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30+ New York MoneySaving tips

Bag cheap flights, hotels, shopping, Broadway tickets & more

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Megan F | Edited by Steve N

Updated October 2016

traveling to new york city

New York, New York – so good they named it twice. But if you're not careful, a trip to the Big Apple can cost a fistful of dollars at every turn – and with the pound now buying fewer bucks, it's more important than ever to stretch your budget.

Whether you plan to go or have already booked your trip, we've 34 tips to help – from dirt-cheap flights and how to save $100+ a night on your hotel, to a free cruise past the Statue of Liberty and bargain Broadway tickets.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please give us feedback and suggest improvements in the New York Tips forum thread. Thanks to all MoneySavers who shared their brilliant tips in the Everything and Anything New York City thread. Also see our 29 Paris MoneySaving Tips.

Grab bargain flights to New York for less than £300 (incl tax) – but you'll have to take the scenic route

traveling to new york city

If you're willing to stop over, flying indirect can slash hundreds off the price of your flight. It's sometimes possible to grab a return ticket for less than £300 if you swing by, say, Oslo or Iceland.

Never assume that searching for flights from A to B is the cheapest way. The trick is to be a little creative about the route and split the ticket – you just have to be willing to do the research (and flexibility over timing also helps).

For example, it can be cheaper to fly to the US from Oslo, and buy a single ticket to Oslo first. Check open-jaw tickets – where you fly into one airport but return to/from another. Buying multiple tickets for different legs of a journey can also sometimes work out cheaper.

Several staff members at MSE Towers have saved big with this trick, including former MSE Helen K:

'I flew to New York for £266 all-in'

My boyfriend and I always fancied a winter break in the Big Apple so when we heard about flights for less than £300 return, including a trip to Norway, we couldn't resist. 

We booked to go in Dec 2015 and paid £266 in total, flying from London to Oslo, Oslo to NYC then back to London. 

To get it so cheap, all we had to do was book a one-way flight to Oslo, then catch the flight to New York. It was easy to do and we got to see two cities in one trip.

Do make sure though you allow plenty of time to catch your flight to New York from the connecting airport. Most of the layovers are less than two hours.

Major New York flight loopholes and sales are included in the free weekly email. We've more on splitting tickets plus other flight cost-cutters in Cheap Flights.

Apply for an ESTA before you go – and never pay more than the $14 fee

Anyone from the UK arriving in the US by air or sea must fill out an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form in advance. The ESTA scheme checks whether you're eligible to travel to the States under the Visa Waiver Program. It costs $14.

The rules changed on 1 April 2016, meaning you must have an e–Passport to get an ESTA (any issued after 26 Oct 2006 should be). If you don't the cheapest option is to renew your passport. For more information see our e–passport tip.

Fill out the form on the official ESTA website – it takes about 20 minutes, and must be filled in at least 72 hours before you fly. Once you've done it, make sure you keep a note of your reference number somewhere safe, or better yet print the authorisation page. For full info see our ESTA for US Travel guide.

Warning! Watch out for shyster ESTA sites which pretend to be the official site and charge you an additional fee to process your application. Always use the official ESTA website.

Quick questions

How long does an ESTA last for?

What if I'm not eligible for an ESTA? Do I need a Visa?

Does an ESTA guarantee entry into the United States?

Hop on a free cruise past the Statue of Liberty

It's the defining sight to see in New York, if not the whole of the US. If you want to visit the Statue of Liberty, a ticket to Liberty Island, including ferry there and back, is around $20 per person, while a harbour tour's around $30. Yet a nifty trick lets you cruise right past the iconic landmark without paying a dime.

The free Staten Island Ferry, seen in Manhattan-based movies such as Sex and the City and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, runs between Staten Island and Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan 24 hours a day, seven days a week (there are two to four ferries an hour – see full info in the schedule).

It's primarily there to take Staten Island commuters to the city but its scenic route across New York's harbour is enjoyed by many savvy tourists too. You can't stay on for a round trip though – you have to re-board at the other end.

traveling to new york city

Pay with the right plastic to get the best rates for dollars, plus added protection on big buys

OK, so this isn't a specific New York tip, but it's one that needs to be high on your agenda if you're trying to make your dollars go that bit further, particularly with the pound having nosedived against the dollar recently. There's one way to spend abroad that smashes all others – using a specialist travel credit card.

Our usual top picks are the Creation Everyday* Mastercard and the Halifax Clarity* Mastercard as they're fee-free for spending and cash-withdrawals, and have low cash withdrawal interest rates.

