New York On A Budget
Cheap flights, hotels & shopping tips
New York, New York – so good they named it twice. But if you're not careful, a trip to the Big Apple could cost a fistful of dollars at every turn. Whether you're planning to go or have already booked your trip, we've 35 tips to help – from dirt-cheap flights to a free cruise past the Statue of Liberty.
Important – there are restrictions on US travel
The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has devastated travel around the globe, and restrictions are still in place for travel to the USA. To help, we've been working flat out to answer your questions on travel insurance, cancelling and booking holidays, and much more. See our full guide on Coronavirus – your travel rights for the latest info.
In light of the current situation however, some of the tips below may no longer be up to date. We’ve left the info here for reference, and hope it will become relevant again in the not-too-distant future.
Let us know what you think. Please give us feedback 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 other destination guides to London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam and the Costa del Sol.
Grab bargain flights to New York for £200ish
In the past you had to stop over to nab flights to the Big Apple for less than £300, but recently there's been a price war. Budget airlines such as Norwegian and Icelandair now offer sub-£300 direct flights, so traditional airlines (eg, Virgin Atlantic) have lowered their prices to keep up.
This is good news for travellers to NYC, as it's possible to get direct flights for as little as £200ish, if you know how to find 'em. Here are our top tips:
- Sign up for price alerts. Comparison sites Kayak*, Skyscanner* and Momondo* are a great starting point for finding the cheapest flight price. They also all offer email alerts if your chosen route drops in price.
Simply search for the route and dates you're after, and there will be an option to track prices on the left-hand side of your search results.
Momondo* also offers flight insight data, which helps give a good idea of the cheapest months, times and dates to fly, plus the cheapest routes.
- Use a bargain-flight finder. It's also worth signing up to Jack's Flight Club, a bargain-flight finder, which emails out deals on flights around the world. In the past this has included returns to New York from London for £208, and from Manchester for £214. Its basic service is free, though it also has a premium service which sends out more deals.
For more tips and tricks for finding a bargain, see our Cheap Flights guide.
- Sign up for price alerts. Comparison sites Kayak*, Skyscanner* and Momondo* are a great starting point for finding the cheapest flight price. They also all offer email alerts if your chosen route drops in price.
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.
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.
As the name suggests, the Visa Waiver Program means most UK citizens do not need a visa to visit the US, so long as they don't stay for more than 90 days and are on holiday or business. The Foreign Office has more information about whether you qualify.
Travellers denied an ESTA should apply for a non-immigrant visa at a US Embassy (they'll still have to pay a $4 admin fee for the failed application). Visit the US Department of State website for more info on visas.
No. Even if you successfully apply for an ESTA, this only means you're 'eligible to travel'. It's the US Customs and Border Protection officer at passport control who will ultimately decide if you can enter the country. But in practice don't let this put you off – there are very few horror stories.
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 can cost around $30 - including ferry there and back and access to the crown of the statue. 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.
Get max dollars to the pound whether you pay by plastic or cash
One of the best ways to spend abroad is to use a specialist travel credit card that gives you near-perfect exchange rates every time.
Our current top pick is the Barclaycard Rewards card, which has near-perfect rates, no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad and no interest on either as long as you pay it off IN FULL every month. Plus, you get 0.25% cashback on spending worldwide.
As an alternative, the Halifax Clarity card also has no fees on overseas spending and withdrawals but withdrawals incur interest even if you pay off the card in full – so it's better to spend than withdraw.
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).
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.
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 soup cans reside, is free on Fridays 5.30pm to 9pm (and under-16s are always free). Others do 'pay what you wish' days.
Watch a TV show being filmed. Fancy going behind the scenes of top shows? Programmes such as America's Got Talent, The Daily Show and The Jerry Springer Show offer tickets – the NYC Guide has details. You can usually apply about a month in advance.
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. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 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, which is 'pay as you wish'.
9. 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.
10. 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 £57 to £155 ($76 to $208) 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 (although avoid booking your tickets through them, as they add hefty handling fees) – About Travel also has tips.
If you buy online, there are a host of websites claiming to offer discounts on official Broadway tickets. But make sure you check what the handling fees will be - we've heard of sites charging an extra $20-$50 per ticket, which can soon take the shine off a bargain. You might be better off sticking to Ticketmaster or the show's official website - always compare to make sure you're getting the best deal.
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.
Ex-MSE Rosie took her theatre ticket MoneySaving to the extreme - 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.
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 $5 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.
The New York Yankee ticket exchange allows fans to resell tickets, and they can be as low as $10. Plus there are 'ticket specials' - for the 2019 season these included $5 games for Mastercard holders and $10 Grandstand games.
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 $20, including booking fees, just a few days before.
