Disclosure: I’ve imbedded my personal Lyft referral link into this article. If you’re interested in signing up for their service, I’d appreciate it if you used it. You’ll receive a $5 Lyft credit and I’ll receive a little credit with them as well. Thank you in advance.
Last week, Tina gave you an incredible 3 day New York City guide. Equally important as the event planning is the financial planning for a vacation. Nobody wants to come home from a trip and realize they’ll be eating Ramen noodles for the next 2 weeks.
Since this vacation was part of our East Coast road trip, we needed a hotel with either free parking or reasonable parking rates. The Holiday Inn Express in the Meadowlands Area in Carlstadt, New Jersey seemed perfect as it offered free parking. I’m an IHG Rewards Club credit card holder and had plenty of points saved up, so this presented a prime opportunity to unload some of those points. Rates were 15,000 points per night for a standard room and up to a Jacuzzi Suite. Cash price, in comparison, was $136 for a standard room with military discount. We ended up booking a Jacuzzi Suite with points.
The first 2 rooms we were offered smelled like an ashtray, but the staff was quick to personally find us a suitable room, so no complaints there. I don’t judge a hotel, or any other business, by the mistakes it makes, but rather by how it tries to correct them. The room we ended up receiving was fine. As an IHG Platinum Elite member, I’m eligible for complimentary upgrades when available and a welcome gift, either in form of a free drink or 500 points; I took the points of course. The hotel itself was of standard Holiday Inn Express quality. There was a small indoor pool, a gym and a complimentary breakfast area. Breakfast was nothing to write home about, but more than adequate. Overall, just for the parking, bus access and the courteous staff alone, we were more than satisfied with the hotel and definitely recommend it.
The hotel is located about 10 miles from Times Square. There is a bus stop close by, with a direct connection to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. Buses arrive in 5-25 minute intervals, depending on the time of the day. Unfortunately, the bus is part of the NJ Transit system and not the NY Metro, but active duty service members can get the senior rate. Normal rates are $4.50 and the senior/disabled/child/military rate is $2.05. That’s more than a 50% discount! Be aware that on the route to New York, you get the ticket from the driver. The driver accepts cash only and is able to break up to a $20 bill. On the return route from New York however, you HAVE to get the ticket before boarding the bus at one of the ticket vending machines. The machines accept cash, credit and mobile pay (i.e. Apple Pay). Apple Pay didn’t work for me when I tried it so I used my credit card instead. Here is a good opportunity to collect some bonus points with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, which offer 2x points and 3x points on travel, respectively. If you are a Chase Freedom cardholder, however, this would currently be your best option, as local commuter transportation is part of this quarter’s bonus category and earns you 5x points.
Another option to get to the big city from the hotel is Uber, Lyft, or regular taxi. We took an Uber from the hotel to the Rockefeller Center one morning in rush hour traffic and paid around $40 including tip. It was four of us, so it wasn’t a terrible deal. Both Uber and Lyft constantly run specials in the New York City area so this is definitely an option to consider.
Once inside the city, it is all about the metro, also called Subway. NYC traffic is known to be terrible and avoiding it by going underneath not only makes sense from a time saving perspective, but also from a fiscal standpoint. A 7 day unlimited ride New York City metro ticket set us back a mere $32 per person, which is a steal, considering the metro runs pretty much 24/7 and the ticket grants you access to the bus system as well. The city that never sleeps has a vast public transportation system that gets you into almost every corner of the city. We were there for only 3 days and the 7 day ticket still paid for itself. Since the tickets are fully transferable, we simply gave them away after our last ride to the Port Authority station. The only complaint I have about the metro ticket is really only the ticket vending machine. NYC metro machines, unlike NJ transit ticket machines, only sell one ticket at a time. I had to buy 4 tickets and after the second transaction, either the machine or Chase must’ve suspected a fraudulent transaction and declined my card, forcing me to switch to another card. This was unfortunate and cost me 64 Ultimate Rewards points, as I was trying to use my Chase Sapphire Preferred. Other than that, zero complaints about the NYC metro system.
New York City
As you’ve already read in Part 1, NYC is an absolute dream. It’s a rich, diverse and constantly evolving metropolis. I do not mean monetarily rich, even though that is also the case, but rather as in culturally rich. By “evolving” I’m referring to a good portion of the city being under construction at any given time and either being expanded or otherwise upgraded. I suspect that Chelsea will look entirely different than it looks today in only a year or two. This is one of the reasons we want to make NYC a frequent vacation destination.
All this comes at a price, however. New York City is regularly rated as the most expensive place in the US, along with Hawaii of course. Gas prices are literally one third more than in Carlstadt, NJ. For the average New Yorker, this is no problem, as his or her salary is relative to the local cost of living. But us tourists have to do some careful budgeting when visiting the Big Apple.
Whenever I travel, I try to experience the local culture as much as I possibly can. This also means shopping local. American Express had a Shop Small promotion at the time we were visiting, offering 2x points at any small businesses that were participating in the event. I had my Amex SPG card registered for this and took full advantage of the promotion in New York, because the city is riddled with small merchants, coffee shops, and restaurants. Otherwise, I can recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred for most purchases while traveling. As far as attractions, such as the Statue of Liberty tour or the “Top of the Rock”, the Citi ThankYou Preferred card will be your best options. The ThankYou Preferred is a no annual fee card that offers 2x points on dining and entertainment. ThankYou points aren’t rated as high as Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, so I’d stick to entertainment expenses (museums, movies, digital entertainment, attractions, etc.) with this card. Also, many street vendors only accept cash, so NYC is not the place to leave all the cash at home, unfortunately.
New York City is a place everyone should experience at least once. It is rich in culture and equally diverse. Though the cost of living, or just the cost of visiting, may be a little on the higher end of the scale, a bit of planning ahead and using current promotions goes a long way in saving money and maximizing points.
Any other money saving tips I may have skipped? Please leave your feedback below and on our social media pages.