Monday, August 29, 2016

How I Planned a Trip for 2 to NYC from the West Coast for Under $1,000

I just got back from an amazing trip.  An amazing trip to one of the most expensive places on the planet without totally breaking the bank.  Here's how I planned a trip for two from the west coast to New York City for 6 days/5 nights for under $1,000.  (Yes that's including airfare, room, and things to do).


Flight

The two most expensive things about a trip are the flights and the lodging.  Especially since my husband and I were traveling completely across the United States, that flight can be a bit pricey.  But it cost us $0.

Most of you that read my blog know that I love to play the credit card game.  (Using credit card bonuses to my advantage.  See Make Money With Credit Cards)  Up till now I had advised against cards that have an annual fee, which includes most travel rewards cards, but I may be changing my tune on that one.  More on that later.  

At the time I signed up for it, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard had a sign up bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles (miles redeemable for American Airlines).  And it just so happens that 50,000 miles is just enough to get two round trip tickets from San Francisco to New York City.  Right now the sign up bonus is only 30,000 miles but those bonuses always fluctuate so keep an eye on it.

Airline credit card bonuses are huge and can quite often get you free tickets to some amazing places!  The annual fee is usually waived the first year and you quite often will get free checked bags (which for 2 people can be a savings of $100 for each trip!).  It is very worth it to sign up for these cards.  As always, make sure to read and understand all the fine print and don't incur interest!  I will write a more detailed post on using travel credit cards later so check back later for more info.


Lodging

Now the next most expensive thing is lodging.  I would love to say I got this for free, but I didn't.  It is where I spent most of the money.  Hotels in New York are EXPENSIVE, especially if you want to stay in Manhattan (which I did, duh!).  My advice is the same as always: hostels and room sharing are your friends (see Traveling Cheaply, Part 2: Hostels and Traveling Cheaply, Part 3: Vacation Houses).

There are some great hostels in New York that are NICE (and trendy!).  And you can get private rooms and even private bathrooms!  Check out 10 of the Best Hostels in New York.

But if you want private rooms, even the hostels can run you $200/night.  I think the best bet is Airbnb.  If you plan early enough, you can find some amazing apartments in Manhattan for $100/night or less!  (Of course, it does help if you go in the off season).  And having an apartment means you have the ability to cook and save some money on food (if you have the time!).

Here's a list of my favorite NY Airbnb's under $130.  I didn't plan as early as I would have liked to, so we ended up getting a place for $125/night so for 5 nights it was $625.  Still nothing in comparison to most decent hotels.


Sightseeing

Of course no visit to New York wouldn't be complete without seeing some of the famous sites!  The first thing I would recommend is getting some kind of city pass that allows you to see multiple sites with one ticket that saves money.  We went with the Explorer Pass because both Living Social and Groupon had them at a discount $68.99 & $69.50 (normally it is $77) so check out those sites for deals.  This allowed us to see 3 attractions out of a list of 61 for that one price.  We chose the Uptown/Downtown Hop On Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tour (a $62 value), the top of the Empire State Building (a $32 value), and the Radio City Stage Door Tour (a $26.95 value) but there are many more options.

***Tip: Don't use passes for museums.  All museums in NY are a suggested donation so you can pay any amount for general admission.***

There are also a number of free walking tours provided by this company: Free Tours by Foot.  But if you don't know when to sign up for one or are busy at their times, they also offer Google Maps to be able to do the tours on your own!  Go here for a list of self guided tours.

TV Tapings

New York has tapings to several great shows like SNL, The Tonight Show, The Late Show, and all of these are free!  We got to do The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and it was so much fun.  This is a great way to see some of your favorite celebrities at no cost and possibly be on TV!  But make sure to get these early as they sell out fast.  Look here for a list of TV tapings in New York.

Broadway Show Tickets

Now my husband and I are actors, so we mainly came to NY to see Broadway shows.  If you buy tickets ahead of time for a Broadway show, ticket prices can range from $30 - thousands depending on the date/time, seat location, and popularity of the show (ahem Hamilton).  Here are some tricks to getting cheap and FREE tickets.

Audience Rewards
Audience Rewards is a program that gives points for seeing shows that allows you to redeem for tickets.  At the time I was planning my trip, the sign up bonus for their new credit card, Audience Rewards American Express Card, was 2 free tickets after any purchase.  I signed both my husband and myself up and together we earned 2 free tickets to two different shows for virtually spending nothing (I made two $1 transactions)!  Unfortunately, they aren't advertising this anymore so I'm not sure if you can get that offer but you can still build up points towards a free show.

Discount Tickets
The discount ticket site I used to purchase tickets to one show was TheatreMania.  There are many sites offering discounts, so shop around.

Lottery/Rush
The cheapest way to get tickets are to do lottery or rush tickets.  But the downside to this is it can only be done the day of the performance you wish to see so you can't guarantee seats ahead of time.  Lottery is exactly what it sounds like, you enter your name into a lottery and a select number of people are chosen.  Many of these are completely digital now (online or mobile) but some still require you to go to the theatre a few hours ahead of the showtime.  Rush tickets are the leftover seats that weren't sold, being sold at a much cheaper rate shortly before the show starts (they don't want empty seats!).  These seats are usually much better than the cheapest seats in the back, they are often in the first few rows in the orchestra, though sometimes with an obstructed view.  We won lottery tickets for The Phantom of the Opera for only $28!  You can find a good list of options for shows currently playing here.


A Breakdown of Costs

Flights: 2 roundtrip tickets from SFO to LGA                        $0
Lodging: Airbnb apartment for 5 nights                                  $625
Sightseeing:
     2 Explorer Passes from Living Social                                 $138
     2 tickets to Statue of Liberty                                               $36
     2 tickets to Museum of Natural History                              $30
     2 tickets to taping of the Late Show w/Stephen Colbert     $0
     2 tickets to The Lion King on Broadway                            $0
     2 tickets to An American in Paris on Broadway                 $100
     2 tickets to Something Rotten on Broadway                       $0
     2 tickets to The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway          $56   
Total                                                                                          $985



Other Things to Consider when in New York

Getting Around

The fastest and cheapest way to get around NYC is the subway.  If you're going to be staying for more than a few days, it's best to get a week long unlimited Metro card.  This costs $32 but you will make up the cost easily!

Food

This can also get a bit pricey but as I said, if you get an apartment on Airbnb, you can grocery shop and make your own food.  But if you're like my husband and I and your days are so full packed you don't have time, don't worry, there are lots of good cheap eats in NY!  Actually some of the best food is at the food carts.  These carts are everywhere so no matter where you are or what time of day, you should be able to get something.  Forget just the hot dog stands you're used to seeing on TV and film, there are carts with a wide variety of food.

Restaurant.com
Another great tool is Restaurant.com.  Here you can buy vouchers for discounts at certain restaurants.  They are always having sales for $1 or $2 for $10 or $25 so I always have a few up for grabs.  This is a great way to have a very nice meal at half price!

Just in general, stay away from eating in Times Square.  Those restaurants have jacked the prices way up because it's such a tourist spot and most of them are chains that you can eat at your hometown anyway.  Use the Yelp app to search for good food in the area and you can limit it to cheap food too!



I hope this has helped you in case you were thinking that a trip to New York was out of your price range.  Do you have anything to add?


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