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:
- The New York Mets baseball team also has a ticket exchange site.
- The New York Knicks basketball team has a 'buy and sell' page.
- The New York Rangers ice hockey team also gives you the option of selecting resale tickets only.
- Madison Square Garden has a ticket exchange, featuring some games but also concerts.
- The New York Mets baseball team also has a ticket exchange site.
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. 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 at 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 good way to break up the sightseeing for kids.
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).
Don't forget to add tax (and check if you can get a discount)
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 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.
Look for 'visitor' discounts, eg, 10% off at Macy's and Bloomingdale's
Unfortunately you can't get the tax refunded - it's paid to individual states rather than the US Government, so there's no agreement for sales tax to be refunded to tourists.
However, some big stores such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's offer discounts of about 10% on certain products for tourists. You just need to ask for a pass at their visitor centres and show ID such as a passport. There's no harm in asking about this in other shops too – after all, if you don't ask, you don't get.
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.
For example, in some cases buying British brands in the US can even be more expensive – eg, a Wedgwood sugar dish was $80 (£60) in Bloomingdale's, and just £50 from a UK Wedgwood store.
US brands tend to be where the savings are (although the rubbish exchange rate may mean smaller savings than normal). For example, we found a Ralph Lauren shirt which was £85 on the UK site for $89.50 (£68) on the US site.
The really big savings tend to come with big-ticket electrical items. For example, a basic iPad (Wi-Fi model) is $329 (£253) in the US compared to £349 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 do your 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, 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.
Unfortunately consumer rights rules aren't as clear-cut in the US as they are in the UK – each store has a right to its own refund policy (if they don't display the policy they will have to accept your return within 30 days).
The only onus on the store is that it must clearly display its policy, but it's not necessarily obliged to offer you a refund or exchange, even if goods are faulty. So to be safe, check the store's policy before you buy (and it's worth asking how you would get a refund if a problem occurred once you're back in the UK too).
You do have some cover via 'implied warranty', which basically means you have the right to expect a product 'does what it says on the tin' (so a toaster should toast your bread). You can complain about a store that's sold faulty goods – see New York State's Division of Consumer Protection website for more on your rights.
Entertain the kids all day for $13 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 $13 (£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 $13 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 $15 each for adults and children. CMOM
American Museum of Natural History. Admission is $13 for children ($23 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. AMONH
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 porters – $1-$2
- Doormen – $2-$5 (for hailing a cab)
- 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 $11...
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 just to 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 – $11 from JFK or $15 from Newark
From JFK, the AirTrain, which runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, costs $7.75 one-way (under-fives free) to Jamaica or Howard Beach stations, and takes 50-75 minutes.
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, and up to three kids under 44" go free with each adult).
From Newark, the NJ Transit is $15.25 one-way for the 25-minute journey to Penn Station. Concession tickets (for children, senior citizens and people with a disability) are $11.25, while under-5s travel free.
Forumite FarleyFlavors has found another option to get from Newark to Manhattan for around $5, by catching the NJ Transit 62 for $1.60 (exact change needed) to Newark Penn Station, and from there using the Path train for $2.75 to get to the city. The 62 has a limit of two bags (22"x16"x8") per passenger, though FarleyFlavors says they are not too strict about this unless the bus is very busy.
A pre-booked bus or van – $19 from JFK or Newark
- For a shuttle van from the airport (the likes of which you might remember from Home Alone) you're looking at just under $20 per passenger, per trip. 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 a journey from JFK Airport to Grand Central Station, for $19, or $35 return.
- The Newark Airport Express shuttle bus from Newark to Manhattan stops is $18.50 for a single fare, or $31.50 return.
... Or if you must take the famous yellow taxi, don't fall victim to the taxi touts
It's not the MoneySaving option, 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 80 cents in surcharges and a rush hour surcharge of $4.50 between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays. You'll also be responsible for paying any tolls (about $5) – with the expected tip too, you'll be looking at at least $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. There's also a $17.50 Newark surcharge, plus a 30 cent 'improvement surcharge'. It'll typically come to $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). The free Citymapper app can help you navigate it like a true New Yorker.
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. Each journey costs $2.75. You can top up between $5.50 and $80, and get an 5% bonus when you do (so if you top up $20 there'll be $21 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 $33 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.
There are 27 subway lines and a whopping 472 stations – meaning you can literally travel everywhere in the city using the subway.
Up to three children (44'' tall or under) go free on subways and buses as long as they're with a paying adult.
Over-65s or those with certain disabilities can get a reduced-fare Metrocard, for free, which halves the price of trips to $1.35.
Download the free Citymapper app to navigate like a New Yorker
Navigating public transport in an unfamiliar city can be daunting. But the free Citymapper app will have you hopping on and off the subway like a true New Yorker. It's available for iPhone and Android, or you can use the web app.
