Yes, you read that correctly. My boyfriend and I recently hit up New York City for a long weekend that cost us less than $500 each. And we didn’t sleep on the side of the road and eat street meat all weekend. Here’s how we did it.
Flying out of YYZ, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, can get to be extreme when it comes to prices. YYZ is the world’s most expensive airport in the world to fly in and out of (thank you, taxes!), so naturally, the fares can be pretty nuts. Even flying out of YTZ, Toronto’s Billy Bishop Island Airport, with Porter, was going to cost the same as YYZ with Air Canada/Delta/Continental/American etc. We were looking at flying for no-less than $300 each, round-trip. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a one-hour flight, considering last year I took multiple 2 to 4 hour flights with EasyJet and WizzAir for never more than $100 a pop. Hmph. Even my 4-night package to Iceland with IcelandAir was only marginally more expensive, and that included hotel and a tour!
Enter Buffalo. Many Canadians have taken to driving over the border and flying out of the nearest airport. I did it in 2008 when I flew from Bellingham, WA to Vegas for half the price of going from Vancouver, and I know a lot of Torontonians who’ve made the 2 hour drive to Buffalo, NY (America’s 9th cheapest airport, holla!) to save loads. We figured we’d make a go of it – after all, our flights would only be $140 each, round-trip…yes, including taxes! The only gamble – we were going in February (read: snow). On a long weekend. In both Ontario AND the US (read: BUSY). Fortunately our ridiculously early departure time, and super late arrival time meant we got lucky at the border, and also missed all the snow that got dumped on Buffalo the day we arrived. Aside from needing to rid the car of inches of powder, saving at least $160 on flights was totally worth it.
We originally got the idea to do NYC for a long weekend because I came across some Black Friday hotel deals in the paper back in November. We did our research, and it turned out that the hotel that was featured was good, but there were loads of similar places for cheaper, so we began to look elsewhere. I remembered that my friends stayed at a hotel they loved, and knowing that their standards and taste match mine, I crossed my fingers that the Best Western President was within our price range.
Hurrah, it was! On W 48th just west of 8th (ie. just north of Times Square), the Best Western President, fully renovated, was offering us a room at about $170 a night (via Booking.com, a personal fave). I checked the bed bug registry, and they were clear, so we were good to go! We got there, the place was gorgeous, had a really helpful front desk lady who gave me a corkscrew and pointed me towards the nearest vintner (forever grateful), and nice clean rooms with more space than I had two years ago at the must-stay, uber-trendy, totally stupid Hudson (which was like double the price…I’m still mad). I highly recommend the Best Western President…it was pretty much everything I wanted in a New York hotel, and for just the right price.
We ate amazing food, and didn’t have to keep turning to our credit cards to do so. I wrote an entire post on our food experiences in NYC, so I’ll just give you a brief run-down here. We didn’t dine at super fancy or expensive places, but that doesn’t mean we compromised. We didn’t spend much on lunches (about $10 each for two days, and a little more at Grimaldi’s…but I didn’t need to eat the rest of the day…), and our dinner at Pastis was a treat from my parents, but still cost less than $100 (yes, even with wine and beer).
I must say, though, the smartest thing we did was buy wine from a vintner. I got a (good) $10 bottle that kept me happy before and after dinner, and prevented me from ordering more glasses of wine at dinner. Cha-ching!
AirTrain is brilliant. For $7.50, you can get right into midtown or Lower Manhattan by using the eco-friendly, emission-free AirTrain and NYC Subway combination from any of JFK’s terminals. It takes about an hour, but if you take a taxi and get stuck in traffic, it can take the same amount of time…and will net you $45. AirTrain is great if you don’t have much luggage (ie. we both had small carry-ons), and is really easy to do. It also cuts your transportation bill down to a much more manageable amount.
As for the rest of our transit needs, well, we didn’t take a taxi once. I’m a walker, and New York is one of my favourite cities to walk through. Seeing as Tom had never been there before, it was pretty imperative that he see the city by walking it, rather than spending all our time underground in the subway. We pretty much walked everywhere, and yeah, it was February, so we were a tad chilly, but man up! It’s not that bad. We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, we walked through Central Park, we walked from Times Square to Washington Square (that’s like 45 blocks), and we took the subway twice…because sometimes you need a little break. All in all, it cost us about $5 for both of our subway fares…that’s it!
I refuse to pay exorbitant amounts of money for attractions. It’s unnecessary. Hence, the only attraction we spent money on was the $22 ticket to go to the Top of the Rock, which was so worth it. Please, do me a favour, and forget the Empire State Building. You can see it in the view from the Rock, and that’s really what you cam to New York for, isn’t it? As far as the rest of the attractions, well, they’re mostly all free…Chrysler Building, Times Square, UN, Grand Central, Fifth Avenue, Central Park, WTC Site, Wall Street, etc. We went down to Battery Park to see Lady Liberty, but didn’t hop the crazy expensive ferry to go to Liberty Island (for a free water view of the Statue of Liberty, hop on the free Staten Island Ferry). Ellis Island is expensive, but it’s actually worth the visit, we just didn’t have time to go. We also didn’t check into any museums or galleries, but we a) didn’t have time, and b) I’ve seen them and Tom didn’t care. Some do have pay-what-you can times, so make sure you check that out before going.
Oh, and for the love of travel, please don’t go anywhere near one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours.
Okay so we didn’t really shop. We definitely wandered in and out of stores, and had our fair share of Fifth Avenue window shopping, but it was pretty easy to say no because a) by this point I’d become obsessed with seeing how little money I could spend and still have a good time, and b) most of the shops I like on Fifth are finally available in Canada. That being said, it was a good thing we skirted around SoHo, and wandered through Greenwich Village in the evening, because that’s where I would’ve been truly tempted.
Don’t worry, though, I didn’t come home empty-handed. I bought a beautiful pashmina scarf from one of those guys selling them on the street (whatever, stop judging, it’s gorgeous and it was $5), and I picked up the Peanut Butter & Co cookbook in lieu of carry-on unfriendly jars of peanut butter. And, you know, I’m pretty damn pleased with my purchases.
So while you may be thinking, “that sounds like the most boring trip to New York ever”, I haven’t even told you the half of it. I’ve just told you how we managed to hit up one of the most expensive cities in the world, and spend a lot less than I did the last time I was there (where I blew about $500 on food alone…my how times have changed).
I can definitely tell you that we had a really fun time, totally loved our mini-break, and actually enjoyed the fact that we beat the system and experienced New York for less. That city can clean your wallet out faster than you can say I Love New York, but only if you let it.