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?

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  1. arof on December 10, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I lived there for 6 months in 2011 and had countless visitors.

    When coming to NYC from Newark or JFK, there are efficient and affordable rail options to get into Manhattan. When travelling through LGA, it’s either a taxi, limo (although they’re not “authorized”, there’s a chance you can get a better deal with them as you can negotiate), or bus to subway. Since you were a first-timer, taxi is probably the best way.

    Best free thing to do in NYC: CENTRAL PARK!

  2. Ace junior ( on trip adviser) on December 10, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Big tip: stay on the weekend. Surprisingly hotel rates drop significantly on weekends as they are booked most during the week for business travelers-Wednesday being the most expensive – Sundays are typically up to 70 percent off the normal rate. Priceline is perfect and even look into sublets that are well reviewed, especially if traveling with families. You can get a 2 bedroom apartment cheaper then a hotel room if you research. Trip adviser is great for food, but if you sublet you will have a kitchen and knock out at least breakfast or get a hotel room with a fridge or free breakfasts ;)

  3. Barry C. on December 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I was in NYC 2 weeks ago and to save big on accommodations I booked via Airbnb. I was able to get an entire apartment that fit 4 people comfortably for half the price of a hotel room.

  4. nobleea on December 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I’ve been a few times and have stayed at the big apple hostel twice. it’s right around the corner from times square and they do have private rooms. came in very handy when we were there for new year’s.

  5. jay @ effumoney on December 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I live just outside NYC and commute there every day for work, so I always like hearing tourist’s opinions of the city and how they get around and enjoy it as it is so different then my perspective. I take for granted many of the benefits of the city like the museums, Broadway, central park, and the diversity and quality of the food. Then there are other things I have never done and others I only do when friends come in from out of town. For example I have never been to the Statue of Liberty or taken a double decker tour bus, I took the circle line once as a class field trip in 4th grade, I have only been to the top of the Empire State Building with out of town guests, yet I have had countless meetings in the building as I have an associate with an office there.

    As a local I avoid Time Square like the plague, it is great place to check out and there is lots to do, but due to the volume of people it is almost impossible to just cut through. I work on Madison Ave, one block from 5th Ave and all its shopping, during the holidays with everyone heading to Rockefeller Center for the Christmas Tree, the iconic stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s or Bergdorf Goodman and of course St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which pretty much means for lunch from Thanksgiving until New Year’s I can only head east if I don’t want half the day to lost to congestion.

    JFK offers flat rates to anywhere in Manhattan, I believe the current rate is $40 or $45, haven’t cabbed it in a while, cabs are the best way to get to city from the airports particularly with luggage, the busses and subways are just too inconvenient.

    As far as food goes, Yelp is the website/app of choice in NYC as they have the most accurate and local reviews, I have never even thought of TripAdvisor in NY as I am local, no local would even think of writing a review using TripAdvisor, so for local reviews use Yelp, for tourist reviews TripAdvisor might be ok. MenuPages is also a great resource with menus online with prices organized by neighborhood and cuisine. Use Seamless web to order food in your hotel room, almost every restaurant will deliver through them.

    As far as hotels in the city location is where the premium is charged so a big room in an inconvenient neighborhood will be a lot cheaper than a small room in the center of everything. I have gotten average size rooms for as little as $120 that are a good 10 minute walk from anything remotely interesting to a tourist or convenient subway and on the other side of the spectrum spent well over $500 for rooms that are barely large enough for the queen size bed in them but at the doorsteps of all the excitement. Then you can spend $1000 plus for rooms with all the extra’s that you could imagine for example the St. Regis hotel in the 50’s on the east side has a Bentley to drive its guest around the city. Boutique hotels with charm and history are always nicer than the national chains, but will generally cost more, but if you want a special trip finding the unique hotels add a certain flare the beats the Marriot or Sheraton experiences hand down.
    If anyone has any specific questions while planning a trip to the city let me know

  6. FT on December 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    @Nobleea, what do hostel rooms go for these days?

  7. nobleea on December 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Oh it’s been a while. I think it was $40pp for a hostel bed and maybe $160 per room for a private room? Looks like they’re doing renovations right now.

  8. Barry C, on December 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Big Apple Hostel was closed more than a year ago as I believe they did not have the permits.

  9. ace junior on December 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Agreed, with Jay, Yelp and menu pages is best for food, trip adviser good for hotel reviews. In fact if you inquire about an upgrade and mention trip adviser in some hotels you will get an upgrade. I’d never spend $160 for a hostle(yikes) when you can likely get a hotel room for around the same rate if you are good with priceline and hotwire. Most sublets (an entire apartment) range from 200 and up as well. Just be sure to read reviews as pictures can be deceiving. Airbnb is a relatively new site, with lots of apartments to sublet. There’s also woogo which I would stay away from (horrible customer service) East side is always cheaper than west. I stay in the city for work and live about an hour away, I mustve stayed in over 20 different hotels and a handfull of sublets. I’ve stayed in 4 star hotels for $100 a night. Boutique hotels are great also, again just look for deals and take your time. O yes, and be sure to check the bed bug registry!! You will be very surprised the fancy hotels are on there as well!

  10. Karen on January 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    I can’t believe nobody has mentioned NYC street food!!!! I have visited the city twice in 2012 (one trip for 5 days, the other for a long weekend) and I have never eaten my lunch in a blooming restaurant. Street food all the way. You can find whichever cuisine your heart desires and in most cases you can get your food and a beverage for well under $10. No need to wait for a table or for your server nor do you have to shell out money on tips. You are supporting small business and getting a true feel for how locals eat when you eat from a food truck or schwarma stand.

    I used Hotwire to book the first trip to NYC with my boyfriend. He was insistent on knowing the name of the hotel while I argued that little detail would cost us an extra $500 (at least) while we only planned to sleep and shower there. I also subscribed to Hotels.com and when I found a great deal for my 2nd trip, I had a coupon code to save an extra 10%. Stay off the beaten path of Times Square and try out Chinatown, Little Italy, East Village or Chelsea. You can be in Midtown within 15-20 mins via subway if you are checking out the shows or the pricier shopping. However I stuck to the Union Square for all of my retail therapy. When the city has Nordstrom Rack and DSW, why would you want to shop anywhere else??

  11. Allan Ward on January 23, 2013 at 1:52 am

    Some great ideas here that remind me of my NY trip in May 2007. I loved the flat taxi fare to the city. I used my Lonely Planet guidebook for some ideas about where to eat – didn’t have a smartphone back then!
    It is possible to get good value accommodation if you know what to do – you’ve got the right idea although I reckon I’d get a bit concerned if I left the booking until the last couple of weeks!

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