But if you'll withdraw a lot of cash abroad, the Barclaycard Platinum* Visa has no exchange fees till 31 Aug 2018. It doesn't charge a cash-withdrawal fee (though some ATM providers themselves do add a charge) but also unusually doesn't charge interest on overseas cash-withdrawals, if you pay your bill IN FULL.

If you fail to repay these cards in full you'll be charged 12.9%, 18.9% and 11.9% rep APR on spending (more on cash) – see Top Travel Credit Cards (APR Examples). Plus we've a canny eligibility calculator, which leaves NO credit file mark and lets you see how likely you are to get 'em.

An added bonus is Section 75 protection for anything over £100 (about $150) which could be handy if you're picking up any overseas bargains or simply just booking your hotel. This vital law means your credit provider must take the same responsibility as a retailer if anything goes wrong.

For other options see our Travel Credit Cards guide, or if you want to take cash, use our TravelMoneyMax tool to ensure you get the best rates.

traveling to new york city

Central Park, Times Square and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – the top 10 FREE things to do in New York

Don't be fooled into thinking everything in the Big Apple costs you big bucks. With a bit of forward planning and local know-how you can ensure that more than a few stops on your itinerary are completely free (although there are a few where you might want to tip).

  1. All aboard to Grand Central Station. Take a stroll around this iconic landmark and soak up the hustle of one of the busiest railway stations in the country. Appreciate the architecture, try the famous Whispering Gallery and see where many a famous movie scene has been filmed.

  2. See Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans for free (or a small donation). New York is teeming with museums and you can visit many for free, at certain times and days. For example, the Museum of Modern Art, where Warhol's famous piece resides, is free on Fridays 4pm to 8pm. Others do 'pay what you wish' days.

  3. Watch a TV show being filmed. Fancy going behind the scenes of top shows? Programmes such as America's Got Talent, The Late Show and The Jerry Springer Show offer tickets – the NYC Guide and GoNYC have details. You can usually apply about a month in advance.

  4. Find a free concert, festival or play. There are heaps of events to choose from all over the city. Time Out lists some and there's also the free open theatre in Central Park.

  5. Grab a bevvy at the Brooklyn Brewery. Behind-the-scenes tours around one of the USA's largest craft breweries are free on Saturdays and Sundays.

  6. traveling to new york city
  7. Stroll around Central Park. This is perhaps the most famous of NYC's parks, where you can check out the famous boating lake and John Lennon's Strawberry Fields. There are others too, though – the High Line, built on a disused elevated rail-track, is one of the more unusual.

  8. Kayak down the Hudson. See New York in a completely different way with a free 20-minute kayak session from the Downtown Boathouse (May – October). It works on a first-come, first-served basis and they even do free lessons (although beginners are also fine to take a jaunt in a kayak) – tourists are welcome.

  9. Take a 'free' walking tour. Groups of up to six can wander through Soho, Chinatown and more with a resident guide from Big Apple Greeter (recommended by our forumites). There's a no tipping policy and it's best to book at least three to four weeks in advance. Or you could try Free Tours By Foot.

  10. Take a selfie at Times Square. While the famous square might be bursting with restaurants, shows and shops, you can just soak up the atmosphere and if you're lucky, maybe even catch a free concert.

  11. Walk the famous Brooklyn Bridge. The iconic suspension bridge links Manhattan to Brooklyn and has a wealth of history, as well as offering amazing views of the city.

Bag up to 50% off Broadway tickets – or book ahead for a specific show

Broadway shows are always a huge tourist draw, but you'll pay for the privilege. Pitch up on the night to see Wicked or the Phantom of the Opera, for example, and in the unlikely event you can find a ticket at all, you could end up paying anything from £65 to £170 ($80 to $210) a seat.

How to get tickets

If your heart's set on seeing a particular show, it's best to plan ahead. Tickets for the big shows tend to go on sale about six months in advance, and if you want a specific show you may need to book it from the UK. The New York Theatre Guide has a good FAQs section to get you started – About Travel also has tips.

Want the Broadway experience but don't have a particular show in mind? You can just turn up and try to score tickets for that day. The famous Times Square Ticket Booth offers up to 50% discounts – eg, Chicago tickets for $31. Queues can be long, so note there are also booths in South Street Seaport and downtown Brooklyn.

MSE Rosie took her theatre ticket MoneySaving to the extreme, and here are her tips:

'I queued in -4 degrees to save $100 on my tickets'

I always find the best way to get cheap Broadway tickets is using rush seats (the last few on–the–day seats theatres are trying to flog) and lotteries.

If you're happy to queue at the box office in the mornings (not always the best idea standing in -4 degrees at 7am) then many Broadway shows offer a limited number of cheap tickets – usually no more than $40.

