September 14, 2011

Saving money in New York City (I won my trip from a sweepstakes!)

This summer I had the amazing pleasure of going to New York City – and the best part? It was almost FREE! I  won grand prize in a Willy Wonka sweepstakes that I entered randomly online in early 2010. By filling out a short form online I won a five-day trip for two to New York valued at $5,000! There is no way we could afford this trip without winning it. The prize covered the flight, hotel and any transfers, but if we wanted to eat or play while we were in the Big Apple, that was coming out of our pocket.

It was my husband and I who went on the trip. Lucky for us my mother-in-law agreed to watch our little munchkins while were gone. We knew we’d miss them, but they’d be in good hands and we were looking forward to some quality time together. We had a few months to save and research – so I wanted to share what we learned and how we saved during our trip. My number one suggestion is pick the things that are really important to you – and splurge on those important items and save (or skip all together) on the areas that aren’t as important.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – We happened to be in town the first weekend of the month when admission to select museums was FREE to Bank of America cardholders. This saved us $40 right off the bat. If you are NOT going to be there on a FREE weekend and you know you want to see at least three major attractions (Statue of Liberty, other museums, etc.) you might want to invest in the New York City Pass – it’s $79 and you can buy it at your first attraction – and it gets you into many different attractions.

Subway – We weren’t afraid to ride the New York subway around Manhattan. At $2.25 per person each way, it was far cheaper than hailing a taxi which will charge you $3 just to get in the car. We felt very safe, we hopped the subway during the day and opted to walk at night. Lots of people commuting, with children and just everyday average folks. I’m glad we gave it a shot, it saved us a ton of time (and money) when going any bit of distance.

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – It’s FREE to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We took the subway to Brooklyn, and got off at the High Street station. This spit us out right by the bridge and by taking the subway to Brooklyn and walking back, we had the glorious view of Manhattan in front of us. It can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on your pace and how often you want to stop for photos. Bring a bottle of water with you in case you get thirsty, or buy it from one of the many vendors on the bridge who is selling them for $1 each.

Starbucks – I don’t know how many Starbucks we stopped in to grab a grande ice water – which is FREE. Street vendors will sell you water for $1-2 each, or you can find a street corner with a Starbucks and get a ice water (not bottled, but tap) for FREE. Also, a good location for a restroom break.

Walk – The first day we were in town we figured we walked at least seven miles. It really was the fastest and most direct way to get anywhere. The miles went quickly because you were always looking at something or another. Wear good shoes. Don’t try to be trendy. We found that most New Yorkers had tennis shoes on, regardless of what they were wearing. So don’t be shy if your tennies don’t match your outfit – it’s much less painful than the blisters you can endure.

Central Park – Again, another FREE attraction that is amazing in itself. We flew the red eye flight and got into town at 6 a.m., so after picking up coffee we walked straight to Central Park. Even at 7 a.m . on a Saturday it was packed – people running, jogging, walking, sitting – it was a beautiful, bustling place. And it was FREE.

Groupon, Living Social for meals and activities – I started watching Groupon, Living Social and some of the other popular daily deal sites ahead of time to buy half-priced vouchers for meals and activities. We were able to save at least $100-$200 this way. We ate at the restaurants where we had vouchers. 50% off sushi, thai food, wine – we weren’t shy about whipping out our coupons.  We scored half-priced tickets to a New York Brewfest, which was a sampling of 50+ beers through Buy With Me. My husband was thrilled and we were right there with the locals!

TKTS – If you want to see a Broadway show, you’ll want to buy your tickets the day of, from a ticket booth in Times Square called TKTS. We ended up splurging and seeing two shows – both times we saved 50% off our tickets by going thru TKTS. This was an area we wanted to spend instead of save (even though we still saved a ton on our tickets). When you go thru TKTS you don’t have as much flexibility when it comes to where you sit and you have to get tickets the day of the show, but it was totally worth it. Tickets range between $60-$75 for the standard shows. We found dinner could run you about that much too, so we just opted for shows instead of nice dinners. I should also add, we were really impressed with the operation of the TKTS booths – the lines were never too long and they had volunteer theater students (I think they were students) who were available to answer questions about the shows.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – This was one of those attractions that I thought would be so touristy that I wouldn’t enjoy it. But we took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and to Ellis Island (two different islands) and I would say it was definitely a highlight from the trip. It cost $42 for both of us – that included the audio tour (which was $8 each). The audio tour is basically a headset with a little audio device that tells you stories as you walk through the attractions. I found myself surprisingly emotional when I saw Lady Liberty close up. Thinking about the millions of immigrants who sought refuge and freedom here in the United States was an amazing thought and I was reminded how grateful we are for our freedom. The ferry is crowded and there are long lines. The security is similar to most airports, so be prepared for that. Oh and if you want go up into the Statue of Liberty – you’ll need to make reservation WAAAY in advance.

Roosevelt tram – For the price of a trip on the subway ,$2.25, you can hop on the Roosevelt Tram. It departs from Manhattan and takes you across to Roosevelt Island. There isn’t much on Roosevelt Island, but the views from the tram are breathtaking. It’s kind of fun to be hanging out over the water looking down from way up in the sky.

Street fairs – In just the short time that we were in town we walked through at least four street fairs. Apparently these are pretty common. The food smelled amazing and there were tons of booths selling their wares.

Walk thru China Town and Little Italy – I loved walking through China Town and Little Italy. What amazing cultures – and distinct communities. Both areas were packed with people. We ate in a little restaurant in China Town and had delicious, authentic chinese food for under $20.

Times Square – If I could have found a bench I would have sat in Times Square and just people watched. Talk about stimulus overload – people, stores, advertising everywhere. It was surreal to be in such a recognizable and iconic location. It’s FREE to watch, FREE to explore – so check it out.

9/11 Museum/Preview – We walked over to the World Trade Center location. What an overwhelming experience. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it again – but it was definitely worth paying homage to. I was shocked to see people smiling and posing for photographs in front of the location. As if it had become an attraction instead of a memorial, but I suppose everyone has their own purpose for being there. The new memorial was unveiled this last Sunday (9/11/11) complete with a reflecting pond and a wall with all the names of those who were lost on 9/11. There is a small preview museum that is right near Ground Zero where you can see footage and testimonials from that day and I thought it was really well done – also FREE to enter.

That was our trip in a nutshell. I’ve recently started entering sweepstakes again – in hopes to win another vacation or maybe a car! I just started posting my sweepstakes here on Queen Bee Coupons! The sweepstakes won’t feed into the main feed, but you can find them by clicking on “Sweepstakes” in my main menu.

Here are some New York travel guides if you want an “experts” opinion:

Here are few more photos (I took about 500 in five days)

View from Roosevelt Tram

Love the old buildings and the decorative fire escapes. 

Happy hour can be a great way to get a light meal of appetizers and a drink. Generally cheaper than sitting down for a full meal.

Taxi cabs everywhere! We never did ride in one. 

It was an amazing trip. Hope to return soon!

I’d love your tips and ideas for saving money in New York City! 


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  1. Awesome photos! If you have any travel tips or expert advice to share, CityPASS has a new travel community called City Traveler. Our forums could use some love. Check it out if you want at Others would love to here from you I’m sure!

    Thanks so much,


  2. What a fabulous trip! You did an amazing job with this, Heather. A lot of your tips would work well on any trip to any city. Thanks for the great photos, too!

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