Here's how I started a long weekend in New York. From the plane window, I took a picture of final approach.
Take a closer look. That's not New York - it's final approach to Philadelphia.
On this particular trip, airfares to Philadelphia were about $250 round-trip from my home airport. The cheapest airfare into a New York-area terminal was $450 round-trip.
Multiply that savings by the two people in our travel party, and there is now $400 in savings by flying via Philadelphia International Airport.
Some of that savings goes for a car rental and gasoline to make the 180-mile round-trip between Philadelphia and New York.
Your situation could be much different. Philadelphia airfares during your planned itinerary might be more expensive than those at JFK, LaGuardia or Newark. You should also check White Plains and Hartford.
The point: shop for airports as well as airfares. Try several scenarios.
Finding an Affordable Hotel
You have a variety of hotel options in New York City, and some of them are quite expensive.
A rather ordinary chain hotel room in Manhattan can run $300-$500 per night. That price does buy you convenience, especially if you're within a short walk of public transportation. You'll save time commuting to the places you want to see.
New York is also home to small budget hotels that lack ambiance, but offer clean no-frills rooms for under $100/night.
For a bit more money, budget hotels with amenities could be a good choice. These run under $200/night, which might sound expensive to someone not familiar with Manhattan room rates.
Another option is to stay in New Jersey, where the Meadowlands and Newark Airport areas offer chain hotel rooms just like those in Manhattan, but at less than half the cost.
For this New York weekend, I chose a Fairfield Inn & Suites near Newark Airport, which was about $116/night plus tax.
Finding Affordable Transportation
When booking that affordable New Jersey room, you'll need to find out about transportation options to and from Manhattan.
If you stay near the Newark Airport, your hotel's shuttle bus can take you to the EWR terminal, where you can catch the Air Train to a nearby station that connects with New York's Penn Station. The round-trip ticket costs $25.
If you drove to that New Jersey hotel, as I did, parking in New York can run $50/day or more.
An easier alternative is to drive to the Staten Island Ferry station across the harbor from Lower Manhattan (St. George) and pay the $8 parking fee (free on Sundays). The Staten Island Ferry itself is free to use as often as you wish, and it connects to the handy South Ferry subway station in Lower Manhattan for travel to other parts of the island. One catch: to get to St. George, you'll cross the Goethals Bridge between Elizabeth and Staten Island. The only toll is in-bound to Staten Island, but it's a whopping $12 per passenger car. Still, when you add it up, the $20+ spent on tolls and parking fees is cheaper than train tickets, especially when two or more are in your travel party.
Speaking of the New York subway, MTA did away with its day passes. You'll need to spend $2.50 for each ride. It's still a good value when you consider the costs of driving your own car or taking a taxi.
Finding Affordable Meals
By staying in a mid-range hotel near Newark Airport that offered a free breakfast each morning, I only needed to pay for two meals per day on this New York weekend trip.
In that situation, one of those meals can be a bit more expensive in a sit-down restaurant. The other can be quick and inexpensive. It's a daily strategy to stay within budget on meals.
New York is famous for its Italian food, and you can find calzones and salads at almost any neighborhood Italian restaurant.
They make a great lunch on the go.
Finding Free Fun
You might be surprised to find a wide, pleasing variety of free things to do in New York City. The same is true in other expensive cities around the world. Always look for the free things that might be more important than some experiences that require a big chunk of your entertainment budget.
On a nice day, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is both free and highly enjoyable. We've already mentioned the Staten Island Ferry's free trips in New York harbor that afford views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
There are plenty more to find and enjoy. Don't assume you'll spend hundreds of dollars a day for entertainment here. It's not necessary.
Finding an Authentic New York Experience
As with all major cities, there are experiences here that are difficult to find anywhere else. Seek one out during your stay.
For example, my wife suggested a brief visit to the famed garment district. Inside stores such as Mood (pictured above) you can find virtually any fabric-type known to the fashion world. You'll see buyers from all walks of life and from far-away places. It's not my idea of an ideal full-day experience, but it was interesting and not something you can see every day.
If fashion isn't your thing, find an authentic New York-style delicatessen. Visit Chinatown and haggle with the street vendors. Have a picnic in Central Park.
None of these activities requires a large sum of money. Each will add a unique memory to your visit.
Finding Affordable Broadway Tickets
As a budget traveler, you should hate standing in long lines.
It's wasteful to put down money to visit a place, and then spend part of your available time standing in a slow-moving line.
TKTS is not a wasteful enterprise. They are among the companies that unload unsold Broadway theater tickets at the last minute for affordable prices. But you can see from this picture that the lines can be long.
The wait in line can be rewarding if you find the ticket you wanted.
Often, you have to be willing to take what is available when you actually reach the window.
Take a two-step approach. First, go online and search the lowest price for the show that interests you. Many times, you can find something affordable without the long wait. If that doesn't turn up what you want, consider taking a place in line.
On this trip, I found tickets to a popular Broadway musical for under $50 each (before taxes) and paid for them before I left home. The tickets were waiting at Will Call, where the line was much shorter than at TKTS.
During your weekend, you will spend money on sightseeing and perhaps a tour or two. It's helpful to consider the value of those tours not just by the price, but by how much is provided.
For example, the picture above was taken on a three-hour Circle Line River Cruise around Manhattan Island. For those who haven't been to New York frequently, it can add enjoyment to your trip. The $38/person cost on this day was lowered to $33 because I bought the tickets prior to boarding and printed them in the business center of my hotel.
That's not inexpensive, but think of it another way: it's $11/hour per person.
Sightseeing passes for New York can be attractive, money-saving options if you'll make extensive use of what they offer. Don't buy a pass that's good for 50 attractions and visit only two. You'd be better off in that case to simply pay straight admission fees.
Passes do offer the added advantage of avoiding ticket lines, which vary in length but could cost you valuable time.
Among the more popular choices: New York Pass, good for 60 top New York attractions including the Circle Line River Cruise; and GO Select which offers packages and 43 potential attractions.
Warning: If you're only spending a weekend, ask yourself if you'll get to enough attractions to justify the pass purchase. They tend to cost about as much as three major admission fees.