I got two Color Purple tickets for $35 each, saving about $100. Plus if they sell out of these there are often standing tickets available afterwards at similar prices.

If you're feeling lucky, it can be fun to enter ticket lotteries in a draw at the box office a couple of hours before the show. Popular shows can have hundreds of people vying for these, but they're such a bargain (eg, $10 rather $500 for top-price premium seats) that it's often worth a punt. Many shows also have online lotteries.

The New York Times recommends Broadway for Broke People and Playbill to help find the rush and lottery ticket policies for each show. Some shows also have their own lotteries on their website.

Other options for your theatre fix

There's lots going on away from Broadway's bright lights, though don't always assume it'll be cheaper – prices range from $15 to $100+. Alternatively, a whole host of plays and shows are free of charge in New York's parks (although mainly during summer), where past cast members have included Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Denzel Washington.

Or, if you just fancy a musical moment or two, you could try Ellen's Stardust Diner. Broadway hopefuls mix performing with waitressing (some even do both at the same time) to entertain you while you eat – but remember the tip bucket will be making its way round.

Book midweek for $8 Yankees tickets

Sport, particularly baseball, is yet another thing New York is famous for, but don't get caught out and pay outrageous ticket prices at the famous Yankee Stadium.

Amazingly, we have found midweek tickets booked just a few days in advance on the New York Yankee ticket exchange (which allows fans to resell tickets) can be as low as $8.

traveling to new york city

Of course in some cases tickets can be be resold for more than face value, but if you are just after a seat (probably in the stadium's higher echelons) to soak up the atmosphere, there are bargains to be had. Some are instant tickets which are emailed as a PDF.

On the official Yankees site we were able to find tickets for about $18, including $5.80 booking fee, just a few days before. The Yankees Mastercard offers are also worth checking to see if you can grab $5 tickets (just make sure you're using the right plastic)

Naturally you'll have to book much further in advance for big games (and weekends are also much more popular), for which you'll also face higher ticket prices.

For sports fans there are heaps of other venues in the city where the same trick will work. Here are a few examples:

Book your insurance ASAP – and double-check it's a worldwide policy that covers the US

We can't stress this enough: make sure you've bought travel insurance as soon as you've booked your trip to New York, so you're protected if you have to cancel before you jet off.

Travel insurance is even more important than normal when visiting the US given the sky-high cost of medical bills if the worst happens. You'll need a worldwide policy that includes the US to ensure you're covered for a visit.

Double-check your policy covers the USA – some 'worldwide' policies don't.

See Cheap Travel Insurance for more info – we found single-trip cover (including US travel) from £14 and annual from £21. All worldwide policies featured in our guide include the US as a destination but others can add a premium so always check.

Tire the kids out seriously cool free playgrounds

There's a huge number of great – and entirely free – playgrounds in Manhattan. It seems like you're never more than five minutes from one, and they can be a great way to break up the sightseeing for kids.

Each park has something different to offer, whether it be the 45ft tall slide in Central Park (near 67th Street), or the dragon- and shark-themed play equipment on Staten Island.

Lots of the parks also have fountains to help keep the kids cool in summer, and some have free trikes and scooters to play on too (such as Bleecker Street).

The NYC Parks site has a comprehensive list broken down by area, and Time Out has picked out its top 25. Let us know if you've any other favourites in the New York guide discussion.

Don't forget to add the tax with eating out and (some) shopping

In the UK, the price you see is usually the price you'll pay, but in the States, taxes often aren't included. So to work out what you'll actually be charged, check if a price is with or without tax – sometimes mental arithmetic's required:

  • In restaurants and coffee and sandwich shops sales tax is 8.875%.

  • In shops, sales tax of 8.875% applies to many items, including cosmetics, computers and jewellery. (Many items of clothing and shoes costing less than $110 are exempt from the tax, though some aren't – see the full list.)

  • Food shopping in grocery stores isn't taxed.

  • When booking a hotel, always check that tax is included. Some comparison sites hide the true cost of a stay, and the first time you find out the true figure is at the hotel. The tax is 14.75%, plus $3.50 per night on top.

Quick question:

Can I get the tax refunded?

Don't automatically assume shopping's cheaper – but US brands can be bargains

Hitting the shops is a highlight of many people's trips to the Big Apple. There are bargains to be had, but make sure you compare prices before heading to the tills. After all, you don't want to lug booty thousands of miles across the Atlantic only to find you could have got it at more or less the same price around the corner.

traveling to new york city

For example, we found a Bobbi Brown foundation stick in the UK for £29.50, while at Bloomingdale's it was $44 (about £36). In some cases buying British brands in the US can even be more expensive – eg, a Barbour Carribena jacket's $479 (£390) in Bloomingdale's, and just £279 from a UK Barbour store.

