My $19 New York City challenge

Next week I’m off to New York City for a meet-up with some friends.  And, thanks to airline miles and hotel points, my trip will be free!  Well, not really.  I do need to pay taxes and fees to redeem miles.  And, I need transportation to and from each airport.  And, I need to eat.  And, it would be a shame to go to New York without doing some sightseeing.  Yikes, this is starting to sound expensive!

To make things interesting, here’s my self-imposed challenge: I will travel to New York City and back for $19 out of pocket per day.  I plan to fly in on Tuesday, meet up with friends Wednesday evening, and return home on Thursday.  So, I have a self-imposed, made-up budget of $19 X 3 = $57.  Is this possible?

Rules of the game

This challenge would be too easy if I didn’t first impose some rules for myself:

  1. Travel and dine in comfort.  This means no hitchhiking, no soup kitchens, and preferably no McDonalds or Burger King if I can help it. 
  2. Get good value from my points.  It would be very easy for me to pay for anything and everything with my Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold credit card and then use my Ultimate Rewards points to pay the ensuing credit card bill.  That would only get me 1 cent per point value from my Ultimate Rewards points.  That’s no good!  When I spend points, I must get value equal to or better than the Fair Trading Price
  3. Sightsee.  I need to do something.  I’m flexible here.  Museums, walking tours, events, etc., all would count as far as I’m concerned.
  4. No help from friends.  To keep the game honest, other than the meet-up dinner that is already paid for, I won’t accept meals or rides from friends (or strangers). 

The beginnings of a plan (please help with suggestions!)

Here are my high-level plans so far:

Tuesday

  1. Drive to airport and park off-site.  I can park for $8 per day with a coupon.  Due to my flight schedule, I think I’ll be charged for three days, so this will take a big chunk of my budget: $24
  2. Snack at airport lounge.  I’ve never visited the North Terminal lounge (does one even exist?), but I’m hoping that my Amex Platinum card will get me in. $0
  3. Fly American Airlines Detroit to LaGuardia.  Using British Airways Avios I booked a flight for 9000 points + $5 in taxes.  The best price Kayak could find for a nonstop flight to the New York City area was $852!  So, I’m getting more than 9 cents per point value from my Avios!  In case you’re wondering, the best one-stop price was $268 (even at that comparison price, I get almost 3 cents per point value which is still very good).
  4. From LaGuardia, I’ll need transportation to my hotel.  I could take a city bus and transfer to a subway, but I’m not sure how easy that would be.  Instead I’m inclined to buy a round trip Express Bus ticket for $21.  Ouch.
  5. Dinner for free: I recently redeemed my OpenTable points for a $20 OpenTable check.  This can be used to pay at any restaurant that accepts reservations through the OpenTable service.  I also have $50 in restaurant.com vouchers that my wife got for free for signing up for a magazine.  These vouchers usually require minimum spend greater than their face value (for example, sometimes your bill must come to at least $35 to use a $25 voucher).  I’m hoping to find a restaurant where I can combine the OpenTable check with the Restaurant.com voucher in order to eat for free.  I might even be able to invite a friend along!  Anyone have recommendations for mid-town restaurants that are in both programs?  Estimated out of pocket cost: $0
  6. Free hotel: I haven’t booked a hotel yet, but I have lots of points of many shapes and sizes.  My goal will be to find a nice hotel in which I’ll get breakfast for free either because it is automatically included, or thanks to my elite status (Marriott Platinum, Priority Club Platinum, Hyatt Platinum, Hilton Gold, SPG Gold, Club Carlson Gold).  I’d like to get free internet as well, but I can always use the data plan on my phone if needed (I have it setup to act as a hotspot).  Based on past experience, I think my best bets for ensuring free breakfast (and internet) are to go with Marriott or Hilton.  Estimated out of pocket cost: $0

Wednesday

  1. Eat breakfast at hotel.  $0
  2. Work in the morning in the hotel.  $0
  3. Lunch: I’ll be perfectly happy with a cheap slice of pizza at a nearby pizza joint.  I tend to drink water most of the time, so lunch should be cheap.  Estimated cost: $5
  4. Sightsee.  Cost TBD
  5. Dinner / Meetup.  Already paid for.

Thursday

  1. Breakfast at hotel: $0
  2. Ride to airport: $0 (assuming I paid for a round trip ticket on Tuesday)
  3. Snack at airport lounge:  Again, I’m hoping that my Amex Platinum card will get me in to the AA lounge.  $0

Tally

The known expenses listed above come to $55.  That means that I would have only $2 left over for sightseeing, transportation within the city (I usually walk anyway), and unforeseen expenses (I can just see it now… “No, you may not carry my bag sir!  I don’t have money to give you a tip!”).  In New York there are plenty of free sightseeing opportunities, so I’m not too worried about that, but $2 seems like too small of a margin.

