Many regular readers ask me why I write so much about flight prices FROM New York, as if everyone in the United States is within an easy drive of its 3 airports. Well, the reason is that it’s the world’s busiest air traffic hub, and it also has the cheapest prices for long-haul flights starting anywhere in the eastern United States.
Yet another reason is that nearly all Americans are only a cheap flight away from New York themselves, so if you live in, say, St. Louis, and you read about a great fare between New York and Moscow, you can usually fly to New York and change planes for that sale flight for a small extra amount. But what about those actually visiting New York City?
Destination: New York City
Having lived in New York City for a total of about 5 years during the 90s and 00s, off and on, I consider myself a bit of an expert on the place. That’s partly because I visited and stayed in hotels on my own and with friends before and between all those stints living there, so I know the locals’ perspective but also the tourists’ perspective as well.
So let’s start with the good news. You can get a round-trip ticket to NYC from Los Angeles for $300, from Chicago for $110, or from Miami for $100. Even Dallas is only $190 and Phoenix is $270, so it’s clear that you can get to the Big Apple for very little.
Now, the bad news, which is mostly that New York City is very expensive once you get there, or at least it appears to be expensive. If you are a first-time visitor and you want to rush from one main site to another you might wonder is the New York Pass is worthwhile? It is, but it also locks you into a lot of expensive sightseeing.
You can actually have a wonderful time by wandering through Central Park, Times Square, and Washington Square Park, just soaking in the atmosphere. In other words, many of New York’s most famous and best attractions are actually free, so don’t force yourself to visit all the expensive museums just to say you’ve done it. Many locals have never even been in the museums, or to a Broadway play for that matter, so in rushing around like that you have much more in common with tourists than you do the fascinating residents here.
Where to stay, or where not to stay
Something I always encourage first-time visitors to do is to find a hotel that is NOT in the Times Square area. Unfortunately, more than half of NYC’s hotels are in that small area, but there are dozens of great ones that aren’t.
The reason to avoid that neighborhood is that it has so much foot traffic by (other) tourists that restaurants and shops have no incentive to use high quality ingredients or be extra nice so customers will become regulars. They know that the difference between a disappointing meal and a fabulous meal won’t bring them many extra customers, so they cut corners everywhere they can.
On the other hand, restaurants and shops in every other neighborhood can’t survive unless they build loyalty among local residents. A pizza shop that serves mediocre pizza will go under in only a few months because there’s a great shop only a block or two away, and the locals will go there instead, every time.
If you stay in Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, or even down near Wall Street, you’ll be in a small minority as a tourist and you’ll find better quality and better value at nearly everything.