Whereas US brands tend to be where the savings are (although the rubbish exchange rate may mean smaller savings than normal) eg, a custom fit Ralph Lauren shirt which was £75 on the UK site was $89.50 (£73) on the US site.

The really big savings tend to come with big-ticket electrical items. For example, a basic iPad Air 2 (Wi-Fi model) is $399 (£325) in the US compared to £379 in UK Apple stores (though you'll need a UK end for your charger and only certain models have 4G which'll work over here).

With these kind of products always research beforehand and make sure you ask for the specific model that will work in the UK (not all do).

If you're after something specific, have a quick look at the US sites of your favourite brands and shops to get a good guide-price, and don't forget to factor in tax and don't exceed your customs allowance. Also for anything electrical don't forget to check it'll work over here. Shopaholics may also want to consider a trip to New York's outlets.

Quick question:

What are my return rights if I'm buying in the US?

Entertain the kids all day for $12 a head – or pay what you wish

New York is crammed with museums and exhibitions. So it goes without saying that some of these are specifically geared towards kids – with exhibitions and hands-on projects ranging from clay moulding to sensory rooms.

Admission is usually around $12 (£10) for adults and children, which is about the same as a kid's cinema ticket. But parents tell us they can spend all day at the museums rather than just a couple of hours at the cinema.

Many of the museums also hold 'pay-what-you-wish' sessions lasting about two hours, so you could also pop in for a shorter time at a cheaper price.

Some of the most popular kids' museums include:

  • Children's Museum of the Arts. Admission is $12 each for adults and children, or there's pay-what-you-wish between 4pm and 6pm on Thursdays. CMA

  • Children's Museum of Manhattan. Admission is $12 each for adults and children, or there's a free event on the first Friday of the month. CMOM

  • American Museum of Natural History. Admission is $12.50 for children ($22 for adults) or you can pay less than the 'suggested donation' if you go to the admission desk. Its Rose Center for Earth and Space is recommended for children and is included in the admission price.

Time Out lists free museum days for kids and the aptly named Mommy Poppins site has some interesting information too.

Tipping is expected – so factor in the extra cost

Unlike in the UK, where tipping's generally regarded as a discretionary reward for good service, in New York it's pretty much a way of life.

Cabbies, bellhops and even bar staff all expect to be tipped. And while you're perfectly within your rights to say no, many workers in the hospitality industry are paid below minimum wage on the assumption tips make up the shortfall. There are even tales of non-tippers being confronted by disappointed staff.

Some restaurants and bars will automatically include the gratuity on the bill, and you might find some staff even explain the system to you (generally in very polite terms to show how it differs to the UK). Of course, amounts vary, but here's a rough guide:

  • Bartender – $1-$2 per drink or 15-20% if you're staying for a few

  • Bellhops and doormen – $1-$2

  • Housekeeping – $2 per day (maybe more depending on where you're staying)

  • Concierge – $5+, depending on the difficulty of your request

  • Taxi drivers – 15-20% of the fare

  • Tour guide – $5 (though if it's a small group it could be more)

  • Waiters – 15-20% (some prefer doubling the tax)

Because tipping's so ingrained in New York culture, you may find it handy to keep a stash of lower denomination dollar bills in easy reach. For more tipping tips, see this useful guide to New York tipping etiquette.

Getting from the airport to New York can cost as little as $8...

International flights to New York either land at JFK, which is about 20 miles from the city centre, or Newark International Airport, which is a bit further out. While it's tempting to just jump in a cab, that can easily cost $70+, which can get your visit off to a pricey start – instead, look at the alternatives:

Taking the train – $8 from JFK or $13 from Newark

  • From JFK, the AirTrain, which runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, costs about $5 one-way (under-fives free) to Jamaica or Howard Beach stations, and takes 50-75 minutes. It runs every 5-10 minutes at peak times, every 15-20 minutes at evenings and weekends. You'll have to swap to the subway at one of these stations, and it will cost a further $2.75 one way to get to the centre of Manhattan (a Metrocard's cheapest, up to three kids under 44" go free with an adult).

  • From Newark, the NJ Transit is $13 one-way for the 25-minute journey to Penn Station. Concession tickets (for children, senior citizens and people with a disability) are discounted by a few dollars – under-11s travel free. Trains run every 10-15 minutes (not between 2am and 5am). Leave an extra 15 minutes to take the AirTrain (included on your ticket) between terminals and Newark Airport Rail Station.

