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).


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.


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.


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.

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
     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!


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.
Another great tool is  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?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Uber Sign Up Bonus Now $1,000!!!!!

Many of you know, I recently started driving for Uber and I really enjoy it (See My One Day Experience Driving for Uber).  Well they recently upped the sign up bonus to $1,000 after completing 100 trips!  Take advantage of this offer and sign up today!  It's an easy and fun ways to make money.

Make sure to use code carmenl419ue  to get the bonus!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Make an Easy $100

I just signed up for a Wells Fargo Checking account.  Why?  Because they are offering a $100 bonus to do so.

I've done a few of these offers before (See Checking Account Bonus Awards).  I just follow the steps to get the bonus, then I empty the account and close it.  It does take specific steps to get the bonus, some more than others, but I've outlined what to do and look out for here!
Wells Fargo Checking Account
Go to to sign up today for your account to get your bonus!  All you need is $25 to open it.

Important steps you must follow to get the bonus:

  • Open with $25 ($50 if you open in person) before 2/22/16
  • Make 10 debit card purchases or set up direct deposit for at least $500/monthly in the first 60 days
That's it!

I will just do the 10 debit card purchases.  I'll just go to the Dollar Store and grab a candy bar or something 10 different times.  So technically you'll only get $90 since you'll have to spend about $10 this way, but it's still free money.

****Watch out because there is a monthly $10 account fee unless you make 10 debit card purchases or have a balance of $1,500.  So get the 10 purchases done as soon as possible, and once the bonus has been deposited, close that account as soon as possible.  The bonus is supposed to be deposited within 45 days so it may go into another month with the account which means you'd have to make another 10 debit purchases.  This lowers the bonus to $80 in a sense but again, it's still easy free money.****

I'm going to sign my husband up too so if you have a significant other, you can double the money!

Hurry up, this offer ends in a few days!!!!!!  Enjoy your money!

Friday, January 1, 2016

My One Day Experience Driving for Uber

So most of you know, my husband has been using Uber extensively to get to and from work when I have the car and it's great!  (See my article, Ridesharing)  So over the summer, my schedule was quite strange: I'd work really long hours for one week, and then have a couple weeks off.  I'd work three days for a few hours in the middle of the day, and then have a few off.  Although I was still making good money, I had a lot of time open that could have been filled with another job.  But it's hard to find a job when you have weird hours, and schedules that fluctuate, and something only for the summer.  So I thought I'd look into driving for Uber.

It seemed like a good option because it was easy and I could create my own hours.  So I began the process of signing up.  All you need is a 2000 or newer car with 4 doors with current registration and insurance and a valid driver's license.  They run checks on your driving record and a background check and then you just need to get your car checked out (a general 19 point inspection) and that's it!  (There are instructional videos on their website and onsite people at Uber Activation Centers for help and info)

So I did all the paperwork requirements and once my background check passed, all I had to do was bring my car in for the inspection.  And that's where I dropped the ball.  I did get busy, we had vacations, I may have been a bit lazy (we didn't REALLY need the money), and, to be honest, I'm always nervous about starting something new so I guess I was a bit scared about change and the slight possibility of letting a murderer into my car.

September came around, and school started (I teach an after school program) and my schedule was no longer so open).  I kept getting emails and texts from Uber saying, "You're almost done!  Just get your car checked out and then you can start driving!"  And I'd think, oh I have time next week . . . and that went on and on.

When I originally signed up, I found a code online that offered an extra $100 after you complete your first 10 rides.  Easy enough.  And so when December came, I got another email saying that I only had until the end of the month to still get the $100 bonus.  Well the beginning of December was super busy for me, but I knew I would have some time once school got out.  But then there was Christmas shopping and decorating, meeting up with friends and family, and all that jazz.  Let's just say, I left it until the very last day -- Dec 31 -- to actually try and start this up.

And this is how it went . . . 

I went to an Uber Activation Center to get my car checked, it passed, and a lady gave me some tidbits and I was on my way!  I pulled into the nearest parking lot to get the app started and within a matter of minutes I already got a notification of a rider requesting a ride nearby.  I accepted, and I was on my way.  This ride was short, in town, and actually on my way home!  Perfect, just the kinds of trips I wanted!

After I dropped him off, I headed back towards my apartment.  I thought I'd just wait there and leave when I got more riders.  But as I was almost home I realized, Uber lets the nearest Uber driver know about people.  That means if I'm not in a populated area (unless there were like no Uber drivers on in my city) I wouldn't get very many people where I live.  So I turned around and went towards a shopping center.

Well I drove in a big circle around the whole city and neighboring city hitting all the major shopping centers and not one other ride!  (It was the early afternoon).  Then it hit me, people will be getting off work soon, I should wait at BART (our local transit to and from San Francisco).  I went there, and sat in the parking lot and then only a minute or two later, I got a text from my husband saying he was off work.

So I went offline, picked my husband up, and went home.  We ate, and by this time it was getting to be the early evening.  We had a New Year's party that we wanted to get to, but I still wanted to try and get the $100 bonus.  So I headed back out.

I got a ride pretty quickly.  He ended up going a few cities over. (I still haven't figured out to tell where they want to go before I accept the ride, you only get 15 seconds to accept.  I'm just glad nobody wanted to go really far away since I just wanted to stay local)  Once I dropped him off, I set my destination to home (so I would only pick up people going that direction and not get further away from my area).  Once I hit the somewhat bigger city next to my city, I turned that off and I got another rider.  This one was actually going to my city, score!  But she actually just wanted to pick something up and go back home.  So I ended up back at the neighboring city.

