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New York money saving tips: cheap flights, hotels, things to do and more

New York money saving tips: cheap flights, hotels, things to do and more

From the subway to travel insurance, here are some tips to save on your next holiday to the Big Apple.

Motoring and Travel

Before you go

Find cheap New York flights

Kayak and Skyscanner are useful tools to compare prices and find cheap flights to New York.

Norwegian also offers budget transatlantic flights with fares from £123.30 one-way from January 2017.

Booking well in advance will ensure you get the best price. But you can also cut the cost by splitting up your journey and travelling via places like Iceland and Oslo.

Wowair is currently offering flights from London to New York via Iceland from £119, but in the past has had special promotions with deals as low as £99 one-way.

Get a free flight with your credit card

Save on hotels

Again the easiest way to save is to make sure you book your accommodation well before you travel, as leaving it to the last minute will see prices rocket.

You should also check out the budget hotels dotted around the city. Time Out has a good guide: The best cheap hotels in NYC.

Generally, hotels in central Manhattan can cost an arm and a leg, but you can save by staying a bit further out in nearby neighbourhoods like Brooklyn, Jersey City and Queens that are just a short train ride away.

Make sure you check out the hotel’s reviews on Tripadvisor to ensure you don’t end up in a dive or something that is in the middle of nowhere with no links to where all the action is.

You should also factor in the sales tax which for hotels is 14.75% plus $3.50 per night on top. More on this below.

Consider a hostel

For the cheapest stays consider staying in a hostel.

We found deals for £107 for three nights, which works out as £35.67 a night over a weekend two months before travelling.

Again make sure you check out the reviews to ensure you’ll be staying somewhere habitable and safe!

Be wary of Airbnbs

Airbnb is popular in New York and is a great way to save on the cost of a hotel and offer the chance to experience the real New York.

However, there are strict rules on who can list their apartment. In New York it’s 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.

This law was created to protect the hotel industry and lots of dwellings in the city aren’t permitted to use sites like Airbnb. So you could be caught out if the owner is pulled up on it before you travel or during your stay.

Get your $14 ESTA before you travel

You will need to fill out an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before you travel from the UK into the US by air or sea.

The scheme checks whether you are allowed to travel to the states under the Visa Waiver Program.

You will need to fill out the form on the ESTA website at least 72 hours before you fly and pay a fee of $14. Watch out for copycat websites that charge more to process your application.

Since April 2016 you need an e-passport to get an ESTA, any issued since 26 October 2006 should be ok.

The ESTA lasts for two years, so if you are returning to the states within this time you don’t have to apply for another one and hand over the fee again. You can check when yours expires on the website.

If you don’t qualify for entry under the VWP you can apply for a visa from the US Embassy before travelling.

Get travel insurance and make sure it covers the US

You should make sure you take out travel insurance as soon as you have booked your trip, this means you get protection before you jet off and while you are away.

Getting cover in place is especially important when travelling to the states because of the sky-high cost of medical care.

Lots of worldwide policies tend to exclude the US. So make sure this is included when purchasing a new one or double check that an existing one covers the area.

Get the best rate on dollars

Shop around for the best exchange rate on dollars for your trip.

Alternatively go for a credit card with no fees on purchases made abroad and which can get you the best exchange rate on the day. Take a look at the best credit cards to use on your travels.

Avoid using your debit card while abroad as your provider is likely to charge eye watering fees. Check which providers charge the most and least in the best debit cards to use abroad.

Another option to consider is prepaid currency cards, which generally offer a competitive exchange rate, take a look at the best prepaid cards for spending abroad for more.

When you get there

Turn off mobile data

As always when you travel abroad make sure you check what your network provider charges to use data or risk a shock bill.

Outside of the EU there is no limit to what providers can charge.

Three is the only provider that allows pay monthly and pay as you go customers to use their devices at no extra cost in New York and lots more Feel at Home destinations.

Other providers sometimes offer add-ons you can use while abroad, but if you don’t plan to use these you should turn your phone off or disable the mobile roaming to avoid a shock bill.

Budget for tipping

In New York tipping is expected, so you should factor this into your holiday budget.

Taxi drivers, bar staff and hotel staff all expect to be tipped for their service. While you don’t have to hand over any extra cash, lots of hospitality workers are paid below minimum wage and tips are used to make up the gap. So not tipping tends to go down pretty badly.

Tips are expected to be 15-20% of your bill in restaurants and taxis. An easy way to work out what you should give is to double the tax.

It’s a good idea to stock up on some dollar bills to hand out in smaller tips to bartenders, bellhops and housekeeping.

Don’t forget to add the tax

Sales tax rates differ by state in the US so is added to cost of goods when you get to the till.

In New York sales tax is 8.875% and applies to restaurants, coffee shops, sandwich shops, as well as shops selling things like cosmetics, jewellery and computers.

The sales tax for hotels is 14.75% plus $3.50 per night on top.

There is no sales tax on clothing or footwear that costs less than $110 as well as newspapers, magazines, food and some other services.

For the full run down check: A guide to sales tax in New York State issued by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

Getting around

Save on travelling from the airport

You’ll most likely either end up in JFK or Newark International Airport when you travel to New York from the UK.

A yellow taxi from an official taxi rank charges a standard $52 from JFK to Manhattan. There’s also an 80 cent surcharge and rush hour $4.50 surcharge between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays, plus you’ll have to pay the tolls (about $5) and factor in a tip — which means the journey can cost up to $70.

Taxis from Newark to Manhattan are metered, so the price can vary according to traffic. Typically, it costs up to $75 plus tolls and tips.  