Forumite FarleyFlavors has found another option to get from Newark to Manhattan for around $5, by catching the NJ Transit 62 (exact change needed) to Newark Penn Station, and from there using the Path train to get to the city. The 62, however, has a baggage limit of two 22"x16"x8" bags per passenger, though FarleyFlavors says they are not too strict about this unless the bus is very busy.

A pre-booked bus or van – $18 from JFK or $15 from Newark

  • From JFK to Manhattan, for a shuttle van (the likes of which you might remember from Home Alone) you're looking at between $16 and $20 per passenger. They are often "shared rides" with up to 10 passengers per van, but you can just book one seat.
  • The NYC Airporter shuttle bus offers a $2 discount if you pre-book, so a return journey from JFK to Grand Central Station would be $34.
  • A shuttle bus from Newark to Manhattan is $16 one-way, $28 return.

... Or if you must take the famous yellow taxi, don't fall victim to the taxi touts

It's not the MoneySaving options, but for some visitors taking a yellow cab from the airport is a must – for speed, convenience, or simply to embrace the New York City vibe as soon as they land. If that's you, make sure you don't overpay.

When you exit the airport arrivals hall, beware taxi touts – we've heard stories of tourists being charged more than the prices they were originally told. Instead, head for the official taxi rank, which thankfully is well-signposted.

The cost of your journey will depend on which airport you're arriving at.

  • For trips from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan there's a $52 flat fare, plus you'll pay an 80 cent surcharge and rush hour $4.50 surcharge between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays, and any tolls (about $5) – with the expected tip too, you'll be looking at about $70 all-in. The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission has a breakdown of how other metered fares add up and relevant surcharges.

  • Taxis from Newark to Manhattan are metered, so the price can go up if there's heavy traffic or diversions. It's typically $50-$75, plus tolls and tips.

Use the subway Metrocard to roam the city for less than $5 a day

Don't let a fear of the unknown put you off trying the New York subway and bus system – it's by far the cheapest way to get around (other than walking of course).

To use it, you'll need a Metrocard (which is a plastic, swipeable card which can be topped up, a bit like an Oyster card in London). You can buy them at the subway or in local shops – they cost $1, and for a holiday there are two payment options:

  • Pay-per-ride. Paying as you go, each journey costs $2.75. You can top up between $5.50 and $80, and get an 11% bonus when you do (so if you top up $20 there'll be $22.20 on your card). You can use cards with pay-per-ride credit for up to four people per journey (just hand it to the person behind you to go through the barrier).

  • Seven-day unlimited. This pass costs $31 for the week, which means you can travel the entire city for less than $5 per day. It can only be used by one person, but if you're likely to make at least 13 journeys in a week, this is likely to be the cheaper option.

Metrocards work on the subway, buses and even Staten Island Railway (see where else it's accepted here).

And a big bonus is that the subway runs 24 hours a day (although not all station entrances are open all the time). The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) helpfully lists the subway stops nearest to popular attractions.

On the subway you put the card into the barrier and on buses you swipe your Metrocard at a box with the driver. The MTA's page on how to catch the bus might be worth a browse before you travel.

If you're lucky enough to be heading to back to New York, hold on to your card for your next trip.

Quick questions:

How much of the city does the subway cover?

How much is it for children or concessions?

Walking is the cheapest and probably best way to see the city

It goes with out saying that walking from A to B will always be the cheapest way to travel – and don't assume the Big Apple is too big for you to walk around.

The trick is to plan your itinerary so you're visiting attractions and landmarks in similar areas at the same time.

There may be some journeys where you choose not to walk – for example, if you're staying near Central Park then the financial district's quite a trek. But once you're there other sights such as the 911 Museum and St Paul's Chapel (the oldest church in Manhattan) are all close by.

The main advantage to walking is, of course, that you get to see a host of New York sights that you would otherwise miss if you were stuck on the subway or in the back of a cab. Plus you'll work up a good appetite to tackle those supersized portions.

Beware when renting Airbnb-type apartments in New York – many may be illegal

The ever-growing host of peer-to-peer rental sites – the best-known of which is Airbnb – are without doubt popular in the Big Apple. But while heaps of amazing-looking apartments appear in sites' listings, there's a key rule to bear in mind before you plump for one:

In New York state it is illegal for a landlord to rent out their home for less than 30 days if there are more than three apartments in his or her block – unless the landlord is staying in the apartment at the same time as you.

Unfortunately this means that the majority of apartments in New York city can't be rented out legally. The 2010 New York State Multiple Dwelling Law was created to protect the hotel industry, and hosts have been taken to court for it.

If you do still want to rent somewhere via a site like Airbnb, it's worth checking before booking if it's all legit. If not, there's always the risk that enforcement officials could come knocking, interrupting your holiday and potentially leaving you without a place to stay.

