How We Can Save You Money
New York City, as everyone knows, is perpetually short on space and overflowing with people. It's a situation that turns the economy of supply and demand in the seller's favor, with vendors charging whatever the market will bear for goods and services. The result has been stratospheric prices, some of the highest in the country. If you're used to getting a simple, comfortable motel room for $60 or so, get set for a shock.
That's the bad news--but there's plenty of good news, too. You can stay in New York City comfortably, eat well, and see and do everything you want without blowing your budget. There are plenty of great deals in every category for the intrepid traveler who knows where to look for good value and discounts. And there are more travel and hotel bargains available than there have been in years--if you know where to look.
We've done the initial legwork for you, scouring the city from top to bottom and loading our guides and Web site with the best money-saving advice, the top values and bargains, and the kind of New York travel know-how that only comes with years of research and experience.
Accommodations will be your biggest hurdle, although visitors have regained their bargaining power in the post-9/11 world. Every other aspect of New York is manageable if you look before you leap, which is how regular New Yorkers manage. The city tends to snag people who, exhausted, sit down at the first restaurant they see and end up with a huge bill--or those who stumble into a chic boutique to buy a souvenir that can be had for a fraction of the price with a little effort. Keep an eye on the goal, and you'll see that New York has more affordable culinary and bargain hunters' delights than you'll have time to enjoy.
With average museum admissions hovering around 10 bucks a pop and guided bus tours starting at $30 for the basic look-see, you could spend a fortune on sightseeing and activities--but you don't have to. Start perusing these pages, and you'll soon find more to see and do for free and on the cheap than you could possibly squeeze into one vacation (or two or three or four). I'm not suggesting that you skip everything that has a price tag; certain New York experiences shouldn't be missed, money be damned. But read the pages that follow and you'll know what's worth your hard-earned dough--and what's not.
The New-York-From-$90-A-Day Premise
The idea is this: With good planning and a watchful eye, you can keep your basic daily costs--accommodations and three meals a day--down to as little as $90. This budget model works best for two adults traveling together who have at least $180 a day to work with and can share a double room. (Single rooms are much less cost-efficient.) This way, if you aim for accommodations costing around $120 for a double--a reasonable budget these days--you'll be left with about $30 per person per day for food (less drinks and tips). Snare a room for less--doable in this economic climate, especially in a less busy season or if you're willing to share a bathroom--and you'll have more left over from your $180-per-day budget for dining.
In defining this basic premise, we at Frommer's assume that you want to travel comfortably, probably with your own room rather than a hostel bunk (even if it does mean a shared bathroom), and dining on good food. Our money-saving formula will also serve you well even if you don't need to keep your two-person budget to a strict $180 a day, but you want to keep the tabs down and get the most for your money. It will, on the other side of the coin, also meet your needs if you want to travel on the ultracheap--for less than $90 a day--by camping out in clean hostels and eating as inexpensively as possible.
Sightseeing, transportation, and entertainment are all extra. But don't worry--I've got plenty of suggestions on how to keep those costs down, too. What you choose for entertainment will have a huge effect on your overall budget. If you go to nightclubs every night, you'll come home with a lighter wallet than if you spend time taking in free concerts or browsing galleries. If you seek top-name entertainment on Broadway or the cabaret circuit, you'll pay more than if you take a risk on tomorrow's stars at an Off-Broadway show or a no-cover bar. Only you know how much money you have to spend--but if you follow my advice, you'll be able to make informed decisions on what to see and do so that it's money well spent.
Even if you stick with freebies, the Big Apple guarantees a memorable time. After all, to the late, great Quentin Crisp, every flat surface in New York is a stage--and you're guaranteed a nonstop show.
Here are some tips to help you keep your travel costs down:
1. Buy a package deal. A package that includes transportation and hotel for one price might be the best bargain. In some cases, you'll get airfare, accommodations, and transportation to and from the airport, plus extras--maybe a sightseeing tour or restaurant and shopping discount coupons--for less than the cost of a hotel room alone had you booked it yourself. Click here for our recommendations for reliable package deal providers.
2. Order the discount-loaded Entertainment book. Each annual edition, which sells for $15 (or $25 in retail stores), is packed with discounts on hotel stays (including top hotels at 50% off the rack rate), dining (including many two-for-one deals), and attractions and entertainment. You can preview available discounts online. The coupons are good for the whole year, so you can use the book on multiple trips, or pass it on to friends visiting later in the year. To order, call 800/933-2605 or go to www.entertainment.com. Even if you don't buy it, visit the Web site; at press time, there were many discounts ranging from restaurants to attractions, free for the printing.
3. Buy a New York for Less guidebook. The big value in this guide ($19.95) is its discount card, which offers hundreds of discounts from 20% to 50% at restaurants, attractions (including the Empire State Building), shops, theaters, and nightspots. The card is good for up to four people for up to 8 days and comes with a handbook detailing the places that honor New York for Less. It even includes a phone card that gives you $8 in free calls. To order, call tel. 888/463-6753 or 937/846-1411; or visit www.for-less.com, where you can also view a list of participating establishments.
4. Check with NYC & Company for special offers. The city's Convention & Visitors Bureau has been keeping visitors apprised of special offers since tourism took a dip following September 11, 2001. They offer programs and deals, from savings cards for discounts at shops and attractions to package deals. There's no telling what will be on offer, but check for the latest at www.nycvisit.com.
