Money-Saving Guide: How to Explore NYC on a Budget

Petr Novák

New York is one of the most expensive cities in the USA. Prices for accommodation, car rental, and attractions are well above average. In this article, I present 17 tips to help you save money on hotels, tickets, and food without having to cut back too much. You can already save $71 when you visit the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock.

Money-Saving Guide: How to Explore NYC on a Budget | ©

  1. Cheap Flight Tickets to New York

    Flights to New York have long been among the most affordable long-haul ones. This is facilitated by high demand and significant competition between airlines.

    During a good promotion, you can buy a round-trip ticket from Europe to New York for less than €250$268, inclusive of all taxes and fees. Normally, you can get tickets for around €400$429. The low price is usually due to a limited choice of dates, a few available seats on the plane, no checked baggage, and flights from Berlin, Germany, Budapest, or Poland.

    Promotional tickets to New York are sometimes sold as open-jaw, meaning different departure and return locations. An example is the flight Prague – Vienna – New York – London – Manchester. You can stay in Breclav, but you have to start your journey in Prague, otherwise the entire ticket becomes invalid. However, you can end your return journey in London and skip the last flight. Don’t forget to check your luggage only to London.

    Dates when demand for tickets is higher are usually excluded from promotions. These are most often the summer months from around June to August and the transition of the calendar year.

  2. How to Get from New York Airport to Manhattan Cheaply

    MTA buses are the cheapest; the downside is the long travel time. The Q3 line runs to Jamaica-179th St (F subway, 45-minute ride time), the Q10 line to Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd (A subway, 20 minutes), and the B15 line to Ashford Street & New Lots Avenue (3 subway, 30 minutes).

    Buses leave from the platforms at T5, just follow the signs inside the building. If you buy a weekly public transport ticket at the airport, you don’t have to pay any additional fares.

    The best option is the JFK AirTrain. It operates nonstop to Howard Beach Station and Jamaica Metro stations. From the former, the A subway runs to Brooklyn and Manhattan. From Jamaica, the E line runs to Queens and midtown Manhattan, and the J and Z lines run to Brooklyn and southern Manhattan. The trip through Jamaica is faster, but the subway does not stop at all stations during rush hour.

    AirTrain tickets are $6.00, and subway tickets costing $2.75 are purchased separately.

    An Uber or Lyft ride to Manhattan will cost between $75 and $125. Definitely avoid unmarked taxis whose drivers drop passengers off outside the terminal. You will significantly overpay with them.

  3. Cheap Accommodation in New York

    …is not to be found in Manhattan. New York is one of the most expensive cities in the USA, and prices in the tourist-heavy Manhattan are even higher.

    Affordable hotels can be found in the surrounding boroughs and in New Jersey. Consider the time spent commuting to attractions. Personally, I always choose accommodation near a subway station, and I book 99% of my hotels on It offers the widest range of accommodation, a loyalty programme, and in some cases, a lowest price guarantee.

    Check if the price of your accommodation includes taxes. Hotels in New York City charge a 14.75% tax on the room rate per night and a hotel occupancy tax of $3.50 per room per night.

    With Airbnb in New York, you don’t always save. City law prohibits rentals of properties with more than three apartments for less than 1 month unless a resident permanently lives in the house. Some landlords disregard this rule, but the prices are still high. Especially since Airbnb has become more expensive and is no longer considered to be more profitable.

  4. New York Metro: How to Save on Tickets

    New York is one of the few cities in the USA where public transportation operates efficiently. The subway runs nonstop, covers all essential locations, and offers reasonably priced tickets.
    As of 2023, the traditional plastic Metrocard has been replaced by the OMNY system. Now, tickets can be conveniently paid for with a phone or a contactless card attached to the turnstile. Both Google Pay and Apple Pay are supported, and the ticket price is $2.75.

    After you’ve taken at least 12 rides in a week, all subsequent rides are free. Interestingly, the ride count always resets on Mondays. Therefore, if your visit to New York runs from Wednesday to Wednesday, you might pay more than $33. The OMNY system operates across all subway lines and local buses.

    Instead of hailing yellow cabs, I suggest using Uber or its competitor, Lyft. With these services, you know the final price in advance, the journey is tracked, and the driver’s identity is provided beforehand. Alternatively, consider walking, which I personally favor. It allows you to notice minor details and fully immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of New York.

  5. Cheap Food in NYC

    New York offers an array of cuisines from all over the world. Surprisingly, the most affordable food can be found not in supermarkets but at street stalls.