How does it work?
The 'Get me somewhere' function is easy to use – enter your destination and starting point to find the best route from A to B. It finds various public transport options, including bus-only, rain safe – for routes that minimise travel outdoors – and wheelchair accessible. Not only that, it will show you how long it would take to walk, cycle or take a cab.
The app covers subway, bus, rail, ferry and cycle docks. You can also use it to view subway and bus maps. What's more, you can use it in 41 cities around the world, including London, Barcelona and Hong Kong.
How to use the app offline
While it's a handy app to use abroad, make sure you don't rack up big data charges. Unless you're able to use your data for free in the US (eg, with Three's 'Go Roam' scheme), it's best to switch off mobile data and use Wi-Fi to plan your route at your hotel or a café. You can then save your journey offline using the star in the top right of the screen.
Walking is the cheapest and probably best way to see the city
It goes without 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 9/11 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 over $100 a night
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 four months ahead, a night in mid-July in a queen room for two people at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel close to Times Square cost a whopping £259.
A king room on the same night with the same hotel chain in Long Island City, less than 20 minutes away on the subway, cost £162.
Another option is staying in Jersey City (about 30 minutes out of New York on public transport) – a king room in the Holiday Inn there cost £146 per night when booking four months ahead, compared to £215 for its Times Square branch.
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.
For really cheap lodging in Manhattan, hostels start at around £20 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 dorm at a hostel close to Central Park for £20 a night when booking a month in advance for February, and prices were even lower at less central hostels.
If you'd prefer a little more privacy, then a deluxe private single room (with shared bathroom) at a hostel in Brooklyn comes in at about £21 per night, significantly undercutting the price you'd pay for a hotel room.
To check prices and availability, use Hostelbookers.com* and Hostelworld* – both give hostels a percentage rating based on users' experiences. Even if they say a hostel's full, always try emailing direct, in case there's a spare room that doesn't show up. To read more reviews from past guests and compare prices, try Hostelz.com and TripAdvisor.
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 - use the free Citymapper app to plan your route:
Jersey Gardens. With more than 200 stores including Saks Fifth Avenue 'Off 5th' 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.
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 cafés, patisseries, takeaways and diners. So you'll never be short of choice, whether you're after loaded porridge, Belgian waffles, pancakes, or even cheesecake (seemingly every café claims to have the best in the city).
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 currently costs £105.90 for an adult (£86.65 for a child), and gives you entry to six attractions:
- The Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Top of the Rock observatory deck OR Guggenheim Museum
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
The New York Pass, which allows you to choose between one and 10 days of sightseeing at 100+ attractions, including most of those listed above. Prices range from around £100 to £360 (for children it's £75 to £230).
To make these worthwhile you'll need to really pack in the sightseeing though. Make sure you plan ahead, and weigh up the cost of buying tickets separately vs getting a pass.
It's also worth noting the CityPass gives you some extra perks, eg, two visits to the Empire State Building – one during the day and the other in the evening (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 £80ish New York Explorer pass which allows you to choose four out of over 40 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 – online tickets cost the same 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).
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 friend Joey Tribbiani's, it's a good idea to have at least a basic street and subway map.
The free Citymapper app has street, subway and bus maps. And there are a wealth of other 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. (For more on the app see the 60+ Overseas Travel Tips guide).
Forumites also recommend the free CityMaps2Go app which works offline and lets you drop pins onto maps, and use GPS to navigate between them. Just remember to turn your data off to ensure you don't inadvertently rack up any charges.
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 £7/MB – so don't fall foul of this in New York.
The most sensible plan is to turn your data off (in your phone settings), so you're still able to use Wi-Fi where it's available. Alternatively you could turn your phone off completely (or put it on airplane mode) while you're overseas.
If you do need your phone's data while travelling, see our Cheap mobile and data roaming tips, including how to get UK rates with a special Sim.
You probably wouldn't 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.
Your best bet is probably to pick your car up at the airport, which tends to cost around £35 a day for an economy car booked a month in advance.
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.
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.
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 fixed date advance pass costs $41 if you're taller than 48 inches, while an any day pass is $69.
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 $54 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.
Check out the free Citymapper app for help finding routes and bus stops. 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.
There are two ways to pay:
Pay as you go – tickets are $3 and can only be bought from a vending machine.
- Metrocard – pay $2.75 per trip or $32 for a seven-day unlimited pass (so you can hop-on, hop-off).
You can also use a 'free transfer' to catch the bus within two hours of using your card on the subway, and this works in reverse too.
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.
Gov.uk 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 $170 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'll still be subject to New York state law, with one key difference 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, 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.
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