5. Flash your AAA, AARP, military, senior, or student ID card. American Automobile Association membership is valuable for hotel and car-rental discounts, often in the neighborhood of 10%, but may also score savings on Gray Line bus tours, harbor cruises, and the like. Seniors and students will usually find a valid ID will snare reduced-rate admission to most attractions. Military and government folks should always ask about discounts; they can get as much as 40% off. Also check your corporate affiliations; a friend of mine who works at Kraft gets free admission to every cultural attraction that Philip Morris underwrites. The rule of thumb is to always ask.
When To Go
6. Choose your season carefully. How much you pay for your hotel room and airfare depends on the season. Prices can vary by hundreds of dollars in some cases, depending on the time of year. January to mid-April is the best season for bargains, with summer from June to mid-August being second best. Spring and fall are the busiest, most expensive seasons, as is the Christmas season, but negotiating a decent rate is possible, especially in spring. Budget-minded travelers should skip Christmas and New Year's. Thanksgiving is a bargain hunter's delight.
7. Plan ahead, be flexible. You'll likely pay a lot less than full fare if you buy a 7-, 14-, or 21-day advance-purchase ticket. If you stay over Saturday or travel on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, you'll likely save even more. You can often save by opting for connecting flights rather than nonstop. Sure, it's more time-consuming and can be a hassle, but if saving money is your top priority, this can be a way to do it. Airlines won't generally volunteer this information, so be sure to ask.
8. Always ask for the lowest fare. Yes, reservations and travel agents should take for granted that you want the lowest possible fare--but they don't always do so. Be sure to ask specifically for the lowest fare. As with every aspect of your trip, ask about discounts for groups, seniors, children, and students.
9. Consider all three airports when you're shopping. Fares can be markedly different depending on which airport you fly into--LaGuardia, JFK, or Newark--and none of them are that far from Manhattan. Continental, for instance, almost always has cheaper flights into Newark because it's one of its hubs; United is another airline that often has cheaper prices into Newark. Even though it's in New Jersey, Newark can be more convenient to your Manhattan destination than the other airports, especially now that the Newark AirTrain links the airport to midtown Manhattan.
10. Keep an eye out for airfare sales. Check newspapers for advertised discounts or call the airlines and ask if any special deals are available. You'll almost never see a sale during July and August or during the Thanksgiving or Christmas seasons, but in periods of low-volume travel, you should be able to get a cross-country flight for $400 or less.
The lowest-priced fares are often nonrefundable, require a Saturday-night stay, and carry penalties for changing dates of travel. So, when you're quoted a fare, know exactly what the restrictions are before you commit.
11. Try the discount carriers, too. Don't forget to check with the smaller, no-frills airlines including jetBlue, AirTran, and Southwest (which flies into Long Island's MacArthur Airport, about 50 miles/81km east of Manhattan).
12. Check for discounted fares with consolidators. Also known as "bucket shops," consolidators are a good place to find low fares, often below even the airlines' discounted rates. Basically, these companies buy airfare in bulk and pass some of the savings on to you. Before you pay, ask for a confirmation number and then call the airline to confirm your seat. Be prepared to book with a different consolidator--and there are many--if the airline can't confirm your reservation. Also be aware that consolidator tickets are usually nonrefundable or come with stiff cancellation penalties.
I've found great deals at Cheap Tickets (tel. 888/922-8849; www.cheaptickets.com); I almost always do better by calling than I do on their Web site. Council Travel (tel. 800/226-8624; www.counciltravel.com) and STA Travel (tel. 800/781-4040; www.statravel.com) cater to young travelers, but offer discount fares to people of all ages. The TravelHub (tel. 888/AIR-FARE; www.travelhub.com) represents nearly 1,000 travel agencies, many of whom offer consolidator and discount fares. Other reliable consolidators include 1-800-FLY-CHEAP (www.1800flycheap.com); TFI Tours International (tel. 800/745-8000 or 212/736-1140; www.lowestairprice.com), which serves as a clearinghouse for unused seats; and "rebators" like Travel Avenue (tel. 800/333-3335; www.travelavenue.com), which rebate part of their commissions to you.
13. Search the Internet for cheap fares. You can tap into the same databases once accessible only to travel agents through sites like Travelocity.com, Expedia.com, and Orbitz.com. You might also check out Qixo (www.qixo.com), another search engine that allows you to search for flights and accommodations from some 20 airline and travel-planning sites (such as Travelocity) at once.
Going straight to the source can be an excellent strategy, since the major carriers frequently offer "Internet only" sales on their Web sites. A fare can pop up today that wasn't available yesterday, and won't be around tomorrow. (I was able to snare a $195 round-trip fare between New York and Phoenix on Continental's Web site in early 2002.)
Or check megasites that compile comprehensive lists of last-minute specials, notably Smarter Living (www.smarterliving.com) and Web Flyer (www.webflyer.com). If you don't care who your carrier is, consider Priceline (www.priceline.com), which lets you "name your price" for airline tickets (as well as hotel rooms and rental cars). For airline tickets, you have to accept any flight between 6am and 10pm on the dates you've selected. Tickets are nonrefundable, and while they say no frequent-flier miles are awarded, we've been given them more than once.