    A slice of pizza will cost you around $3.00, a similar price you’ll pay for a hot dog, hamburger, or Chinese noodles. A plain bagel costs approximately $1.25, while an additional filling will increase the price by $1.50. Bagels might look like doughnuts but they are savory, made from wheat flour, and garnished with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or other toppings.

    You’ll find at least one Subway, Burger King, or McDonalds on every street where you can expect to pay between $7.00 and $9.00 for a meal that includes a drink. To save money, consider purchasing a larger portion for less than a dollar more and sharing the meal. It’s a more economical choice.

  6. A Ticket to 100 Attractions for One Price

    Planning to visit the Empire State Building and Top of The Rock in New York? You can save $71 on just these two tickets when you buy a New York CityPass. Plus, you get to visit any third attraction for free.

    If you aim to see as much as possible in New York City, I recommend The New York Pass. For a single payment, you can visit as many attractions as you want within the number of days you choose. The most cost-effective option is to purchase a three-day pass, allowing you to visit the most interesting sites without feeling rushed.

    Both passes provide access to the observation decks of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, One World Center, and the Edge, a cruise around Freedom Steps, and entry to various museums. You can see a list of included attractions at New York CityPass and The New York Pass. With these passes, you could also attend a New York Yankees baseball game.

    By wisely scheduling your visits, you can save over a hundred dollars in just a few days.

  7. Where to Store Luggage Cheaply in New York City

    In New York and New Jersey, luggage storage is provided by Luggage Hero, a service collaborating with hundreds of stores and hotels. All you have to do is choose a location, specify the number of bags, and make a payment through Google Pay.

    The storage costs vary by location, usually starting at €7$7.51 for a day and from $0.95 per hour. In both instances, a handling fee of $1.29 is added, and optional luggage insurance can be purchased for an extra $2.95.

    Should you need to cancel your storage reservation, rest assured that it’s always free of charge.

  8. Look Out for Discount Coupons

    Americans love discount coupons. You can cut costs on attraction admissions, motel accommodations, souvenirs, or fast-food meals. While you could once find coupons in motel brochures or promotional magazines, the most reliable method today is to download a mobile app or check the attraction’s social media pages.

    Discounts for your next purchase are often printed directly on the receipt, which you can save for future use. When shopping at Vons, CVS/Pharmacy, and other supermarkets, it’s worth signing up for a loyalty program. It takes just a few minutes, and with the card, you can save up to 50% on some items.

  9. Free Wi-Fi in New York City

    You can find free internet in all fast-food restaurants such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Burger King. Access to it is sometimes contingent on making a purchase, as the password is printed on the receipt.

    Free Wi-Fi is available in most subway stations; you just need to watch an ad to connect. Free internet is also available throughout the city at locations where phone booths used to be. Simply connect to the “LinkNYC Free WiFi” network and accept the terms of use. Public Wi-Fi is also available in Central Park and other parks.

    The most convenient way to access the internet on your mobile phone is through the purchase of a local SIM card. You can purchase a physical SIM card upon arrival in the USA or an eSIM in advance. The advantage is the ability to use online maps or services like Uber.

  10. Free Attractions in New York City

    It isn’t advisable to plan your entire New York City itinerary around free attractions, as you may miss out on the main highlights. However, they can fill in the gaps in your schedule, and some of them may provide an even greater experience than paid attractions. For inspiration, I’ve included a few places that can be visited entirely free of charge. These are primarily museums:

    Central Park

    This green oasis in the heart of Manhattan offers free entry. I recommend bringing a snack and having a picnic in Sheep Meadow. You can also see the Strawberry Fields memorial dedicated to John Lennon or the 29 statues scattered across Central Park at no cost.

    American Museum of Natural History

    The American Museum of Natural History offers free admission during its last hour of operation. You must reserve your visit in advance; regular admission fees apply at other times.

    Bronx Zoo

    The Bronx Zoo offers a limited number of free tickets each Wednesday. There are two minor stipulations: tickets must be reserved in advance, which is always possible starting at 5 p.m. on Mondays. Only basic zoo admission is provided for free, with extra charges for attractions and premium enclosures.

    Times Square

    The lit-up Times Square is one of the most exciting places to visit in New York City at night. The best view is from the TKTS red staircase between 46th Street and 47th Street.

  11. Free Cruise Around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

    You can take a sightseeing cruise with views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Manhattan for free. Just use the city-operated, complimentary Staten Island Ferry. The boat departs approximately every 30 minutes from the southern tip of Manhattan, arriving at Staten Island in 22 minutes.

    There is a fee to visit the Statue of Liberty, and tickets are in high demand, so book in advance.

