Here's how Singaporean tourists can avoid getting ripped off in New York City.
This article is part of our Money Survival travel series, where we show you lesser-known ways to save money while traveling in expensive cities.
It’s the holidays, and if there’s ever an opportunity for a big trip abroad this is it.
Thanks to movies and pop culture, many Singaporeans dream of visiting New York City. While a trip to the Big Apple is worth doing at least once, it’s also an expensive place to be a tourist in.
So based on the real experience of SingSaver.com.sg staff, here are some ways to stretch your dollar as a tourist in NYC:
1. Go Cashless
In case you didn’t know, US dollars don’t have a denomination bigger than a hundred. So if you bring a few thousand dollars for a vacation, you will be walking around with a thick stack of money. It is quite visible to everyone, including potential criminals.
For this reason, it’s suggested that you minimise your reliance on cash. Use a credit card or debit card, and always have the bank’s number to call in an emergency.
2. Insist On Using Yellow Cabs at the Airport
If you land at John F. Kennedy airport, you will be approached by private drivers at the exit. They can be aggressive, coming straight up to you and asking where you’re going. They won’t even wait for your agreement before grabbing your bag, and leading you to an unmarked cab.
Never go with these people. Their cabs are often unlicensed, with no meters. They will attempt to price gouge you, and tourists have lost amounts around S$200 or more. Once you are on the road in the middle of nowhere, you are at their mercy.
Always insist on using the marked yellow cabs, even if the line may be long.
3. Actually, Use the Subway, and Don’t Cab at All
New York has a grid system that makes navigation by walking easy, and the subway is accessible from most places. The subway is a little more complicated than our MRT, but if you are too lazy to learn it, just ask the locals which train to get on.
Note that the Subway operates 24 hours. So if you are on a tight budget, you can avoid using a cab even after getting back from a club at 2 am.
Most tourists will do well to get a seven-day unlimited ride card. This is about S$42, and as the name implies, you can ride the train as often as you like.
By comparison, cab fares in New York City are expensive. They are about 68 cents for every 321 metres, and 68 cents for every minute when the cab is stopped in traffic. On top of that, it is appropriate to tip the cab driver 15 per cent.
A cab ride to John F. Kennedy airport has a flat rate of about S$71. Ouch. If you don’t have too many bags, forget that hefty fee and just ride the train there.
4. Don’t Get Ripped Off by Prepaid Sim Cards
You will probably want an unlimited data and calling bundle. The good news is, many American companies like T-Mobile and A T&T have prepaid sim cards, which will give you these features for a month. The cost is around S$130.
However, review the company before buying - some sim card deals are practically a scam.
The Ultra-Me prepaid sim card claims to be “unlimited”. But when you hit a certain level of data use, you are asked to top up or get a lower connection speed. This “lower speed” is so slow, your device will be practically unusable. This results in buying yet another sim card. So check the online reviews before buying.
5. Don’t Buy Tickets from Street Level Vendors
For many iconic landmarks, such as the Empire State Building, you will have to buy tickets to go to the top. These are around $72, for the Empire State Building and One World Trade Centre.
The lines tend to be quite long (during peak hours you could be queuing for an hour or more). As such, some tourists try to take a shortcut and buy from street level vendors outside the actual ticketing office.
While some vendors are reputable, there have also been scams pulled on tourists. Sometimes there are fake vendors who have a uniform and lanyard - they’ll sell you “tickets” which are just useless bits of paper. By the time you reach the end of the queue (and are barred entry for having fake tickets), they’ll be long gone.
6. Use Citi Bikes to Get Around for Cheap
Citibank runs a Citi Bikes program in New York City. There are numerous stations where you can use your credit card to unlock a bicycle - ride them wherever you want, and leave them at the next bike station when you are done. It’s about $12 for a day pass, or S$24 for a three day pass.
The first 30 minutes are free, and each 15 minutes after that costs around $4.
If you are going through Central Park, or want to travel without using the train (you’ll see more of the city), then this is one of the most cost-effective methods. However, your credit card must be enabled for overseas use, as you’ll need it to unlock the bike. A security deposit of around $137.30 is deducted from the card, and returned when the bike is docked at the next station.
This counts as retail spend, so be sure your card gives you air miles or other perks for overseas spend!
Bonus Tip: Rack Up Air Miles with Your Credit Card
If you're going to use a credit card for most of your trip, use a travel credit card with a high earn rate for overseas spend. This fast tracks the number of miles you earn towards your next trip.
Assuming you spend S$4,000 on your trip to New York, here's how many miles you can potentially earn:
|Miles Earned Per S$1 Overseas Spend||2.4 miles||2 miles||2 miles|
|Miles Earned with S$4,000 Spent||9,600 miles||8,000 miles||8,000 miles|
|Miles Conversion Fee||S$25 per conversion||S$42.80 Annual DBS Frequent Flyer Program (“FFP”) fee||S$25 per conversion|
|Miles Expiration||2 years||does not expire||does not expire|
7. Up For Some Romance? NYC Pays For Your Condoms
Just so you know, you can get condoms for free in various places around the city. This is part of a public health program. Just look for the closest location on this website.
8. Watch Off-Broadway Plays
If you want to watch a Broadway show, be prepared to fork out over S$130. It’s gotten expensive over the years.
But here’s a secret - New York is big on theatre in general, and some of the best shows are (1) off Broadway, and (2) just as good, for half the price. Check out this website to find tickets for either.
If you insist on watching a Broadway production, you can also try turning up at the Box Office about 15 to 30 minutes before a show starts. If you’re lucky, they will clear out any remaining tickets at a discount price.
9. Eat at a Deli
Like Singapore, New York has a bizarre combination of extremely expensive and extremely cheap food. Masa (a famous Japanese restaurant) cost around S$808 for a meal. At the same time, you can get giant slices of pizza for around S$1.30 (trust us, two is a big dinner).
If you want hearty meals while spending relatively little, head into a deli instead of a cafe. The food prices go by weight, but around S$16 is enough to count as two meals for some of us. In addition, you can get away without tipping at a deli. At cafes, you would generally tip 15 to 20 per cent.
When in doubt about quality, see if there are any locals eating. Just like the better hawker stalls here have long lines, the good delis there tend to be packed.
10. Museum Prices are Suggested, Not Fixed
If you have the means to do so, please support museums by giving the suggested donation. Most museums run at a cost, and places like the Smithsonian are well worth supporting.
That being said, some museum prices are “suggested donations”, not fixed prices. If you truly can’t afford it, you can give less (the suggested amount is usually around S$34). You can even walk in for free if you insist.
For some museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection, some hours are free. On Fridays, for example, Uniqlo sponsors free admission to MoMA.