A word of warning: Avoid online auctions. Sites that auction airline tickets and frequent-flier miles are the No. 1 perpetrators of Internet fraud, according to the National Consumers League.
Frommers.com: The Complete Travel Resource--For an excellent travel-planning resource, we highly recommend Frommers.com (www.frommers.com). We're a little biased, of course, but we guarantee that you'll find the travel tips, reviews, monthly vacation giveaways, and online-booking capabilities indispensable. Among the special features are our popular Message Boards, where Frommer's readers post queries and share advice (sometimes even our authors show up to answer questions); Frommers.com Newsletter, for the latest travel bargains and inside travel secrets; and Frommer's Destinations Section, where you'll get expert travel tips, hotel and dining recommendations, and advice on the sights to see for more than 3,000 destinations around the globe. When your research is done, the Online Reservation System takes you to Frommer's favorite sites for booking your vacation at affordable prices.
14. Sign up for e-mail notification of last-minute specials. Each week, airlines send subscribers a list of discounted flights, usually leaving that Friday or Saturday and returning the next Monday or Tuesday. You can sign up at each airline's Web site.
15. Know when sales start. You can often score the best online deal if you know when sales start, since last-minute deals may vanish in minutes. So, if you have a favorite booking site or airline, find out when last-minute deals are released to the public. (For example, Southwest's specials are posted every Tues at 12:01am Central.)
16. Book a seat on a charter flight. Most charter operators advertise and sell their seats through travel agents, thus making these local professionals your best source of information for available flights. Before deciding to take a charter, check the restrictions: You might be asked to purchase a package tour, pay in advance, be amenable to a change in departure date, fly on an airline you're not familiar with, and/or pay stiff penalties if you cancel--as well as be understanding if the charter doesn't fill and is canceled up to 10 days before departure. Summer charters fill up more quickly and are almost sure to fly, but if you go with one, consider cancellation and baggage insurance.
Other Transportation Options
17. Consider taking a train or bus instead of flying. Traveling by train or bus may be cheaper than flying. More importantly, even if the cost of your train ticket is the same as an airline ticket, train travel saves you money because you'll come into and out of Midtown without the additional cost of airport transfers. If you're as close to New York as Boston, Philly, or Washington, D.C., a train or bus can save time, now that Amtrak has added the new high-speed Acela trains. Your cheapest transportation method will always be the bus, but keep in mind that unless it's an express, it can take a lot of time.
18. Have a flexible schedule when booking train travel, and always ask for the lowest fare. When you're offered a fare, always ask if you can do better by traveling at different times or days. You can often save money by traveling at off-peak hours and on weekends. Don't forget to ask for discounts for kids, seniors, passengers with disabilities, military personnel, or anything else that you think might qualify you for a lower fare.
19. Keep an eye out for sales. Go to www.amtrak.com and click on "Rail Sale," where you'll find discounts of up to 90% on select routes. If you register your e-mail address, you'll be notified of sale fares as they happen. Keep in mind, though, that if you buy a rail sale ticket, it is not refundable and cannot be exchanged. While you're online, also check the "Savings & Promotions" page for a whole range of discounted and/or value-added deals.
Greyhound advertises sales at www.greyhound.com. They usually have a number of money-saving deals, ranging from "Friendly Fares" that let you travel for as little as $49 to free companion fares.
20. Make reservations as soon as possible. As with the airlines, discounts on buses and trains are often based on advanced purchase.
Getting Around New York City
21. Don't rent a car. Driving is a nightmare and parking is ridiculously expensive. It's much easier to use public transportation.
22. Take a bus or the subway from the airport. You have to allot a bit more time, but public transportation offers great savings over taxis and car services. A shuttle bus connects JFK Airport to the A train, which whisks you into the city for $1.50. The M60 bus comes into Manhattan from LaGuardia for the same price. (Note that a Metropolitan Transit Authority fare hike was being discussed at press time.) From Newark, convenient, affordable buses can drop you off around the city for around 10 bucks, and the new AirTrain connects the airport with Manhattan for just $11.15.
23. Use the subway and bus to get around the city. The transit system is probably the city's best bargain. It's safe, relatively clean, quick, efficient, and cheap. Use taxis only late at night, when trains and buses can be few and far between, or when traveling a short distance in a group of three or four, when the fare might be less than multiple subway or bus fares.
24. Buy a MetroCard. If you're going to be in the city for a few days, or you're traveling in a group (up to four people can use a MetroCard at any given time), buy a $15 pay-per-ride MetroCard, which will get you 11 rides for the price of 10, and allow you to transfer within a 2-hour period of each ride you use. If you're going to do a lot of running around, consider a $4 daily Fun Pass or a $17 7-Day MetroCard, each of which allows unlimited rides for the life of the card. There's one strong caveat, however: Every person has to have his or her own unlimited-use MetroCard; you can't double-up as you can with pay-per-ride MetroCards.
25. In the daytime, walk. No other American city is more welcoming or so rewarding to explore on foot. Walking will save you money--and work off all the meals you'll no doubt buy with the savings.
26. Stay uptown or downtown. The advantages of a Midtown location are overrated, especially when saving money is your object. Manhattan is a petite island, and the subway can whisk you anywhere in minutes. You'll get the best value by staying in the neighborhoods where real New Yorkers live, such as Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Murray Hill, or--my favorite neighborhood for space-seekers and bargain hunters--the Upper West Side. These are the neighborhoods where real New Yorkers hang out, too, so you won't want for good eats, nightlife, or Big Apple bustle.
