8 ways to save time and money in New York City
New York City is a class act, even for the frugal. Despite the common misconception, you don't need to whore your tuppence for coin in order to afford a trip. If you're planning a visit, here are 8 ways to save money and make the most of your time in the greatest city on Earth, after Ipswich:
Get ahead at US Immigrations
How long it takes to clear US Immigration at JFK varies between five minutes on a good day, and 90 minutes on a bad one. It's improved massively in the past five years, but if there are only a handful of desks open and other flights arriving, you'll be in for a very long wait.
To cut down your waiting time, simply get to the front of the queue. The walk between the plane and the immigration hall takes several minutes, so walk with purpose all the way and you'll cut ahead of others who are ambling along. Even if you're at the back of the plane, there's no reason why you can't be in amongst the first few dozen through immigration. Sounds like common sense but JFK gets insanely busy, and if you arrive just behind other flights you will be screwed.
How to get from JFK to your hotel
Wherever you're staying in New York City, you've three options for travelling between the airport and your accommodation; taxi, shuttle bus and subway. Choose your transport according to the number of people in your party and the amount of luggage you have, and you could save yourself both time and money.
- First off, there's a yellow cab from outside the terminal. It's a fixed rate to Manhattan of $45 plus tolls plus a tip, so $50 to $55 in total. A ride to central Manhattan usually takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic (if anybody in the terminal asks if you need a taxi, ignore them - they're illegal cabbies that won't be any cheaper)
- A shuttle bus can be arranged before you fly or you can arrange one when you land; it usually costs about $20 per person. Transfer time depends on where the other passengers are travelling to - Manhattan has plenty of traffic, so it can take up to 90 minutes to reach your destination.
- As for the subway, there's no stop at JFK but there is the Airtrain which links the airport to the subway. It costs $5 per person and you pay at the end of the ride. The subway is currently $2.25 per ride (there are no zones on the NYC subway) but if you're buying an unlimited ticket for your trip, you can buy it immediately so in essence you'll only pay the $5 for the Airtrain. Bargain. The Airtrain takes 15 minutes to reach the subway, then it's around a 35 minutes transfer into Manhattan, so some days it's quicker than a cab.
Which one is right for you?
If there are 3 or 4 of you with large cases - take a cab. It'll work out at $13 - $18 each (so a lot cheaper than a shuttle) and you'll get straight to your hotel without the need for heavy lifting.
If you're by yourself with a heavy case - take the shuttle. It'll take longer but it's less then half the price of a cab.
If you're alone or in a group with only hand luggage (or cabin suitcases) consider the Airtrain and subway. It can be quicker than the other two options, plus it'll cost far less. The only drawback is you may have a walk a couple of blocks at the far end to reach your hotel - alternatively you could hail a cab and spend a few dollars getting there; cabs are far cheaper in NYC than London so it'll still be cheaper than the other two options.
Buy your 7 day unlimited Metrocard early in the day
If you're in the city for a week or longer, a 7 day unlimited Metrocard for the subway is a godsend. They cost $27 (around £17) for unlimited rides on any route (and the Roosevelt Island tramway) for seven days. Almost.
The 7 day expiry is a little too literal; your card isn't valid for 168 hours, but on seven consecutive days. In other words, if you buy your card at 10pm on a Monday, it'll expire at midnight on Sunday - so after 6 days and two hours. Gah. To get the best value for your money, it's sometimes worth spending money on a couple of single fares, then buying your Metrocard after midnight, or early the next morning.
Stay where the bargains are
Most of the major tourist hotels are in Midtown Manhattan - depending on the time of year, you'll either find rooms that are affordable or ask for a mortgage payment for a night's stay. You don't have to stay there, despite it being top of the list for most visitors. There are nearly 13,000 cabs in New York, plus the subway network is cheap, extensive and pretty fast for the most part. If you find a better deal in another part of the city, don't dismiss it because it appears out the way.
If breakfast isn't included in the price, don't pay for it
There are good local diners, delis and cafes everywhere in New York, and you'll pay around $15 (about £9) for breakfast for two of you - far less than the price your hotel is likely to charge.
Save time sightseeing
Queues for the big attractions in NYC are stupidly long - several hours long in the case of the Statue of Liberty. If you're going to visit, get there early - before 9am. The same is true of the Empire State Building, although if you visit after 8pm you're also unlikely to queue and get the amazing nighttime views.
NYC for free
Nearly all museums and attractions in New York charge for entry, but most are free or operate pay-what-you-wish hours at certain times of the week. For a full list, take a gander at the brilliant NewYorkology.com.
Don't spend money on spending money
If you've got a bank account with the likes of Nationwide that doesn't charge commission on withdrawals, you've still got to be careful which bank you use; the likes of the Bank of America will expect $3 a pop. Chase is always a sure bet for free withdrawals while you're away.