Help!

My biggest expenses will be airport parking in Detroit, and airport transfers in New York.  Do you know of better options?  There is a bus that can take me to and from DTW, but once I include the cost of parking near the bus station the cost comes to $24 round-trip, so that doesn’t help.  And, as I said above, I believe I could take the city bus to and from LGA, but I’m a bit nervous about that since I’ve never done it before.  Also, I’m not sure it would qualify for rule #1 (travel and dine in comfort).  Any recommendations would be appreciated!

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. Chalk this up to bad ideas and move on. I can suggest great dining on the cheap like the Ukranian old age home on 2nd avenue. Great perogi’s and the like for Ultra Cheap. You are going to NYC and you can’t even breathe the air in NYC for $2.

  2. Free sightseeing: Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Natural History. They both have ‘suggested’ contributions (or you can choose to pay $0). Then walk around Central Park and you are done with free sightseeing!

  3. I guess I won’t ask you to come out for a beer! 🙂

    You can reduce your pizza cost (Wed #3) to $1/slice – 2slices + soda for $2.75 – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/nyregion/two-manhattan-pizza-parlors-end-price-war.html

    Entertaining – if you like Museums, the Met is pay what you want. MOMA has a Free Friday (between 4-8pm) sponsored by Target.

    Bus to LGA is not a problem, do it all the time, only caution is to give yourself extra time as traffic in the city can be unpredictable!

  4. Absolutely do bus to subway if your serious about the challenge. That’ll free up $16.50 for other things, probably a much better meal.

    M60 to whichever subway line you need is super easy. And lots of others will be doing the same thing.

    Only thing I don’t know about is where you buy a MetroCard at LGA. I’m sure someone else could chime in with their experience.

  5. I live in NY so I can offer some tips =)

    1. Regarding airport transport from LaGuardia, take M60 and it will drop you at 125th street and lexington avenue in Manhattan, then you can take the subway 4/5/6 to where you want to stop. The entire commute time will be 30 minutes at most. The bus is frequent and it is the easiest ride for one to travel to the city. That will save you a ton of money and you can have a bigger budget for doing other things.

    2. Regarding Tuesday dinner, please note most often the gratuity is not included if you are paying using certificates. I am pretty sure the restaurant.com gift certificate does not (normally it will be 18% of the gross total bill).

    • Rongbiao Fu: Good point about gratuity. In my experience, the restaurant adds 18% gratuity to the bill automatically when you pay with a restaurant.com voucher, then they take the voucher amount off the total. At that point I should be able to pay all or most of the difference with the OpenTable check (I hope)

  6. I would reccomend signing up for levelup! they gave out $10 in free credit for signing up this week.. plus they give you an extra $1-3 dpending on where you eat.
    This should ocver your lunch.
    Defimitely take a bus to the subway, itll cost you $2.25 and transfer from bus to subway are free as long as they are done within 2 hours of swiping. The bus should let you off in astoria where you can transfer to the N or Q which leads you crosstown via 57th and than down broadway from 57th.

  7. Remember, in NYC, public transit is much more of a norm. I would definitely look at figuring out a way from the airport to a hotel (plenty should be on or near a subway). The M60 runs from LGA to several subway lines frequently.
    Play with the Google trip planner, or I’m sure some locals may know of good hotels near subway stops. Plus, if you get stuck, lots of people there know how to use the transit so can help you. I’m from Michigan, so understand your perceptions of transit from Detroit. NYC is a totally different animal. Do you have any Groupon referral dollars lying around?

  8. Doh, I forgot. Joey M is right. There’s also the option to get off before the bridge and take the N/R.

    All depends on what hotel you choose. As a Harlem resident, I often forget about that option!

  9. Tuesday night at a bar near me is two for Tuesday’s. Meaning you can get a free meal if a friend purchases. My treat? And I bet canucklehead maybe will be in?

  10. Frequent Miler,

    Good meeting you at the A2DO. Assuming you are still living in A2 and your flight does not leave before dawn, catch the new Air Ride Bus from the Blake Transit Center to DTW, it is only $22 roundtrip. (Savings of $2.) http://www.myairride.com/

    Andrew

    • Great ideas everyone! Keep them coming!
      OK, I’ll take the bus to the subway as everyone suggested. Once I book a hotel, I’ll post it here so that people can tell me where to switch to what 🙂

  11. This seems to defeat the purpose of going to NY. Why don’t you try again at a lesser city with not so many good food and entertainment options?