27. Visit over a weekend. If your trip includes a weekend, you might save big. Business hotels tend to empty, and rooms that go for $300 or more Monday through Thursday can drop to as low as $150 or less once the execs have gone home. These deals are prevalent in the Financial District, but are often available in Midtown, too.
28. Watch for advertised discounts. Scan ads in the travel section of your Sunday paper, which can be an excellent source for up-to-the-minute hotel deals. Also check the back of the travel section of the Sunday New York Times, where the best weekend deals and other hotel bargains are usually listed.
29. Don't be afraid to bargain. Always ask for a lower price than the first one quoted. Most rack rates include commissions for travel agents, which many hotels will cut if you make your own reservations and haggle a bit. Ask whether a less-expensive room is available than the first one mentioned or if any special rates apply: corporate, student, military, seniors. Mention membership in AAA, AARP, frequent-flier programs, corporate or military organizations, or unions, which might entitle you to deals. The chains, such as Best Western and Comfort Inn, tend to be good about trying to save you money, but reservations agents often won't volunteer the information; you have to pull it out of them.
30. Dial direct. When booking a room in a chain hotel, call the hotel's local line, as well as the toll-free number, and see where you get the best deal. The clerk who runs the place is more likely to know about booking patterns and will often grant deep discounts in order to fill up.
31. Rely on a qualified professional. Certain hotels give travel agents discounts in exchange for steering business their way, so if you're shy about bargaining, an agent may be better equipped to negotiate discounts for you.
32. Shop online. New York hotels often offer "Internet-only" deals that can save you 10% to 20% over what you'd pay if you booked by telephone. Also, hotels often advertise all of their available weekend and other package deals on their Web sites.
Also try such booking engines as Travelocity.com, Expedia.com, and Orbitz.com. I've found that Expedia, in particular, sometimes offers excellent rates that cannot be booked elsewhere. Expedia will require you to pay up front, but you can usually cancel up to 72 hours in advance for a $25 fee. (Check the exact rules for your booking.)
Some of the discount reservations agencies (see tip 33) have sites that allow you to book online. American Automobile Association members may be able to score the best discounts by booking at www.aaa.com.
33. Investigate reservations services. These work like consolidators, buying up or reserving rooms in bulk, and then dealing them to customers at a profit. You can get 10% to 50% off; but remember, these discounts apply to rack rates, prices that people rarely end up paying. You may get a decent rate, but call the hotel directly to see if you can do better.
Start with Quikbook (tel. 800/789-9887 or 212/779-7666; www.quikbook.com), the best of the bunch since they book more than 100 hotels, require no prepayment, and allow you to make changes and cancellations (penalties depend on the hotel). Another good bet is Hotel ConXions (tel. 800/522-9991 or 212/840-8686; www.hotelconxions.com). Both Quikbook and Hotel ConXions have guaranteed room blocks in select properties, so they can sometimes get you into a hotel that's otherwise sold out. You might also try the Hotel Reservations Network, also known as HotelDiscount!com (tel. 800/364-0801; www.180096HOTEL.com or www.hoteldiscount.com), and Accommodations Express (tel. 800/950-4685; www.accommodationsexpress.com).
Important tips: Never just rely on a reservations service. Do a little homework; compare the rack rates to the discount rates to see what kind of deal you're getting. That way you'll know whether you're being offered a substantial savings. Always check the rate a reservations service offers you with the rate you can get directly from the hotel, which can be better. If you're being offered a stay in a hotel I haven't recommended, do more research to learn about it. It's not a deal if you end up at a dump.
34. Take a chance with Priceline. I admit it: I'm a little afraid of Priceline (www.priceline.com). But I have an aunt who travels constantly, and she won't book a hotel any other way. She's had great luck scoring luxury rooms for as little as $50 through their "name your price" program. If you're a gambler, Priceline can be a great way to win the budget war. You won't know the name of your hotel until it's bought and paid for, but you can choose your neighborhood and the class of hotel (from economy to deluxe), and Priceline guarantees that you'll stay in a nationally recognized, name-brand or independent hotel trusted for their quality, service, and amenities. Please write and let me know how it goes.
35. If you find a rate that seems like a good value, book it early. If somebody quotes you an attractive rate, don't assume it'll be waiting for you in a month, a week, or even a day. Occupancy rates have shot through the roof in New York these days, and everyone is on the lookout for a decent rate. As hotels fill up and the number of empty rooms goes down, rates go up.
36. If you find yourself without a room at the last minute, work it to your advantage. I never recommend coming to town without reservations; a convention or some other event can hit town and fill up the city's hotels. But if you find yourself without a room, you might be able to strike a bargain. As the hours progress, the hotel becomes more anxious to fill empty rooms and will lower the rate to get your business. I've seen desk clerks sell $179 rooms for $79. But remember--this is a risky way to go, because if the hotel is full, you're out of luck.
37. Be willing to share a bathroom. For the best bargains, do as the Europeans do: Share a hall bathroom with your fellow travelers. Usually there are two or three bathrooms to a floor, often with separate rooms for the toilet and the shower and/or tub so all the facilities aren't tied up at once. If you can wrap your mind around this idea, you can get a lot of bang for your buck. If you're on a tight budget, you'll be able to stay at a nicer hotel than if you insist on a private bathroom. Many rooms have private sinks, so you can brush your teeth or wash your face without leaving your room. A couple of very good bargain-rate places, the Chelsea Lodge and the Chelsea Pines Inn, have private in-room showers, so the only thing you have to share is the toilet.