Worryingly, when we asked Airbnb about the level of help it would provide if this happened – and whether it would provide refunds – it refused to answer.

However it did say: "When hosts register on Airbnb, they must certify that they will comply with local rules before they list their space. We also have a hosting responsibilities page that reminds people to check their local laws and regulations."

Hotel rooms can cost an arm and a leg – but staying outside Manhattan could save you more $100 a night

traveling to new york city

Staying in the Big Apple can mean paying big bucks for hotels, but if you're willing to stay just outside Manhattan, you could save a small fortune. Long Island City in the Queens borough, for example, is just a short ride from the city centre and offers breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline.

How much is the difference? Well, when we tried booking two months ahead, a night in a king room for two people at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel close to Times Square cost $229 (£187).

A similar room with the same hotel chain in Long Island City, less than 20 minutes away on the subway, cost $159 (£130).

Another option is staying in Jersey City (about 30 minutes out of New York on public transport) – there the Holiday Inn is $126 (£103) a night, compared to its Times Square branch which is a whopping $263 (£214).

Wherever you choose to stay, it's fair to say your hotel will be one of the biggest outlays of your holiday and generally the further in advance you book the better the price you'll get. So as always, it's worth doing your research.

Time Out's neighbourhood guide is a good place to start for an overview of the areas, and our Cheap Hotels shows how to bag the best deal.

For really cheap lodging in Manhattan, hostels start at around $30 a night

If you're looking for rock-bottom accommodation prices you might want to consider the backpacker's favourite haunt – the hostel.

We found beds in a shared mixed dorm at a hostel close to Central Park for $39 (£32) a night when booking six months in advance for mid–December, with the price rising by just a few pounds booking three months in advance at another nearby hostel.

If you'd prefer a little more privacy, then a private room (with shared bathroom) at a hostel in Brooklyn comes in at about $67 (£55) a night including taxes – still likely to significantly undercut the price you'd pay for a hotel.

Of course, you need to make sure you don't end up in a dive, so do a bit of leg work online first and read the reviews – TripAdvisor's a good place to start.

A trip to an out-of-town outlet can save large on big brands

Manhattan's a Mecca for shopaholics, with Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue essential fixtures on many tourists' itineraries. But when it comes to actually buying things, you may be better off taking a trip out of town.

Outlets boasting scores of designer and branded shops, with supposedly hugely discounted prices of up to 65% off, are just a coach trip away. Here are a couple of options:

  • Jersey Gardens. With more than 200 stores including Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth and Abercrombie and Fitch, Jersey Gardens has the added advantage of being just over the state line in New Jersey, which means no sales tax on clothing. You can catch the New Jersey Transit 111 bus or the 115 – it's about 40 mins from the Port Authority Bus Terminal (close to Times Square) and buses run every 20 mins or so. Adult tickets are around $7 one way and concessions $3.20.

  • Woodbury Common. Here there are more than 220 stores including DKNY and Mulberry. It's more difficult to get to and takes about an hour but there are a host of bus companies that run return trips, starting at $30.

It's worth bearing in mind you can't see outlet stores' deals on their websites, so there's no way of knowing for sure what you'll find.

A free breakfast is never truly free – but a smorgasbord of cheap alternatives is on your doorstep

If you're staying at a hotel, you'll almost certainly be offered breakfast. Sometimes you'll have to pay for it separately (typically coffee and a pastry will be $5ish). But even if it's billed as 'free', remember the cost will ultimately be factored in to the overall price of your room.

You can always venture elsewhere to eat – every block's teaming with cafes, patisseries, takeaways and diners. So you'll never be short of choice, whether you're after loaded porridge, Belgium waffles, pancakes, or even cheesecake (seemingly every cafe claims to have the best in the city).

Time Out has a helpful list of cheap brunch options and New York Eater's list of 60 cheap eats might be good places to start for inspiration.

Also, don't forget portions are likely to be much bigger than you're used to – you might find there's no need for lunch if you've munched a hefty brunch, or that sharing is the way forward.

An attraction pass offers discounted entry to multiple sites – but it's only worth it if you're a really avid sightseer

If you're planning to hit lots of the big sights and attractions, you might want to consider an attraction pass. Among the best-known are:

  • The CityPass, which for $116 for an adult ($92 for a child) gives you entry to six attractions – the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art, plus a further three from these options: the Top of the Rock observatory deck or the the Guggenheim Museum; the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises; and the 9/11 Memorial or the Museum, or the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
  • The New York Pass, which allows you to choose between one and 10 days of sightseeing at 80+ attractions, including most of those listed above. Prices range from $109 to $319 (children's tickets are $89 to $191).