  12. Definitely take the bus. I always used to be “worried” about this too until I did it and it is so fine. Now I do it all the time. Coming in you actually have a couple of choices and I tend to do whichever comes first. The M60 I get off at Astoria Blvd on the Queens side and then take the N/Q train into the city. Or you can take it into Harlem at 125th and go down from there. The other option is the Q33 to Jackson Heights where you can join the 7/E/F/M/R trains going to pretty much everywhere. Of course on the way back you have to decide which way to go but that is driven by where you are staying. I have actually been taking some snaps along the route for a future blog post about getting into NYC cheaply from LGA. The Queens area is much nicer than people give credit for.

    • I’m looking at a few hotel options that I know would include breakfast (given my elite status):
      * Hilton Garden Inn New York/West 35th Street
      * Hilton Times Square
      * Marriott East Side

      Anyone know them well enough to help me decide? Any other hotel suggestions?

  13. Can you not get a DDOT/SMART bus to the airport from your house at the Detroit end? That’s unlikely to be very convenient but would save quite a bit.

    There are a number of $1-a-slice pizza places in Midtown and Greenwich Village that are of approximately the same quality as the more common $2.50-a-slice pizza places, which would free up a few more dollars.

    You should allow for at least a couple subway rides as it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that your hotel, dinner and sightseeing will all be within convenient walking distance of each other.

  14. My office is @ 40th & B’way (b/w Times Square and Macy’s). Call me when in the vicinity and we’ll grab a slice of $1 pizza for lunch)!

  15. FM: Sounds like you’ll be busy. This is a terrible week for me (jewish holidays and my daughter’s bat mitzvah right in the middle of it), or I’d offer to meet up with you as well.
    .
    Definitely take the bus / subway combination.
    .
    Can you get someone to drop you off at the airport in Detroit? Your stomach will thank you in New York.
    .
    Look for a hotel no further north than Times Square if you plan to walk a lot. If you plan to travel around town a lot get the $29, 7-day metrocard (which pays out if you take 14 or more rides). You could possibly sell it on for the remaining days to one of your friends to recoup part of the cost (the remaining 4 days would be worth at least $15).
    .
    It’s entirely possible to fill yourself up for $3 in the city and a good meal in Chinatown can be had for $5 to $10.
    .
    The weather is fantastic these days, and you will not need to go into any buildings to have a great time sightseeing. Spend half of a day in Central Park. Walk around Soho. Most people who visit New York come away amazed at how much they’ve walked. Bring good shoes.
    .
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History (both convenient to Central Park) are, as someone pointed out, “pay what you want”. But, you must pay something (even a penny is okay, but give them a dollar).

  16. Airport transfers can be had for $4.50 round trip on mass transit. No reason at all to pay for the $21 bus. Buy a metrocard by baggage claim at LGA in the Central Terminal where AA operates from and then catch the bus to the train. Which bus/train depends a bit on where you are staying but the Q33/Q47 to the E train at Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Avenue shouldn’t take more than an hour to midtown. I can offer more specific details once you pick a hotel.

    As for free sight seeing, the High Line park on the West Side is always a good play. Odds are you will run in to me sitting there in the afternoon; I often use it as an office. And that neighborhoood – West Village/Meatpacking/Chelsea is useful for art galleries, people watching and relaxing.

    I saved you $16 on your budget so far. 🙂

  17. Also, spend some of the $16 I just saved you on a late night street meat dinner after you arrive. Way better than just lounge food and usually in the $6 range.

  18. For sightseeing, you might enjoy walking the High Line if the weather is nice. Check it out on the web. If the weather is bad museums are a good bet.
    Also visiting the current museum at ground zero is worth time as is the tour given by people who either worked at the Twin Towers or were involved in the rescue mission.

  19. Word of advice, a large number of places in nyc do not care for food certificates. They may say they honor them and then they decide not to actually do so. I’ve had multiple people get screwed in this way trying to use groupons. I would not rely on those savings to make or break your trip. More importantly, NYC is THE place for amazing, cheap ethnic food. The types of places that will take your certificates aren’t likely to be authentic / great without a lot of research. I would spend the saved money on at least one legit nyc place. I would recommend soup dumplings in chinatown. Its like 5 dollars for 12 delicious pork or crab dumplings. Then its a combo dinner/sightseeing adventure!

    As far as non-food things to do, you can see hilarious improv comedy at UCB theater for under 10 dollars, sometimes free. People watching in the west village, lower east side, chelsea, etc. are fun.

    Finally, as a new yorker (who grew up in indy) that has lived here for 7 years, I have an obligation to refute standard tourist advice from a midwest perspective.

