New York and Brooklyn on a budget

*JAZZ HANDS* Start spreading the news… I’m back from New York!

New York is one of the best cities in the world. It has so much to do, but can really pack a punch on your wallet. That said, if you know what you’re doing – you can have the NYC experience on a budget, without missing out on all the good things.

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Oh, I went to Brooklyn too for the first time, and I maybe even like it there more than Manhattan. It was seriously cool, with amazing shops, bars and restaurants everywhere.

Argh – I have so much to tell you!

How to get a budget flight to New York

First things first, you want to get yourself a cheap flight so you have plenty of money to spend on cocktails, cronuts and Broadway shows etc.

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I went business class with Primera Air, which you can read all about here – and highly recommend it. The TL:DR version is:

  • There are two major airlines who fly, direct, to NYC – Virgin and BA. Now Primera Air is doing it too.
  • Business Class is about £300 each way (depends when you book of course), and a comparable Virgin journey was £1,600 EACH WAY.
  • Economy class starts from around £73 each way – but most seats I could find were £117.

You can use Primera’s Low Fare Calendar to find the really cheap flights.

Other tricks I use to find cheap flights include the Skyscanner monthly tool (read how all about it) and Hidden City Ticketing.

Remember – whatever airport you fly into, you’re going to have to get a shuttle or taxi into Manhattan. I’d recommend an Uber, because it’s cheaper and from my experience anyway – those yellow cab drivers can be crazy! Ours got into a fight with a toll booth man. Was an interesting start to the trip!

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Travel Insurance

Yeah yeah, the boring bit. But imagine I’m there uncomfortably holding your face and staring into your eyes – listen to Lotty – get it the second you book your holiday.

The amount of you that don’t bother with travel insurance sends shivers up my spine – especially when travelling to the USA. Have you SEEN the cost of going to a hospital? According to a National Institute for Health study, going to an emergency room in the USA, costs on average $2,168.

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The thing is, travel insurance is pretty cheap too, so it’s madness not to get it the second you’ve booked your flight. Don’t wait until your holiday starts to buy it – get covered ASAP, so if something goes wrong before the holiday, you’re covered.

I personally use the CompareTheMarket comparison site so I get free 2 for 1 cinema tickets when I buy insurance through there – but there are lots of comparison sites out there. Play around.

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Oh, and if I were you, I wouldn’t cheap out on ‘excess’. That’s the amount you will have to pay out if you do claim. Let’s say someone nicks your handbag with some cash in it, which is worth about £100 – if you have to pay £150 excess, you’re not going to do it.

Also, make sure you look into the small print. Boring, but true – look what happened to me when the insurance company unfairly refused to pay out because of a little technicality in the T&Cs. (I did kick off though and won!).

Travel Money

I like to mix it up with some cash and the rest on my Starling Card. In regards to cash, use a travel money comparison sites such as MoneySavingExpert’s Travel Money Max (but again, try a few and see what deals you can find).

I often end up getting my travel money from Debenhams because it’s usually one of the cheapest and you get a £5 voucher code to spend on £20 in store.

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You’re going to want money because the shops in NYC and Brooklyn are AMAZING.

Oh, if you have a Nectar card, make sure you check out Sainsbury’s Travel Money because you get cheaper deals than those without.

I’m pretty new to mobile banking because I’m so anxious and over prepared when I go on holiday, I didn’t want to risk something new that could ruin my holiday if it didn’t work. Silly I know. But I tried out the Starling Card (it’s similar to Monzo), and I LOVE it.

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I need to write a proper blog post about Starling, but long story short – you top up money on it, and it’s free/cheap to use abroad, and cashpoints (even abroad) are free. It’s basically amazing if you’re on holiday.

Getting an American ESTA – Don’t get conned!

When going on holiday to the states, you WILL need an ESTA. You should do it as soon as you can, because if you’re turned down (got a criminal record? You may have a problem) or it doesn’t get approved in time (it can take seconds, or weeks) – you aren’t getting into the country. And you don’t want to play with those American guards with big guns in an airport.

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I’m part of a few USA travel Facebook groups and the amount of people in there who are like ‘We’re flying out in two days, and have just found out our ESTA has been rejected because my boyfriend got arrested five years ago…’

If there’s a chance of you being rejected, consider sorting your ESTA first before you start spending a lot of money.

I also see people get conned all the time by going through dodgy sites that look official that aren’t – that will either take your money and will do nothing, or will apply for an ESTA for you, but will charge you extra money.

This is the official US ESTA site and an application will cost $14 (£10.47), or $4 if you are rejected. Once you have it, you’re good for two years. I’ve used the same one four times now.

Cheap New York and Brooklyn Hotels

I’ve been a few times to New York now and the bad news is that hotels typically cost a lot and you don’t get very much for your money. Have a look at Hotels.com and Booking.com as early as possible to get the best rates, and choose free cancellation so you can lock in deals (and then cancel) while you search for other deals.

