We recently had an opportunity to get away for a few days and visit one of the most populated cities in the U.S – New York City. This was our first time in the Big Apple, and what a time we had. We had expectations of a busy city with a few fun things to do, but it really did surpass our expectations.
What did we spend our time doing? We attended a couple Broadway shows, purchased Hop-on Hop off double-decker bus tours, and we did a a ton of walking to see some of the main sights. Some of the sights included the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, Empire State Building, Macy’s, NYC Public Library, Grand Central Station, China Town, and my personal favorite, Wall Street. Needless to say, our short trip was more of an adventure than a relaxing vacation.
Although NYC is considered a very expensive city, and it is, there are always ways to save money. Depending on where you live, getting a flight to New York may not be too onerous, but your wallet will get a lot of use once you arrive. What are some typical expenses? Hotel rooms are known to be very high relative to other cities especially in Times Square, top Broadway shows are not cheap, most of the main attractions have an entrance fee, and some restaurants can have inflated menu prices.
The Ride to/from the Airport
I can’t speak for all the airports in the area, but Laguardia (LGA) does not have fixed cab pricing to Manhattan. Our hotel was just outside the Times Square area which brought the total fare to be about $40 USD (including tolls but not including tip). Not a bad rate since there was two of us, but there are definitely cheaper options out there.
The one option I researched the most was The Airporter (another is Airport Express) which is basically a shuttle bus. The cost was $13 + tax (plus tip likely) each per direction, but that comes with some inconveniences as well. Basically, depending on where your hotel is, you can be on the bus for quite some time waiting for other passengers to be dropped off (about 1 hr bus ride). As well, some of these airport shuttles only go to the major bus terminals, and the closest one was about 5 minutes walk. Not a big deal normally, but a bit of an inconvenience with luggage. For our first visit to NYC, we thought a quick cab ride would serve us best.
One tip though if you decide to go with taxi. When you get the airport, make sure you stick with the yellow cabs. Once you leave the airport, outside, there will be a passenger lineup for licensed cabs. There are signs all over the airport to not accept rides from “drivers” who approach you inside the airport.
Getting a Deal on a Hotel Room
Hotel room pricing can vary widely, but a decent hotel (3.5 stars plus) usually goes for at least $200 + / night. Getting a nice hotel room in the $200/night range is considered a good deal. For NYC, generally speaking, the closer you are to Times Square (TS), the more expensive the hotel room is going to be. We stayed about 3 blocks outside of TS, but it was still very walkable.
How do you get a deal on a hotel? I like the same strategy that I described in how to get a deal on a car rental. Basically, check Hotwire for a few weeks prior to the trip. When you find a price that you are happy with, simply bid a few dollars lower/night through Priceline. This has worked for me a couple of times and has saved us a bundle.
Saving Money on Food
Besides personal finance, my second favorite topic has to be food! With over 3,500 restaurants in Manhattan alone, it’s a challenge for a traveler to stay hungry for any length of time (or not gain weight!).
What’s reassuring about restaurants within Manhattan is that most have letter “grades” in their front window signed off by the NY Health Department Food Inspection Agency. The scores range from A to C with A being the most sanitary. There are some restaurants with “pending” in the window which are for restaurants with a B or a C . These restaurants have the choice on whether to display the B or C card, or Pending (meaning they will be reviewed again at a later date).
How did we save money on food? Since we were new to the area, we stuck to the “A” restaurants. If we were simply walking around (which we did a lot of), we noticed that most restaurants have their menu (and prices) in their front window.
The best tip though for finding a highly rated restaurant that has relatively good value was given to me by a friend of mine, which we used extensively. That is to use the TripAdvisor app (I borrowed an iPod for the trip) which will give you all restaurants in the area filtered by your selection criteria. If it was lunch, and we wanted to keep costs low, the app would list highly rated restaurants (user reviews) in that price range. Believe it or not, you can eat very well on a budget, even in Times Square, if you are willing to do a little research.
In part two, I’m going to write about our experience with free stuff to do in NYC, getting around, Broadway shows, and tourist attractions! Stay tuned!
Have you ever been to NYC? What are your tips for saving money on hotel rooms and food?