38. Consider a suite. It sounds like the ultimate splurge, but if you're traveling with another couple or your family, a suite can be a bargain. They're always cheaper than two hotel rooms. The living room almost always features a sofa bed, and there's often a kitchenette where you can prepare coffee and light meals for yourself. Some places charge for extra guests beyond two; some don't.
39. If you're traveling with the kids, stay at a hotel that lets them stay for free. Most hotels add a surcharge--anywhere from $10 to $30 per night--for each extra person beyond two sharing a room, and that can add up. So if you're traveling with kids, choose a hotel that lets them stay free. Age limits for free kid stays can range from 10 to 18, so you might even be able to have your teens stay for free. Even if the hotel usually charges for kids, it might be willing to drop this extra charge to draw you in, so always ask.
40. Save on hotel tax by booking an apartment or home stay. Booking a hosted or unhosted apartment stay can save you dollars on taxes. These agencies are able to charge just 8 1/4% sales tax, as opposed to 13 1/4% plus $2 per night for a regular hotel room. Even better: Tax is often included in the rates quoted by booking agencies; thus, a $130 room is just $130, while a regular hotel will charge you $149.23 per night for a $130 room. A tax loophole eliminated entirely the tax on many 7-night or longer stays (which are classified as short-term leases rather than hotel stays). Be sure to get the specific rules for your rental at booking to avoid any surprises at bill time.
Frommer's Finds: Home Stay Sweet Home Stay--New York apartment or home stays can be a great way to go. They usually fall on the lower end of the price continuum and can range from spartan to splendid, and from a hosted bedroom in a private home to an unhosted, fully equipped apartment. No matter what, you can pretty much guarantee that you'll get more for your money than with a regular hotel room.
The city's best-kept accommodations secret is Homestay New York (tel. and fax 718/434-2071; www.homestayny.com). Lovely owner Helayne Wagner can book you into a private room with a family (including her own) that welcomes travelers. Homes are in residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, or Upper Manhattan, all within a half-hour of Midtown or downtown via subway or bus, and most are beautifully restored 19th- and early-20th-century houses. Not only can this save you money, it can be fun, too: Visitors are matched to hosts by age, interests, and occupation, and the hosts are more than happy to provide advice and assistance. You'll be the only in-house guest, so it's much like staying with a friend who delights in seeing you happy and enjoying the city.
Rates run $100 to $130 single or double, with shared or private bathroom depending on the home. Most rooms have TV, air-conditioning, and a small fridge, and towels are provided. Buffet breakfast is included; the price also often includes a welcome dinner, plus a farewell dinner if your stay lasts 5 or more days. Also included are free MetroCards and phone cards (values depend on the length of your stay), plus Broadway show information and discount coupons for live performances, comedy clubs, and other entertainment. In summer, guests staying 7 nights or more get a 3-hour evening cruise. With these extras, Homestay New York is an excellent value. Tax is included, which saves you an additional 13.25% plus $2 per night over what you'd pay in a hotel. Helayne also has access to theater discounts that you can't get on your own. A 3-night minimum is requested, and no credit cards are accepted. Children 3 and over are welcome.
A number of agencies can book you into a B&B room (hosted or unhosted) or a private apartment. The place to start is Manhattan Getaways (tel. 212/956-2010; www.manhattangetaways.com). Judith Glynn maintains a beautifully kept and managed network of bed-and-breakfast rooms (from $105 nightly) and unhosted apartments (from $145) around the city. There's a 3-night minimum, and credit cards are accepted. Another decent bet is A Hospitality Company (tel. 800/987-1235 or 212/965-1102; www.hospitalityco.com), with more than 300 apartments they own and manage around Manhattan starting at $115 a night, or $795 weekly for a basic studio. These are rather sparsely furnished apartments and the company offers little in the way of service (it took me 5 days to get my TV fixed when I was displaced from home by renovation), but the apartments are clean and do the trick. There's no minimum stay, and credit cards are accepted. Optional cleaning services are available for longer stays. Additional agencies that can book you into a B&B room or a private apartment, with prices starting at $90 nightly, include As You Like It (tel. 800/277-0413 or 212/695-0191; www.furnapts.com), Abode Apartment Rentals (tel. 800/835-8880 or 212/472-2000; www.abodenyc.com), CitySonnet (tel. 212/614-3034; www.citysonnet.com), Manhattan Lodgings (tel. 212/677-7616; www.manhattanlodgings.com), and New York Habitat (tel. 212/255-8018; www.nyhabitat.com).
Another advantage to booking a B&B or apartment accommodation is that taxes are lower, usually just 8 1/4% (as opposed to 13 1/4% plus $2 per night for a regular hotel room).
A few words of warning: If you go this route, keep in mind that you won't have the amenities that a hotel--even a budget hotel--can offer, such as maid service and tour planning. In fact, many accommodations called "B&Bs" don't even offer breakfast, so be sure to ask. You'll have a host on hand to offer personal assistance if you book through Homestay New York. I've received complaints about agencies that offer one thing and deliver another, so get all promises in writing and an exact total up front. Try to pay by credit card if possible, so you can dispute payment if the agency fails to live up to its promises.