  12. Plan Your New York Trip in Advance

    The universal advice applies to all destinations you visit: plan your trip meticulously.
    Visit one neighborhood each day and explore it thoroughly. This approach will save you valuable time. Don’t skip residential neighborhoods like NoHo or Tribeca. You’ll get a glimpse of the real New York, not just the typical tourist traps.

    Purchase tickets online in advance; they tend to be cheaper and can often help you avoid long lines. Prepare your itinerary at home to avoid wasting time on location.

    For attractions, check the number of visitors on each day of the week by opening Google Maps. For example, the Six Flags Amusement Park in New Jersey tends to be crowded on summer weekends, so it’s better to visit during the work week.

    I recommend keeping all reservations, tickets, and airfare in the cloud, where all tour participants will have access to the files. I also keep a copy in my email as a backup. I’ve found it helpful to number the files according to the sequential day of the trip.

  13. Prices Do Not Include Sales Tax

    New York stores list prices excluding the sales tax of 8.875%. This tax is added to the purchase price at the checkout; instead of paying the $10.00 listed on the price tag, you end up paying $10.89.

    Interestingly, some products are exempt from sales tax. This includes clothing and shoes priced up to $110.

  14. Free Travel Guide to New York

    A physical New York City guide book can cost as much as a weekly subway ticket. And why pay for something you’ll only use once?

    Instead of purchasing a branded guide book, simply borrow one from the library. Even an annual membership will probably be cheaper. If you want your own copy, consider buying the more affordable electronic version.

  15. Free Walking Tours

    A number of entrepreneurs offer “free” guided tours of New York City. Some focus on a specific neighborhood, while others provide walking tours associated with, for instance, street art. These walking tours typically begin at a certain time each day, and you simply go to a designated location to join the group. No need to register or book anything in advance.

    The term “free” is enclosed in quotation marks intentionally in the introductory sentence. There is no fixed price for participating in a walking tour, but you are expected to tip the guide upon completion. Usually, a tip of $20.00 is given.

    To explore the current offerings, simply search for “free walking tours NYC”. There are several options available every day. I have participated in a couple of such tours and have mixed feelings about them. On one hand, they introduce you to interesting places, with the gratuity amount being discretionary. On the other hand, the guides depend on the participants’ tips, so their primary objective is to entertain people, often by compromising the accuracy of the information shared.

  16. Offline Map of New York City on Your Phone for Free

    You can download a map of New York City onto your phone using the Google Maps app. This downloaded map displays your current location, street names, and a subway map. Without an internet connection, you can still search for places and use the navigation feature.

    For instructions on how to download the offline map, see Google Maps Help.

  17. Cheap Broadway Tickets

    Theater, musical, and other Broadway shows can be expensive, with the average ticket price amounting to $135.

    You can find cheaper options on ticket portals (I’ve had positive experiences with or at TKTS booths. One such booth is located directly under the red stairs in Times Square, and they offer same-day tickets at 50% off.

    For about $35, you can purchase standing or rush tickets. These are made available a few hours before the performance when the capacity is not fully utilized. Some theaters require the presentation of a valid student ID to purchase these tickets.

    Avoid purchasing tickets from street vendors. They may not be legitimate, and even if they are, they will not be the cheapest option. Vendors are skilled conversationalists who know how to set and negotiate higher prices.

  18. Cheap NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA, and MLS Tickets

    The average ticket price for an NHL game is $149 for New York Rangers games and $69 for New York Islanders games. Tickets for NBA games of the New York Knicks average $140, while for New York Yankees’ MLB baseball games, they cost around $40.

    You can save money on NHL, NBA, or MLS tickets by sidestepping the official distribution channels. For instance, often offers cheaper tickets bought from fans who either can’t attend the game or purchased a season ticket and are reselling individual games.

    If you plan to visit the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, or Top of the Rock, it’s worth considering The New York Pass. Pass holders can attend select New York Yankees MLB games for free.

  19. How to Travel Cheaply Outside of New York

    The Greyhound bus service offers cheap tickets to Niagara Falls or to Washington, D.C. The most affordable tickets are typically available three months in advance.

    Don’t be deterred by bus travel. I’ve ridden buses on both the East and West coasts of the USA, and it’s always been a smooth experience. And that’s coming from someone who generally dislikes bus travel. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and electrical outlets. I recommend opting for a five-seater in the back of the bus for comfort, or seats in the first row of the upper deck for the view.

💬 Feel free to share your tips on affordable accommodation in New York, interesting attractions, or advice in the discussion.

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