If you want to see the sights and sounds of New York City on the cheap, there’s a way to do it and it’s all about timing. January and February are a relatively slow period for tourism in the Big Apple, presumably in part due to something called winter. Fortunately, you’re Canadian, so the weather shouldn’t be a deterrent. During an upcoming 3 week period there are some great opportunities to cut your costs in half while capitalizing on low hotel rates.
I’m not sure why these events have “week” in the name, but whatever, you can just call it 2-for-1 time in New York City. Check out the NYC Winter Outing website to get all the details. Not all the shows, attractions and restaurants are listed yet so you’ll have to check back when the promotion goes live to see all the options.
A great aspect of a trip to New York is the opportunity to choose from a huge selection of musicals and plays. The problem is that tickets tend to be quite pricey. There are ways to save like buying from a TKTS booth or on sites like BroadwayBox or Playbill where certain shows are available at a discount. However, from January 21st to February 9th, 2020 you can get tickets online 2-for-1. The list of available shows will include a few that seldom have discounts otherwise such as The Lion King.
Tickets go on sale January 8th and the popular shows will sell out quickly. If you haven’t seen Come From Away yet, this is great chance to see it for a low price. It’s an incredible show and I encourage everyone (especially from Atlantic Canada) to make an effort to see it. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor if you’re on the fence.
These are set menu deals – $26 for a 2 course lunch or $42 for a 3 course dinner. I know there are critics out there who contend that some places downgrade their restaurant week menu making it not quite as good a value as it might appear. Still, there are a large number of dining establishments participating and a wide array of blogs and reviews that discuss which restaurants are good bets during this promotion. We especially enjoyed Del Frisco’s Steakhouse.
If you have plans to do some of the popular sightseeing activities, this promo lets you buy one ticket, get one free at a variety of museums, attractions and tours. This is a great promotion. It’s like a temporary opportunity to get deals similar to the Days Out Guide 2 for 1 offers in London.
If you really want to avoid spending money, there are a number of things to do in NYC that won’t cost you anything. Some will depend on luck and timing, but here are a few that we’ve done on a previous January trip. This is not an exhaustive list by any means so further research will give you leads on lots of other free activities.
TV Show Taping
Monitor the 1iota website to see what’s available if you’d like to see a taping of a TV show. These are not ordinary tickets. You sign up to be put on a waiting list. Then if you’re notified, you need to be there early to line up to hopefully get into the studio. We saw a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There was a wait outside and then another long wait inside before we were shown to our seats. It was a lot of fun (he mentioned Nova Scotia!) but I found all the standing waiting for the show to be quite tiring. I vaguely recall reading that the waiting area to see Late Night with Seth Myers has seating, so if that’s true I’d go for that one next time.
Federal Reserve Tour
These tickets are even more elusive than the TV show tickets. Check the Federal Reserve website to watch for availability. I found this tour very interesting. There is a museum where you can spend some time before the tour begins. The finale is the elevator trip down to the vault to view the gold.
New York Public Library Tour
This is a neat one. If you’ve been to New York before you’re likely familiar with the impressive lions outside the building’s main entrance. Did you know that Winnie the Pooh is there? Check the Visitor Guide for more info on free tours.
Henry Morgan Library & Museum (free at certain times)
This museum was near our hotel on 36th Street so if you’re staying in that area, check the website for times when admission is free.
The Frick Collection (free or pay-what-you-wish at certain times)
This is an impressive art gallery in the upper east side neighbourhood of Manhattan. An audioguide is available to provide some background on the paintings. It’s only free one day a month but it’s pay-what-you-wish on Wednesday afternoons according to the website.
New York Philharmonic Rehearsal (not free but a great deal)
The key to the deal here is to forgo the evening performance and instead attend a morning open rehearsal for a fraction of the price. Tickets are only $22, you can sit wherever you like and there’s no need to get dressed up. The rehearsal we went to was wonderful. As I had read online, they typically play through each piece and then fine-tune it a bit before going on to the next one. It was interesting to see the conductor fix the issues.
Hotel & Airfare
Airfare – $300 – $500
Currently, if you’re willing to include a connection in Montreal, you can get airfare in the very low $300s on some dates in this time frame. If you want a non-stop, United flights Halifax to Newark are in the mid $400s+ at the moment. Keep an eye on Google Flights for changes.
Air Miles – 1500+ miles
Depending on your dates, it’s possible to find availability at the base level of 1500 miles (low season) flying through Toronto or Montreal. Be sure to check all 3 NYC area airports: EWR, LGA and JFK.
Aeroplan – 15,000 or 25,000 miles
With Aeroplan, you can take advantage of the free stopover option on a return short-haul trip. It would have to be Montreal or a city in the Maritimes. If you like flying on those tiny Beechcraft planes you could stop somewhere in New Brunswick for a while and then continue on to your connection in Montreal.
If you find Aeroplan availability on the non-stop to Newark, it will be at the regular North American fixed mileage level of 25,000 miles because it’s on United, not Air Canada.
Hotel Rates – $120+
January/February is the time to find great rates at NYC hotels but there are a few budget considerations to remember:
1) Is breakfast complimentary?
2) Is there a “resort fee” or “urban destination fee” on top of the rate?
3) Are there any good promos, either for discounts or point earning opportunities?
I did some searching on random dates and you should be able to find a good option in the range of $120-150 CAD per night during this time of year. Sunday nights will usually be the cheapest.
For example, a 2 double bed room at the Hampton Inn Manhattan – Madison Square Garden averages $141 CAD per night Jan. 24 – 27 on a Hilton Long Weekender rate where Sundays are 50% off.
A hotel that I can personally recommend is the Best Western Premier Herald Square at an average nightly BW member rate of $142 CAD for a 1 king room Jan. 26 – 31.
If you’re willing to chance a non-refundable rate, you can look for special discounts like the IHG Cyber Sale on right now which would get you a 1 king room at the Holiday Inn Express Times Square for $125 CAD per night Feb. 2-7.
Always go over the reviews carefully before making your choice. Something to watch for are hotels in tall buildings with limited elevator capacity at busy times.
One great thing about the high density of hotels of every chain is the chance to do some easy hotel hopping if you want to take advantage of a stay-based promotion. For example, you could sign up for Marriott Bonvoy Rewards through the new member promotion link and complete your 2 stays for a future free night while not having to leave the building at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Times Square South and the SpringHill Suites Times Square South, which share one address.
Our January 2018 trip to New York was a fantastic experience. We took advantage of Broadway Week to see shows that we wouldn’t have otherwise sprung for and enjoyed several free sightseeing activities. We ate at restaurants that are normally not on our radar as budget travellers and used online coupons for other eating places. We also ate some cheap New York pizza and shared a nice piece of New York cheesecake. Great hotel rates combined with good loyalty program promotions made it an all around fun and frugal trip.
We were fortunate that the weather was a bit chilly but not too cold. We bought 7 day MetroCards for our 5 night trip so we could hop on the bus or subway whenever we felt like it, even if our destination was only one stop away. Barring unusually frigid temps or winter storm conditions it’s perfectly pleasant to walk around the city at this time of year if you bring the appropriate attire.
New York is an amazing city. It’s like the crossroads of the world and a place that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. Here in Nova Scotia, it’s a relatively short flight and great for a weekend away or a whole week if you can manage it. The obvious downside of a 2 for 1 deal is the requirement to have an even numbered travelling party to fully maximize it. But if you can find a pal to go with you, a trip to New York can certainly provide a nice budget winter escape.