41. Look into group or long-stay discounts. If you come as part of a group, you may be able to negotiate a bargain because the hotel can guarantee occupancy in a number of rooms. If you're planning a long stay (5-7 days or more), you might qualify for a discount, so be sure to ask.
42. If you're on a shoestring budget, book a hostel bed. You'll have no privacy--you'll share a room with fellow travelers and all facilities are common--but there's no arguing with the rate. The largest hostel in the Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels system houses travelers in bunk-bedded rooms for $29 to $35 per person per night. You'll save about $3 a night if you become an AYH member. Also consider the dorms at the Chelsea Star, the Chelsea International Hostel, Chelsea Center Hostel, the Big Apple Hostel, the East Village's Whitehouse Hotel of New York, Harlem's Park View Hostel and Sugar Hill International House, and the Central Park Hostel & Inn. For additional hostel possibilities, surf to The Hostel Handbook (www.hostelhandbook.com) and Hostels.com (www.hostels.com) on the Internet.
43. Try the Y. The Y isn't as cheap as hostel living, but the facilities are better. The YMCA of Greater New York (tel. 212/630-9600; www.ymcanyc.org) has eight residences throughout the city's five boroughs. You'll have a private room (some have private bathrooms) and access to the on-site fitness center--many feature state-of-the-art equipment, pools, and exercise classes--free. The Y is popular with families, older travelers, and singles. Contact the West Side YMCA, adjacent to Central Park at 5 W. 63rd St. (tel. 212/875-4100), and the Vanderbilt Y, 224 E. 47th St. (tel. 212/756-9600), as far in advance as possible, as these locations are popular. Manhattan locations are the most expensive, with prices starting around $80; if you can stay up in Harlem or in Brooklyn or Queens, nightly rates start as low as $40. For information, visit the Y's Web site (www.ymcanyc.org) and click on "Guest Rooms & Group Rates."
44. Dorm it. At Columbia University, International House, 500 Riverside Dr. on the Upper West Side (tel. 212/316-8436 or 212/316-8473; www.ihouse-nyc.org), offers dormitory-style accommodations in July and August, priced at $40 or $45 depending on your length of stay (up to 20 nights); you must be 18 or older to stay. International House has 11 guest rooms with private baths and maid service, ranging from $110 to $150 for up to four people. These are especially reasonable if there are three or four of you, or if you're traveling in the autumn, when everybody else is charging an arm and a leg. Book well ahead.
45. Make a spiritual connection. Fully outfitted and maid-serviced guest rooms are offered at Columbia's Union Theological Seminary (tel. 212/280-1313; www.uts.columbia.edu), for a pricey $130 to $175 per night.
More affordable accommodations are offered at The House of the Redeemer, a former Vanderbilt mansion on the elegant Upper East Side, just steps from Museum Mile, at 7 E. 95th St. (tel. 212/289-0399; www.houseoftheredeemer.org). This Episcopal worship center offers short-term accommodations (2-6 nights) to adult travelers of all faiths when groups are not in residence. Accommodations are $60 single, $75 double with hall bath, $100 double with private bath. Rooms are not available from late June to early September.
The Community of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopal monastic community of nuns, welcomes guests into their simple but neat private rooms (most with shared baths) at St. Hilda's House, 621 W. 113th St. (tel. 212/932-8098; www.chssisters.org). Rates are $65 single, $110 to $130 double, and $165 triple. Because this is a contemplative environment, it's best suited for visitors looking for the same. You are welcome to share meals with the sisters, but no meals are served and no guests are welcomed on Monday. Reserve well in advance, as these accommodations fill up early.
46. Do as little business as possible through the hotel. Any service the hotel offers will cost you dearly. You can find dry cleaners or other services in most areas of Manhattan. Find out before you dial whether your hotel imposes a surcharge on local or long-distance calls; it might be cheaper to use the pay phone in the lobby.
47. If you're driving into the city and will need to garage your car, check parking rates with the hotel before you book. Many hotels negotiate discounts at nearby garages. Choose a hotel that has a good rate, or you might end up paying a fortune for parking (negating any savings you've earned by booking a cheap hotel). Deals for Visitors with Wheels: Cheap Parking Tips
If you're driving and have to find somewhere to put your car, don't despair. Even under the best of circumstances, you'll probably pay more for parking in New York than in other cities, but it doesn't have to break the bank.
When planning your trip, try to pick a hotel that has a parking agreement with a nearby garage. This is common practice, and the rate that management has negotiated will be better than the rate you would pay on your own. Many hotels are able to negotiate daily rates between $15 and $25 in neighborhoods where the rate is anywhere from $25 to $50. In our accommodations listings, you'll see estimated parking rates in listing,. There are even two hotels, Travel Inn (515 W. 42nd St., tel. 800/869-4630, www.newyorkhotel.com) and the Skyline Hotel, (725 Tenth Ave, tel. 800/433-1982, www.skylinehotelny.com) that provide garage parking to guests for free.
If you have to find your own parking, your best bet is to choose a lot on the far west or far east fringes of Midtown, near the West Side Highway to the west or the FDR Drive to the east. You won't have easy access to your wheels, but you'll pay a much lower daily rate than you would in prime Midtown-probably between $15 and $20 as opposed to $25 to $50.