To make these worthwhile you'll need to really pack in the sightseeing though. Let's take the CityPass as an example.

If you were to visit the Empire State Building ($32 for a main deck ticket), Top of the Rock ($32), the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ($18) and the 9/11 Memorial Museum ($25) you'd be better off buying separate tickets – the total $107 cost is still slightly less than the CityPass.

It only becomes worth it if you throw in a couple more – let's say the American Museum of Natural History ($22) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art ($25 suggested donation), in which case the CityPass would save you $38 on separate tickets.

traveling to new york city

However, it is worth noting that the CityPass also gives you two visits to the Empire State Building – one during the day and the other after 8pm in the winter or 10pm in the summer. Some of the passes offer queue jumps and others also include bus tours – one or two even offer helicopter discounts.

You can normally buy these passes at the attractions themselves as well as online, though make sure you don't get caught out by any touts (you'll find it hard to walk down the block without being offered some sort of ticket).

Alternatively, if you have a Costco card, forumite Sequins4 found a £71 pass which allows you to choose four out of 51 places to visit, including the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock.

Book ahead for the Empire State Building and arrive early to beat the queues

Not only is the Empire State Building an iconic sight, it offers some pretty special sights as well, with breathtaking views stretching all the way to the Statue of Liberty and panoramic photo opportunities. So it's little wonder tourists flock to it.

Yet we've heard of some who've had to wait two hours just to buy tickets – and that's not counting the further queues for the lifts to actually take you to the viewing platform.

To beat the ticket office queues, book ahead – even once you've factored in the $2 booking fee, online tickets cost the same ($34) as tickets bought on the day, and you can use the tickets at any time (they're valid for one year).

Visiting between 8am (when it opens) and 11am is the best way to avoid long lines on the day – you should pretty much be able to walk straight through to the lift (or the, ahem, elevator).

There is queue jump ticket to skip the lines to the main deck – but it's a seriously pricey $28 per person on top.

Visiting in summer? Stay somewhere with air-con

The movies often show New York blanketed in snow, but summer in the city can be sweltering and humid (with temperatures often hitting 30 degrees between June and September).

While the majority of hotels, and even hostels, offer air-conditioning, it's always worth double-checking as you might want to pay a little more for somewhere that does.

Out and about, you'll find most other places in New York have air-conditioning, whether they be shops, restaurants or museums. Taxis and subway trains are air-conditioned, but not the stations themselves (a team of intrepid reporters even visited 100 of them to find the hottest).

Grab a free map to tour the city

While you may struggle to find a pop-up tourist map as brilliant as our good friend Joey Tribbiani's, it's a good idea to have at least a basic street and subway map.

Of course nowadays there are a wealth of apps with maps for tourists too (see NYC Go's round-up of New York ones), but make sure you know what they'll cost in terms of downloads and roaming fees.

A decent free alternative is the Navmii app, which cleverly turns your smartphone into a sat-nav using GPS. It works offline with pre-loaded maps and comes with a walking option – although while we've had positive feedback on the app generally, we've not heard much from those who've used it as a walking aid. (For more on the app see the 50+ Overseas Travel Tips guide).

Forumites also recommend the free Ulmon app which lets you drop pins onto maps, in this case of New York City, and use GPS to navigate between them. Just remember to turn your data off to ensure you don't inadvertently rack up any charges.

A good ol' fashioned paper map is always handy anyway, in case your battery runs out. You can grab 'em free from New York visitor centres and subway maps are also available at all stations.

Turn off mobile data roaming to avoid shock charges

If you're not careful, using the web abroad could rack up a bill of £100s or even £1,000s. Outside the EU, providers are free to charge what they like – some as much as £6/MB – so don't fall foul of this in New York.

The most sensible plan is to turn your phone off completely (or put it in 'airplane' mode) while you're overseas.

But if you do need your phone while travelling, Martin has put together 10 USA Roaming Tips, including how to get UK rates with a special Sim.

You'd be mad to hire a car in Manhattan – but you might want to consider one upstate

Anyone who has seen the legendary traffic jams in the city would quite rightly tell you you're better off walking, cabbing or taking the subway to get around. And that's before you even think about where to park the thing...

So while there are plenty of places to hire a car in New York, it's only really sensible to consider booking one if you're heading upstate or out of state.

Generally there doesn't seem to be much difference between hiring a car in central New York or straight from the airport. Booked a month in advance, both cost about £40 per day for an economy car, although we have seen prices drop to about £58 when we looked three months in advance, depending on dates.

But be warned, if you leave it too late (such as the day before) prices can be eye-watering – we've even seen some astonishing quotes of £1,000/day.