These two rides were good because I made a lot of money off of them ($20 and $16) but I wanted many quick rides so I could get the 10 ride bonus and go to my party!  I did one more short ride, and decided I would just forgo the bonus so I could go to the party and enjoy my day (I was kind of tired of driving too as it had been almost 2 hours).

So for my first day, in just about 2 and a half hours total I made just over $40.  Not bad.  You meet some really interesting people.  The one thing that does get annoying, is the constant backtracking.  Just as you leave an area, you pick a person up that wants to go right where you just came from!  But if you don't mind driving and you have a fuel efficient car (like my Prius!) then it's a really easy way to make a few extra bucks.

Luckily, when I got my account activated, the woman helping me gave me another bonus of $200 after my first 20 rides.  So I will definitely take advantage of that one!  (I think I have 30 days to complete it)  I'm kicking myself for not getting the 10 rides done in those 6 MONTHS that I had to get the bonus since it is so easy, but oh well.  At least I'll have something to do to make some money on my weird bouts of no work.

Sign up with my Uber code: carmenl419ue to get a bonus. For a limited time the bonus is $300 so sign up now!

Limited Time Offer: $300 Extra for New Drivers!

Uber's the fast and easy way to make money driving in your own car and on your own schedule. Sign up to receive your $300 reward. New uberX partners only.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

MetroPCS Is The Best Phone Plan For 2 People

A week or so ago, my mom came over to visit.  And since she lives out in the boonies, of course she had errands she wanted to run in the "city", one of which being she wanted to look at a new phone plan/carrier.  As I was helping her research, I realized that there may be better options for my husband and myself as well.  So after she was done (she settled on Cricket btw which has great deals as well and on an awesome network), I got to work looking up for myself.

Now if you've been reading a lot of my posts, you'll know I posted a while ago about a cell phone carrier that I've been with for a few years that I love, Ting (red my blog article on it here).  They are consistently rated the highest in customer service and that is part of why it is hard for me to leave them but there are a few negatives: 1.) You have to pay full price for your phone (unless you can find an amazing deal online somewhere).  At first this wasn't an issue, you save so much each month it made up for it.  But now phones are basically computers and they cost about $500-$600 new.  My husband and I were waiting to save up money for a new phone (not even the newest!), while our current phones were driving us crazy with how slow they are!  2.) Speaking of slow, unfortunately most of Ting's phones are on Sprint's network which, apparently, is the slowest of them all.  And 3.) For the amount of data we were using, there were actually cheaper plans out there for the two of us.  With all that being said, I still love Ting, and their idea is awesome, I just recommend it more for people who use very little to no data and don't need a newer phone.

At the time I had settled on Ting a few years ago, I had never had a smartphone before, so I didn't know how much data I'd be using and, therefore, how much I would need in a plan.  I liked that Ting was a no contract, and that you only paid for what you used.  Plus, there weren't as many options then for cheaper and no contract phone plans.  THINGS HAVE CHANGED.  This is a consumer's market.  With the internet, people are able to do more research, find the best options, and make complaints/suggestions, especially publicly, which has forced companies to change their plans.

So down to my findings: the cheapest and best plan for two people is MetroPCS's 2 for $50 plan.  It comes with unlimited text and talk and up to 1GB of data for each line at 4GLTE speeds, and unlimited at slower speeds.  My husband and I generally used about 1GB between the two of us, so we should be fine.  They use tMobile's network which isn't the best, but it's better than what we were on.  They do offer discounts on newer phones as well and the best part was: they were giving away a $50 discount to new customers that had their old account number and pin on the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime which is at a $49.99 discounted price.  Meaning, we got our phones for free!  Oh and all their plans are no contract :)

So do some research.  Find the best plan for you.  There are so many companies out there now offering customizable or unlimited plans for much cheaper than the main companies.  Plus you're not locked into a contract or only able to update every so often.  That's so 10 years ago! ;)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Join Amazon Student

This week, from October 7th to 9th 2015, shop exclusive deals for Amazon Student members on electronics, tech, study supplies, and more.  Not an Amazon Student member?  Join here and try it for free for 6 months!  After the 6 month trial, upgrade to Amazon Prime at 50% off!!

Amazon Student is a great way to to get free 2 day shipping from Amazon plus all the other perks of Amazon Prime: music and video streaming plus kindle books, for much cheaper!  I utilize this all the time as I do a lot of shopping on Amazon, it saves time by not having to go to a store and if you have free shipping then it's no extra cost!  Plus the movie and tv selection is different than Netflix so you get more streaming options.

Right now they are also doing giveaways like gift cards and games!  So join now!

Amazon Student

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Trader Joe's: It's Cheaper Than You Think

So it's been a little over a year since my husband and I got married and we moved in together.  As with any new location, scouting out what grocery store you are going to frequent can be difficult.  For most of this year, I'd been going to Safeway to do most of our shopping because of all the deals they offer on their member card.  But lately I had gotten tired of getting the same things we usually get and thought I would shake it up a bit and go to Trader Joe's.

For some reason, for a long time, I had always assumed that since Trader Joe's is healthier, it is more expensive.  It wasn't until I moved to San Francisco and had one right across the street from my apartment that I realized this wasn't the case.  But after years away from it again, the old assumption had crept back into my mind.

For those of you that may think that too . . . don't!  Trader Joe's has great selection with great prices that even rival national supermarket chains.

So eat healthier and save money!  Click here to learn more about what's new at Trader Joe's and their prices.