    Do NOT go to central park for more than like 20 minutes. It is just a park. Having that large of a park in a major city is amazing, which is why it is famous. As a park, though, its crappy and overcrowded. If you have to go walk around the reservoir and see the skyline, which is beautiful. And do it on the way to the met, which is the rare tourist attraction that is also beloved by new yorkers. It is one of the greatest museums in the world and you absolutely HAVE to go.

    Do NOT go to anything in times square unless you absolutely have to. There is a reason that is filled with crappy, horrible chains. No-one other than tourists goes there unless they absolutely have to. It is a black hole of awful. It is like going to Gary, Indiana.

    Do NOT go to the highline. It is a tourist-filled walkway with a few plants. Again, do not go to new york to see nature. That makes no sense! Go to see things that only a gigantic city can have like world-class museums, restaurants, cultural institutions, sports teams, etc.

    #ends rant here.

  20. Without a doubt public transport into NYC. Read the fine print on those restaurant.com. I have ended up spending a lot more than I thought

  21. Love it!

    Personally your budget would be too tight for me because I need a daily coffee and beer budget, but otherwise I think it is a fun challenge.

    When we go to NYC, we never splurge on expensive meals because there is so much good food to be had everywhere for low / average prices.

    Good luck.

    Anita

  22. * Take the Staten Island Ferry for a free pass-by of the Statue of Liberty and great views of lower Manhattan.

    * Lots of cheap food in chinatown. Dumplings, Pho, meat sticks. Look at websites like http://cheapassfood.com/eats/show/26-the-battle-of-the-dumplings-

    * Drink/eat together by getting a drink at Crocodile Lounge and getting a free personal pizza with each drink. Or, just pick up any of the many coupons all over the bar/floor for free pizza. http://nymag.com/listings/bar/crocodile-lounge/

  23. Sounds painful. Going to New York and can only spend $2. Live it up man. Forget the challenge and spend some money 🙂 I do admire the challenge though.

  24. Not sure if I am repeating what everyone else said.

    Take the M60 bus to the subway, it crosses on 125th street so you can catch majority of lines and make it to your final destination.

    Free museums are Metropolitan, American Museum of Natural History, The Cloisters (part of the Met), Brooklyn Museum of Art, all are “suggested” donation, you can give $1 if you want.

    Take the free ferry from Bowling Green to Staten Island and back. You will have a great view of Statute of Liberty, and can take great pictures of Lower Manhattan from that ferry.

    Walk the Brooklyn Bridge, it is a wonderful way to take pictures of Lower Manhattan, see the skyline and enjoy fresh air.

    Central Park is free, enjoy some time there, it is worth it.

    Walk the Highline park (West side, 23rd street), cool little park that is above ground, some people like it, some don’t, but it sort of new.

    I think The Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesday, double check that, but that is worth the trip up to The Bronx.

    I hope this helps.

    Enjoy New York!

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  25. Airride is a good idea, but isn’t it still a couple of bucks to park in Ann Arbor? Of course, you aren’t figuring your gas to drive to the airport in DTW.

  26. wow, i guess everybody has their turn-ons…but this to me sounds like an incredibly dumb idea.

    only have one life to live, to visit an amazing city like NY and have the focus be on how little money you spend is totally missing the point. live a little, eat at one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants or Blue Smoke or Nobu or god, one of a million amazing places

    its just my opinion and i won’t even check back to see how much hatred will be thrown at me for daring to have an opinion but whatever…

    i guess the bottom line is this blog is not what i thought it would be…its more like an extreme coupon-ing site than anything else…

    best of luck on your NY adventure…

  27. The M60 bus takes dollar coins… but the transfer to the subway is better with the metrocard.

    You can buy a metrocard from the hudson news in laguardia.

  28. Free fun: take a stroll on the Highline which is a park built on old elevated subway tracks on the westside. Walk through the east village, soho, the wtc site. I know you want to avoid fast food but don’t forget the Amex twitter sync for McD’s. I’m sure you have a couple of Amex cards.

  29. There’s a new parking service “Valet Connections” offered out of the Comfort Inn at DTW for $6.49/night. Apparently they run the shuttle from their and then move your car offsite to another lot. I’m super cheap, but even this isn’t worth the extra hassle for me, since I’m sure it will add substantial time both directions over US Park. http://www.airportparking.com/

    I fly AA out of the North Terminal…have never tried the LH lounge with my Amex Plat.

