8 ways to save time and money in New York City

9 October 2009

Bitterwallet - Federal Hall in NYCNew 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.

Bitterwallet - New York City subway

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.

Bitterwallet - view from the Empire State Building at nightSave 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.

TOPICS:   Travel


  • Me
    Pick up a coupon in arrivals and use the free phone for a private car to Manhattan. $45 dollars with a $10 discount by quoting the code on the coupon. If you're short on time and want to get your bearings the hop on/off bus tours are good way to get around and show you the city. You may find you won't need a metro ticket as the buses stop at most major attractions and areas. You also get discounts on some of the attractions along with the bus tickets. For a great view of NYC the Rockerfeller center is better IMHO and you see the Empire State in the view, without the 2 hour queues and for less $$$
  • SJT
    "walk quickly between the plane and immigration, and you'll be near the front of the queue" Nothing like stating the bleeding obvious, eh?!
  • Ben
    It might be obvious, but it's a great trip. I fly to JFK usually twice a year, and a route march from plane to terminal can make the difference of a 45 minute wait. These are some top tips. I'd add that accomodation in Queens and Brooklyn in particular can be cheap, but obviously vary depending on the neighbourhood. Howard Johnson motels are pretty standard, and can be good and cheap in a pinch. Also, for cheap theatre, there's a TKTS booth in times square offering half price tickets for on the day performances. You can also get "student rush" tickets (that aren't only for students) on some days, by queueing at the theatre on the day of the performance when the box office opens. Usually around 4pm. These tickets might not be the best view, but I've seen shows for $10 on Broadway because of it. Great article.
  • AvisHater
    You can get a CityPass for NY (http://www.citypass.com/city/ny.html) that will allow you to jump most ticket-desk queues, as well as getting you entry to some decent attractions at a discounted rate. It includes a cruise around Manhattan or a trip to Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island. I did the cruise just before sunset, got great look at Statue of Liberty and manhattan at dusk. Good article, fantastic city.
  • Graham
    Yes - hurrying to immigration at JFK is very important and reasonably easy given it's a long walk down wide corridors with most other people dawdling, and not something you think about until you're needlessly stuck at the back of a long queue. I'd recommend the Long Island Rail Road over the subway. It's faster and a hell of a lot more pleasant.
  • MrRobin
    Take the ferry to Staten Island (it's free). They make you get off but you can just get just go down the ramp and get back onboard the same boat for the return leg. You get to see lots of the sights from a slightly different perspective.
  • him
    take US Dollars with you, its as accepted as the local currency
  • RSG
    lol at above 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) find an illegal cab, will be $30 or less, thats what it cost me!
  • squawkbox
    I agree with Graham, Once you are off the skytrain, take the LIRR to Penn Station, it is MUCH better than the subway!
  • Craig *.
    Take an extra suitcase, filled with sandwiches and pot noodles. That way, you don't have to buy food when you're there, saving both time AND money!
  • Paul S.
    Cheers for all the feedback folks; glad some of you have done the march to immigration - I know it happens at other airports, but I'm not sure it makes so much of a difference as it does at the likes of JFK. I spent two hours queuing in that bloody line on my first visit, and have never done it since. Graham/Squawkbox - I've never taken the LIRR into Penn, top idea. RSG - the problem with illegal cabs is the same problem with them anywhere - you won't necessarily get the cab cheaper and they're probably not insured.
  • Careful B.
    [...] week we gave you 8 tips to save time and money in New York. This week, Bitterwallet reader Bedlam provides another tip for guests checking in while away from [...]
  • speedski
    Use cards from the likes of FairFX, buy your currency in advance with no commision - we did it for New York this past August - saved us a fortune and whats more you don't overspend - if you do spend it all and you need more, top it up online with your debit card - takes about an hour to appear. Also Holiday Inn on 6th Ave is recommended, small rooms, but cheap and clean for Manhattan island, we paid a little over $100 a night... Oh one more important tip! If you are staying for longer than the usual 3 nights then check the price of the hotel carefully. When I searched for our 6 nights it brought it up at $169 a night, search for three nights and a further three nights in the same hotel, room was $90-$104 a night average...
  • bingob
    $15 for breakfast??? it was 2 egg mcmuffins for $1 when i went last year
  • 8 B.
    8 ways to save time and money in New York City | BitterWallet... [...]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.[...]...

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