New York Moxy

On this last trip I went on, I stayed in a couple of properly bargainous hotels I would 100% recommend. If you’re staying in Manhattan and want a very cool hotel (like – it’s ridiculously cool), stay at the Moxy which is a 10-minute walk, if that, to Times Square. Rooms start from £130 a night but feel a lot more expensive. Be aware though, it’s a party hotel, with a nightclub/bar on the roof – so don’t go there for peace and quiet.

In Brooklyn, I stayed in a Pod hotel in Williamsburg which starts from £95 a night and is right around the corner from the main shopping streets (with all the cool bars/restaurants) and 20 minutes to the river. The room is properly small – (like, you shower in the toilet) – but it’s clean, has a nice vibe and awesome location. Basically, I really liked it.

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New York Pass

If you’re planning on doing the major sites in NYC, consider paying out for the New York CityPASS, which can save you 42% on the price of the top NYC attractions and you get to cut the line.

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It’s a big old chunk of money, but personally, I like to buy what I can in advance – so I can budget for it every payday, than pay individually. It’s currently £98.06 or £80.96 for kids.

With it you can go:

  • The Empire State Building (totally recommend it!)
  • American Museum of Natural History (If you can see the Dark Matter show, do it – it was probably the highlight of my whole trip. I even cried it was that moving!)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

There’s also a cheaper deal on the site called New York C3, which saves you 25% on the top attractions – but you only get three choices, not six, and will set you back £63.82 for an adult and £48.25 for kids.

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Look though, if you’re not going to go to all these, then you’re going to waste money. Think about what you’re planning on going to, price it up and see if it’s worth saving money. If you only go to two things and you’ve bought the CityPASS with six attractions, then you’ve practically thrown away money.

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Free attractions in New York

Don’t forget, there are loads of free things you can do including:

  • Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge (there’s the Brooklyn Bridge park too)
  • Free ferry to see Statue of Liberty (see below)
  • Times Square
  • Central Park
  • Battery Park
  • Bronx Museum of the Arts (most other museums cost $$$)
  • Coney Island Boardwalk
  • Look at all the super famous buildings (Flatiron, Chrysler, Rockefeller Center etc
  • Grand Central Station (sure a train station, but so much more)
  • The High Line
  • The New York Public library (where Carrie got married in Sex and the City!)

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Honestly, I spend most of my time wandering around, looking at the iconic sites, going into shops where I can’t afford anything and people watching. Can’t think of anything better to be honest!

Free Statue of Liberty ferry trick

Have you even been to New York if you don’t see the Statue of Liberty? Of course, you can just look at it from the docks – but you don’t have to pay out for an expensive boat trip to get up close to Lady Liberty.

It’s not fancy but the Staten Island Ferry is totally free, and it takes you right past the Statue of Liberty. Sure, other paid for tours will take you right up close to the statue, but I’ve done the Staten Island Ferry a few times and for me, it’s all you need. There’s only so much you can look at a statue in my opinion. This does the trick if you’re on a budget.

You don’t need a ticket or anything, just turn up at Whitehall Terminal and get on the ferry. Easy. The journey across the river takes about 25 minutes, but remember you’re going to have to get off again and get back on at St George Terminal to go back to Manhattan. You can sit inside or outside, so don’t worry about the weather.

Eating on a budget in New York

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I’m saying it – New York has the best food in the world. They know what they’re doing there I tell you. In the UK, order a smoked salmon bagel and you’re going to get a slice or two (if you’re lucky) of fish in a bagel – in NYC, they pile it HIGH. Have a breakfast in NYC and you’re not going to want lunch.

NYC has some of the best restaurants in the world where steaks can cost you hundreds of dollars – but you can also eat really cheaply, but well. Sure, there are a million McDonalds you can go to to keep costs low, but you can do better than that.

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Your best bet – pizza! So when I was in Naples, I had the ‘best pizza in the world’ and queued for THREE hours for the pleasure of it. It was good pizza, don’t get me wrong – but I prefer pizza in NYC – and it’s so cheap too.

On this last trip I wet to NY Pizza Suprema (413 8th Ave) and it was AMAZING. Slices are about $3.50 about £2.60 – and one slice will do you for lunch. It’s next level pizza – trust me – even though the shop front doesn’t look like too much.

Splash out on something cheapish and yet iconically ‘New York’, such as a cronut at Ansel Bakery or an ice cream at Big Gay Ice Cream.

Honestly, you can’t go too wrong. Stay away from the pricey chains (and Times Square) and top tip – if there’s a line, it’s probably going to be good. Get out TripAdvisor and see where everyone is rating.


These are my tips I got from my last trip to New York with Primera, but I bet there are a load I have missed out/don’t know about. So if you have a tip to save money at NYC, let me know in the comments!


Where else can you travel on a budget?

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