If you'd rather have your car closer at hand, Midtown west of Seventh Avenue is cheaper than more eastern Midtown areas (around $25 instead of $50, which is what you'll pay near Fifth or Sixth aves.). Residential Murray Hill is also cheaper than more commercial Midtown East, although garages near the East River can be supercheap, and a steal on weekends. At press time, a garage on 53rd Street between First and Second avenues offered a daily rate of $8 on weekends; look for similar weekend specials in deserted Lower Manhattan. If you're staying on the Upper West Side, you'll save a few dollars by garaging your car north of 96th Street.
If you drive into the city, garage your car and use it again only when you're ready to leave. Most city garages do not provide in-and-out privileges, so expect to pay a much higher rate if you use your car and return it later the same day.
Also remember that a steep parking garage tax of 18.25% is added to every parking bill, so factor that in to your calculations. See why I recommend that you just leave your car at home?
One last note: Despite the fact that some New Yorkers do it, don't try street parking. You don't know the arcane alternate-side-of-the-street regulations. You don't want to find out the price of parking violations or the Kafkaesque tragedy of liberating a car from the tow pound. And your car is sure to come home with a new dent or two if you leave it on the street. As expensive as garaging it may be, trust me-it's cheaper in the long run.
48. Book a room with a kitchenette. This allows you to eat some meals in. Even if you only prepare breakfast, you're bound to save money this way.
49. Stay at a hotel, guesthouse, or bed-and-breakfast that includes breakfast. And be sure to confirm that it's included before you book, because some city guesthouses keep rates down by not offering breakfast. Ask what's included; the offering will most likely be a limited continental breakfast.
50. Use any coupons you can get your hands on. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a free visitor's guide that includes coupons in the back. Even if you order one in advance, stop in at the local visitor centers, where the wall racks sometimes have coupons and advertisements for freebies, two-for-ones, and dining discounts. Also consider buying one or both of the discount/coupon books recommended in tips no. 2, 3, and 4 above. Before you leave home, check the deals offered through the Playbill Online Theatre Club (www.playbillclub.com), which often include a few dining discounts. If you use a dining discount coupon, remember to tip your waiter based on the full value of the meal; he's on a budget, too.
51. Eat ethnic. New York probably has the best collection of ethnic restaurants in the country, and the best offer first-class eats for low, low prices. Chinatown is always a good bet for top-quality meals for a pittance, as are the restaurants on East 6th Street east of Second Avenue, known as Little India. Jewish delis are first-rate in Manhattan--and the pile of pastrami can keep you fueled for days. New York's excellent selection of pizza parlors serves up bargains by the slice all over town.
52. During warm weather, picnic. New York is full of marvelous delis, greenmarkets, and gourmet groceries where you can assemble a delicious, affordable meal. The city is rich with parks that serve as great picnic spots: Battery Park, Bryant Park, and Union Square--and perhaps best of all, Central Park. If you don't feel like going through the hassle of assembling a picnic at a grocery, try takeout, which will save you the cost of the tip you'd leave if you ate in.
53. Eat street food. Although dirty-water hot dogs and pretzels still have their appeal, New York's street-food offerings have expanded considerably. You'll find vendors all over the city hawking soups, gyros, falafels, baked potatoes with a variety of toppings, fresh fruit, and more. The best vendors congregate in high-end business districts, such as around Rockefeller Center in Midtown (vendors often line up just off Sixth Ave.; 50th St. is a hot corner) and in the Financial District. Sixth Avenue is lined with plazas where you can enjoy your alfresco lunch, and Lower Manhattan offers a wealth of even more pleasant open spaces.
54. Order the prix-fixe special. Fixed-price specials that include appetizers, side dishes, and dessert (as well as beverages in some cases) will almost always get you more bang for your buck. Just one example: Diners willing to eat between 5 and 7pm can have three courses for just $14 at authentic French wine bar Le Pere Pinard. Also consider buffets like the great lunchtime one at Salaam Bombay.
55. Bring your own wine. This is a great way to save. Some restaurants, even those with their own wine lists, will let you bring your own if you call and ask. At press time, places that are BYOB as policy include Snack, the Zen Palate in Union Square, Afghan Kebab House, the Pink Tea Cup, and just about any restaurant in Little India; all of these places are happy to open your bottle and provide glasses. However, always call and ask in advance. (The only exception is Little India, where you can just arrive with a bottle or a six-pack and ask at the door.) If the answer is "no," be gracious and accept it. If the answer is "yes," ask whether a corkage fee is charged.
56. Buy a CityPass. CityPass may be New York's best sightseeing deal. Pay one price ($38, or $31 for kids 12-17) for admission to seven major attractions: The American Museum of Natural History (does not include Space Show); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the Empire State Building; the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art; MoMA QNS; and a 2-hour Circle Line cruise. If you purchased separate admission to each of these, you'd spend more than twice as much.
CityPass is not a coupon book. It contains actual tickets, so you can bypass ticket lines. This can save you hours, since sights like the Empire State Building often have lines of an hour or more.