Our Cheap Car Hire guide has tons of cost-cutting tips, and always remember to check your rental policy for things like mileage, insurance, fuel and whether you can cross state borders.

Hit the beach – you can take the subway there

It might not be the first outing that springs to mind when planning a trip to New York, but there are beaches within easy reach of Manhattan (although they're now closed for swimming until May).

Perhaps one of the best known is Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk in Brooklyn (pictured below), which is less than one hour from central New York, and costs $2.75 to get to using the Metrocard – the subway stop you want is Stillwell Avenue.

There are three miles of sandy beach to enjoy – though it's a good idea to stick to the touristy area for safety.

The Luna Amusement Park borders the beach, but this can soon turn a cheap day trip into a pricey one – a four-hour unlimited-ride ticket costs $35 (£31), and that doesn't include the 'extreme thrill rides'.

Other popular beaches include Rockaway in Queens (which also has a surfing area) and the Franklin D Roosevelt Boardwalk on Staten Island (which you can combine with a free ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty). See the NYC Parks website for more options.

Bus tours can be pricey – but you could always make your own

Open-top bus tours are available at pretty much every tourist hotspot in the world, so it goes without saying New York is no exception.

But with some costing as much as $47 per day, they're not the cheapest way to get around. You can find the occasional discount on sites such as Travelzoo, but do read the terms carefully and check you're guaranteed availability on the dates you're in New York before parting with cash.

However the other, very MoneySaving alternative is simply to grab a map and make your own tour. New York buses generally stop every few blocks (unless they say 'limited' on them) so you're never going to be too far from where you need to be.

Also, as silly as it sounds, the MTA has put together a few tips on how to catch the bus which will help you blend in with true New Yorkers.

Quick question:

How much do tickets cost?

Don't get caught out at customs

Your duty-free allowance means you can bring up to £390 worth of goods (excluding alcohol and tobacco) home from the US, per person, without paying anything (as long as it's for personal use). If you go over this allowance though, you could face paying import duties and VAT on the whole amount.

If what you're bringing back exceeds the duty-free allowance you're expected to declare it at customs. If you are caught going over the limit or with any banned goods (including the obvious such as drugs and weapons, but also meat, dairy, potatoes and other food and plants), you may have to pay the tax or duty and give up the banned goods, and could face further penalties. has a breakdown of what you can bring into the UK if you're travelling from outside the EU.

Avoid sky-high prices for helicopter tours

OK, so a helicopter is never going to be a MoneySaving way to travel (particularly with prices easily reaching $300 for some tours). But many say it's an unforgettable way to see New York, so if you're determined to do it there are a few ways to chop down the cost.

Discount sites such as Travelzoo sometimes have offers starting from around $120 and many of the operators offer specials or discounts themselves. For this you would get a 15 to 20 minute tour of the city, with aerial views of landmarks such as the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Centre with a quick circle around the Statue of Liberty, and a framed photograph.

It is best to book as far in advance as possible, and watch out for any extra fees such as a $35 add-on for the heliport fee (which some sites include in their overall price and others add on). Do read the terms and check you're guaranteed availability on the dates you're visiting before parting with cash.

Some of the attraction passes also give discounts of around 15% to 20% so weigh up what works best for you.

Fancy a Manhattan? If you're under 21 it'll have to be a mocktail

They might speak the same language as us across the pond (more or less...), but don't be fooled into thinking everything else is the same.

Even though you're a tourist you will still be subject to New York state law, with one of the key differences being you have to be 21 to buy or drink alcohol in a public place.

If asked you'll need to be able to prove you're over 21 and so will need some form of ID to prove your date of birth.

The smoking law in New York is also very strict. There's a ban on lighting up in plazas (such as Times Square), almost all indoor places such as restaurants, bars and bowling alleys, on public transport, and outdoors such as in parks and even on beaches. The ban includes e-cigarettes as well.

Since 2013 you also have to be 21 to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes in New York City, so again you may need to show ID to prove your date of birth. In most other places in the USA the smoking age is still 18, but some areas such as Nassau on Long Island, a region in New York state, have raised it to 19.

Confusingly, in the US laws vary from state to state so if you do travel around the country, it's worth making sure you know what the rules are every time you cross a state line.

'They're always asking for ID – I'm nearly 55' & what to do if you fancy surfing – our forumites have it covered

Our forumites have long led the charge on New York MoneySaving tips and have literally posted thousands and thousands of hints, tip and tricks on our forum.

The latest thread, the aptly named Everything and Anything New York City, features posts on all of the above, plus a host of itinerary plans for all different lengths of stay and a wealth of experience.

Jump in – and if you've feedback on this guide, share it in the New York Guide thread.