  30. your budget is wayyy too tight – there is no way you can spend less than $50 a day in NYC and be happy

    your opentable coupon will require GRATUITY, so it’s not $0
    your restaurant.com coupon will require GRATUITY, so it’s not $0
    your hotel might require you to pay taxes

    If you frugally do it your way for under $57,

    Parking at your local airport will be $24
    british airways tax – $5
    buy a metrocard for $11 (four one-way bus/subway rides @ $2.25 each) take bus to Manhattan and subway to hotel , and then subway to bus station, bus station to airport

    you will have spent a mandatory of $40 and have $17 left…

    for meals, you can spend it on $1 pizza for breakfast/lunch/dinner OR

    $20 opentable coupon, $4 tip
    $50 restaurant.com coupon, $10 tip

    you will have $3 left for three slices of pizza

  31. lol on comment #35.

    Do not pass go, do not collect $200. You might as well stay home. lol

    Go to the Met .. it’s a great museum. Any museum in NYC that takes taxpayer money cannot charge for admission. They all have suggested donations but they are just that, suggestions.

    -David

  32. The Hilton GI on 35th St is in a great location near Herals Square and gets top reviews on Trip Advisor. I did a 5 night stay there last year and loved it. Reviews have driven up prices and using HHonors points is not cheap either.Also, breakfast was not free but status could change that.

  33. I value your research and the budget. However, you are limiting the NY experience and not factoring in your valuable time. I hate to see you wasting your time due to the budget constraint at NY or any other places other than home. The savings are great; nonetheless, it does come with the cost.

  34. The bus/subway from JFK/LGA isn’t a good deal if you’re in a hurry, but you do get to see a lot and public transit is part of the NY experience. I’ve done it at least once for the novelty but wouldn’t do it every trip.

    Also, you haven’t budgeted any money for additional cabs/subway once you’re in the city. Are you going to stay close to the hotel and walk?

    Money has a way of evaporating in NYC, so your challenge won’t be easy. Good luck. Please post a report on how it works out, and have a good time!

  35. This topic is pretty close to my heart. There is such a disconnect between traveling cheap on miles/points, especially on high-end travel, and then skimping on meals/entertainment at the destinations.

  36. Do NOT use coins on the city bus to/from LGA if you can otherwise avoid it. Coins do not provide FREE bus to subway transfers. Multi-ride (anything greater than single ride) metro cards do provide free transfer.

    To clarify, the metro card machine is INSIDE the bldg, on the lower level (to your left when exiting AA past UA baggage claim) & directly opposite the NYC M60/Q33/Q47 bus stop shelter.

    For free events, check out the skint.com listing

    Download the scoutmob app that often has free, instant 50% or sometimes 100% off food deals.

    FYI, if your hotel award choice is driven by your hope of a filling free breakfast, think twice. afaik, the Hilton Gold won’t give you lounge access at least at the midtown 6th Ave property. Plus all they give is a free coffee chit.

    Hyatt

  37. If you have PC points, there have often been decent redemption values in Manhattan compared to other chains.

    If you were here a bit longer & wanted to maximize points over commuting time, there are even some Cat4 Marriott redemption values in Queens & NJ all with decent public transit options.

  38. –Definitely bus to subway. I would take the Q33, not the M60. But we can discuss that more after you book the hotel.

    –Stay in Times Square if you plan to take the subway a lot. All the lines are within an easy walk of Times Square. If you don’t plan on taking the subway, probably the 35th St. option, as it’s closer to downtown.

    –There is a bar in the East Village called Alligator Lounge (or possibly Crocodile Lounge — one is in Brooklyn and the other in Manhattan). You get a free pizza with every beer. Beers run around $3, and you get a small, not that great, but perfectly serviceable pizza. And it’s weird/quirky “New York” thing to do.

    –You can definitely get dumplings for less than “$5-10”. You can get eight vegetarian dumplings for $3. http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/tasty-dumpling/menu

    The west side also has some hole in the wall Mexican places that will sell you a good, authentic taco for $1-2.

  39. Tip:

    New Uber users can get up to $25.

    1) Sign up with a referral link (easy to find on a referral conga. This nets you $10.

    2) Load DRESSFORSUCCESS into your promotion tab for another $15.

    Alternatively you can sign up with “YELPSF” and start with $20.

    $25 won’t get your super far in a cab, but it will turn a $40 cab ride into a $15 cab ride… and might keep you within your budget.

  40. 1. Check out UBER. They run random promotions, but ride is still not very cheap after all discounts.

    2. Do eat from food trucks. There are some amazing options.

    3. Drop me an email and I’ll buy you a beer and a burger. Only would be fair after all the free advice you post every day.

    4. Do use public transportation in NYC. You might like to walk, but some things are quite far away.

    5. I’ve heard good things about Holiday Inn (Express?) on 39th street. I would try to stay away from Times Square hotels.

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