CityPass is good for 9 days from the first time you use it. It's sold at all participating attractions and online at www.citypass.net. Your best bet is to buy it at the first attraction you visit, because online orders rack up service and shipping fees. Start sightseeing at an attraction that's likely to have the shortest admission line, like the Guggenheim or the Whitney, or arrive before opening to avoid a wait. A preorder may be the way to go, however, if that's not convenient for you or you're starting your sightseeing on a weekend or during holiday time, when even those museums can have ugly ticket lines.
Get more info by calling CityPass at tel. 707/256-0490. (CityPass is not sold over the phone.) The pricing and attraction list is confirmed through March 2003; call or check the Web site for updated information if your visit falls later in the year.
57. Take advantage of freebies. Many of the best things to do and see in Manhattan are free, from walking the Brooklyn Bridge to riding the Staten Island Ferry to exploring Central Park to attending TV show tapings. Additionally, some organizations offer walking tours at no charge. Many museums and attractions that charge admission have free or pay-as-you-wish programs 1 day or evening a week.
Value Tip for Teens: Museum & Entertainment Deals
High 5 Tickets to the Arts (tel. 212/HI5-TKTS; www.high5tix.org) makes theater and culture more accessible for kids between the ages of 13 and 18. Teens can buy tickets for select theatrical performances and events for $5 each for weekend performances, or $5 for two (for the teen and a guest of any age) for Monday through Thursday performances. High 5 also offers discounted museum passes at the wallet-friendly price of two for $5 (for the teen and a guest of any age). Check the Web site for details on obtaining theater or museum tickets, which can usually be purchased with proof of age at any New York City Ticketmaster outlet or online. Also check the High 5 Web site for listings of free and nearly free events going on while you and your teen are in town.
58. Ship major purchases home. If you're buying high-ticket items, you can often save on the 8.25% New York sales tax by having items shipped home. Depending on the laws of your state, you can pay a lesser tax or skip the duty completely.
59. Seek out sample sales. Garment designers and manufacturers often sell off their newest items (sometimes not even available in stores) for a song to raise quick cash. Time Out New York (www.timeoutny.com) lists current sample sales each week.
60. Do your homework and bargain on electronic equipment. You'll also notice a wealth of electronics stores throughout the Theater District, many trumpeting going out of business sales. These guys have been going out of business since the Stone Age. That's the bait and switch; these guys will suck you dry given half a chance. Trust me: The only way you'll do well is if you know your stuff. And play hard to get; I've seen prices tumble the closer I got to the door.
61. Always ask for a better price on anything used or vintage. It won't always work, but a lot of vintage, antiques, and collectibles dealers--even those with shops in high-rent districts such as SoHo and the Village--will drop their price if you're just savvy enough to ask. Always be polite, however, and don't push if you're told "no."
62. Buy discounted theater tickets through Playbill Online. Joining Playbill's Online Theater Club (www.playbillclub.com) can yield substantial savings on advance-purchase theater tickets for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, including some of the top draws (even Oklahoma!, at press time). Becoming a member is free; all you have to do is register, and you'll have access to discounts that can range from a few dollars to as much as 50% off regular prices. The club also offers its members deals at some nice hotels as well as a few dining discounts, and you can sign up to receive e-mail updates on new offers. Other sites that offer similar services are TheaterMania (www.theatermania.com) and Broadway.com (www.broadway.com), although the Broadway.com site wants a bit too much personal information for my taste. At TheaterMania, be sure to click on "Get the Insider Scoop" for instant discounts.
63. Buy discounted same-day tickets at the TKTS booth. If your heart is set on seeing a particular show, order your tickets before you come to the city. But if you're flexible, check out TKTS (www.tdf.org), which sells day-of-show tickets to plays on and Off-Broadway for 25% to 50% off face value, plus a $2.50 per-ticket service charge. In-the-know theatergoers skip the Theater District location for the far-less-crowded downtown booth, where you can also score matinee tickets a day in advance.
64. Take advantage of free events. Summertime is a great time to be in the city if you're a culture buff. Some of the city's top cultural organizations offer free outdoor events, from Shakespeare in the Park to the Metropolitan Opera.
But you don't have to wait until summer: Comb the listings in Time Out New York, New York magazine, the New Yorker, and the New York Times for free events ranging from dance performances to readings at Barnes & Noble. Or pick up a copy of Club freeTime, a monthly paper listing free events around Manhattan--usually 15 to 45 events per day, including movies, theater, dance, concerts, readings, and more. You can subscribe for $25 a year by calling tel. 212/545-8900, but there's no need to; there are short-term Internet subscriptions (1 week, $1.95; 1 month, $2.95; 3 months, $7.95) which score you the wealth of free listings, plus discounts to member events, including concerts and discussion groups. If you don't have Web access, you can pick up the current issue at many newsstands. Limited event listings and newsstand locations are online at www.clubfreetime.com.
65. Eschew high-priced, star performances for lesser-known, lower-priced surprises. Seeing the New York Philharmonic or a Broadway extravaganza is a must if you can afford it. But you'll save money--and maybe enjoy yourself more--by looking beyond the obvious. For instance, the nation's top music education institution, the Julliard School, offers a full slate of free and cheap events, from first-rate student concerts to lectures by celebrities of the performing-arts world. Smaller venues such as Bargemusic, the 92nd Street Y, and the Amato Opera Theatre offer intimate, only-in-New-York performances, sometimes by nationally known artists, at rock-bottom prices. Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater is usually significantly less expensive than Broadway, and the quality doesn't have to suffer one bit.
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