47.99 for the eight DVDs at a time plan, your Blu-ray surcharge will jump to $9 a month. (You can find a full list of all the Netflix rate plans and how they'll be affected here.)

As for the reason driving the change, about 10 percent of Netflix users now rent Blu-ray discs, the company says, compared to what was described as a "very, very small, single-digit percentage" this time last year.

Customer Reaction

The equations may make sense, but that doesn't mean customers are happy with adjustment. The announcement on the official Netflix blog is already filled with irritated comments.

"I've been holding off investigating alternatives, but now that this price hike is going in, it's time to look at what else is out there," one user says. "Will my extra money guarantee that I won't wait days/weeks for a new release Blu-ray like I do now?" asks another.

Other commenters suggest the amount of titles available isn't high enough to warrant the change, noting that they often receive DVD even when requesting Blu-ray due to limited stock.

Should You Switch?

So, the big question: How do the adjusted costs stack up with Netflix's main competitor, Blockbuster? The simple answer is that it depends on how much you're renting. Blockbuster does automatically include Blu-ray access within its base prices. Still, in some cases, Netflix will remain cheaper -- even with the upcoming change.

Here's how the plans stack up. Note that Blockbuster has fewer plans than Netflix, so your specific Netflix plan may or may not have a direct comparison.

• 1 DVD at a time, limited to two per month, with Blu-ray

Netflix: $5.99

Blockbuster: $9.99

• 1 DVD at a time, unlimited per month, with Blu-ray

Netflix: $10.99

Blockbuster: $11.99

• 2 DVDs at a time, unlimited per month, with Blu-ray

Netflix: $16.99

Blockbuster: $16.99

• 3 DVDs at a time, unlimited per month, with Blu-ray

Netflix: $20.99

Blockbuster: $19.99

Update: Blockbuster also offers a second set of less widely advertised lower rates with which you do not receive the free in-store exchanges. Those rates are $3.99 for one DVD at a time/two per month, $8.99 for one DVD at a time/unlimited per month, and $13.99 for two DVDs at a time/unlimited per month. As with the set of plans mentioned above, each of these automatically includes access to Blu-ray titles.

To sum it up, if you rent one or two DVDs at a time, you'll end up paying either the same or more by switching to Blockbuster. If you're renting three DVDs at a time, though, Blockbuster will end up costing slightly less. Of course, this isn't taking into account the perks each company offers -- namely, online streaming from Netflix and free in-store exchanges with Blockbuster -- so be sure to consider those in your decision, too.

Netflix's new rates go into effect starting April 27. If you don't want to pay them, you'll need to go into your account settings and disable Blu-ray access before that date.

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

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