For a breakdown of the costs take a look at the NYC Taxi and Limousine Comission website.

Alternatively, you can save a load by taking the train.

From JFK you can take the AirTrain. It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, takes 50-75 minutes and costs $5 one way to Jamaica or Howard Beach stations. You’ll have to swap for the subway when you reach these stations to get to Manhattan, which will cost $2.75 for a journey. (See below for tips on saving).

From Newark you can take the NJ Transit which is $13 one way and takes you to Penn Station in 25 minutes. There are some concessions and under 11s travel for free. Trains run every 10-15 minutes but not between 2am and 5am.

Use the subway or local buses to save

Taking a taxi or Uber is a great way to get around the city but the costs can quickly add up.

Instead you can make use of New York’s excellent subway (which runs 24 hours a day) and bus network to save.

You’ll need a Metrocard – a plastic card you can top-up that you can buy at stations or in local shops for $1.

There are a couple of ways you can choose to use the Metrocard. The best value option depends on how many journeys you are likely to make.

With Pay-Per-Ride each journey costs $2.75. You can top up between $5.50 and $80 and get an 11% bonus. This option is the best value if you plan to make fewer than 13 rides during your stay. 

The Seven-Day Unlimited pass costs $31 for a week, which allows you to travel the city for less than $5 a day. This works out as the best value if you think you are going to make 13 journeys or more.

Up to three children (under 44 inches tall) can travel free on the subway and buses per paying adult. Over-65s and the disabled can get a reduced-fare Metrocard for free, which halves the price of each journey to $1.35 and the seven-day pass to $15.50.

For more on fares check out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority website.

Walk for the cheapest (and best) way to see the city

The cheapest way to roam NYC is to walk and you’ll get to see lots more than you would have stuck on the subway or in the back of a cab.

Given how much there is to see, this might sound like a daunting task, but the trick is to plan your day so you’re visiting attractions, landmarks and restaurants in similar areas at the same time.

Things to do

Free things to do

New York has loads of free things to do. Like ….

Enjoy a crafty beer – the Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours on Saturdays and Sundays.

Take a walk in a park – go for a stroll around Central Park and New York’s more unusual open spaces like the High Line, which is built on a disused elevated rail track.

Get the best views – walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which links Brooklyn and Manhattan to get some of the best views of the city.

Watch a TV show live – love American programmes like The Late Show or The Daily Show? You can go behind the scenes and be part of the audience for free. You can usually register a month in advance. Take a look at NYC Guide and GoNYC  for details.

Statue of Liberty cruise –  you can take the free Staten Island Ferry, which is for commuters wanting to travel between Staten Island and Whitehall Street 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and take in the must see iconic sight for less.

For more inspiration take a look at Time Out.

Save money on sightseeing

If it’s your first time to New York, you’ll probably want to take in all the sights and attractions.

To save on the cost you might want to consider an attraction pass.

The City Pass costs $116 for an adult or $92 for a child aged 6-17 and gives you admission to six of New York’s biggest attractions including the Empire State Building; American Museum of National History; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum; Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line sightseeing cruises and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. It claims to save you 40% on the cost of visiting these attractions separately.

Or there’s the New York Pass, which gives you entry to over 80 attractions. The costs range from $109(adult)/$89(child) for a one-day pass to $319.20(adult)/$191.20(child) for a 10-day pass.

You will need to weigh up whether these passes make sense for your trip by working out the costs of visiting the attractions you want to see separately. If you can make a saving they will be worth going for.

Bag cheap Broadway tickets

If you fancy catching a Broadway show in the Big Apple you should book ahead to avoid disappointment. Tickets go on sale six months in advance.

If you aren’t too bothered about the show you see you can save money by heading to a TKTS booth, which offers discounted tickets with up to 50% off for performances on the same day. There are booths in Times Square, South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn.

You can also check out the deals on broadwaybox.com.

There’s big savings to be had on ‘rush’ tickets which are the leftover tickets theatres try to sell on the day and lotteries.

Hit musical Hamilton for example has a daily ticket lottery offering up to two tickets per entrant at $10 each.

Check out Broadway for Broke People or individual show websites for more information on rush tickets and lotteries to see what you can get.

Shop for less…

New York is a big draw for shoppers from around the world.

Manhattan has the big department stores like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue but if you’re on a budget they probably won’t be somewhere you can spend a lot of money.

Instead take a look at Century 21, which has daily offers on a range of high-end items including jewellery, shoes, clothing and sunglasses. It has stores in Lincoln Square, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.

Alternatively, if you have the time you can visit the big outlets which have many designer and brand names with huge discounts like Jersey Gardens (in New Jersey which has no sales tax) or Woodbury Common.

It’s also worth shopping big name American brands like Apple while you are out there as the difference in the exchange rate can make them a lot cheaper compared to buying in the UK. Just make sure you compare the costs to make sure you can make a saving.  

For some examples of how much you could save on a shopping trip to New York take a look at: Real-life money: can a New York shopping trip pay for itself?

…but beware the customs limit

Your duty-free allowance allows you to bring up to £390 worth of goods (excluding alcohol and tobacco) back from a trip to the states per person so long as it’s for personal use.

You are expected to declare any items that go over the duty-free allowance at customs. If you exceed the allowance, you could face paying import duties and VAT on the whole amount.

Check what you can bring into the UK when you’re travelling from outside the EU on the Gov.uk site and our guide on what the limits are in: Customs allowances: limits on alcohol, cigarettes, jewellery and other goods.

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