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What Not to Buy: New York City Edition

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Last updated 20 December, 2017

We asked for the best advice for new travellers to New York, the better to save you from getting ripped off.

It’s the season for travel, and as always, we need some protection - not just against scams but bad deals.

For Singaporeans travelling to the Big Apple, the team has gotten direct advice from colleagues who visit or stay there often. Here’s the definitive list of things to avoid buying.


1. Never, Ever, Buy a “Private” Taxi Ride

Stick to private hire cars (like Uber and Lyft), or use Yellow Cabs and Boro Taxis (look for the green cars). Avoid other “private” services like the plague.

In some places, such as John F. Kennedy airport, tourists are accosted by private taxi services the moment they step out. Someone will ask where you’re going and, seconds after you answer, they’ll grab your bags and say they’ll take you.

Once you’re in their car, you’re at their mercy - any arguments will (at best) see you being kicked out by the roadside, in the middle of nowhere. If you actually pay for the trip, expect fares to reach truly absurd amounts; in some cases over S$300.

Even if you complain (to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission), the best that happens is the driver gets fined. You won’t get your money back.


2. Don’t Buy Tickets From Street Vendors

If you’re going to certain attractions, like the top of the Empire State Building, then queue up and get your tickets the proper way.

There are street vendors, who often claim to work for the relevant company; they’ll tell you they were sent out to sell tickets, as “the queue inside is too long.” If you refuse, they’ll badger you and tell you you’ll be waiting for hours via the official line.

Ignore them. Many unfortunate tourists have been scammed, finding out at the last minute that their “tickets” are worthless bits of paper. In other cases, the tickets are legitimate - but you’ll realise they’re S$20 or S$30 more, because you just bought them from a scalper.


3. Don’t Pay for the Horse and Carriage Rides Through Central Park

The prices are beyond ridiculous, with 20 minutes costing up to S$85+.

There is no special route, no special commentary, and you’ll actually be annoyed at the fact that you can’t stop (you’ll want to get off and take pictures often, but you can’t). Central Park is best experienced by walking, or with one of the many share-bikes available (look for the blue Citibank bike-share stops).

Plus, there are rumours of animal abuse by the horse drivers. If you’re an animal lover, you won’t want to contribute to this industry.


4. Don’t Eat or Shop at Times Square

In fact, don’t even go there for longer than it takes to snap a picture.

Times Square has been cleaned up since the 1980’s. Back then it had some sleazy parts, but at least the place overall had some character. Today, it’s just a gigantic, neon tourist trap.

It’s filled with stores that sell kitschy tourist junk, like Statue of Liberty paperweights and crowns; expect disappointment from an hour of walking. When it comes to clothes, bags, and shoes, you can get the same for nearly half the price, from boutique stores in Brooklyn.

There are a lot of costumed characters who will offer to take a picture with you, for tips. They can get persistent, and some demand “small tips” of almost S$40+. Just ignore them and walk on (but out of politeness, don’t try to take a picture for free).


5. Don’t Buy Someone’s Used Metrocard

If you know New York and you know it’s subway, then buying someone's partially used Metrocard can save you money at times. But, if you don't, then avoid this - there are just as many people looking to rip you off, as there are sincere sellers. 

If you’re a tourist and you intend to use the subway often, get the tourist card - it allows you unlimited rides for a week. This costs about S$43+. It’s probably worth it if you’re going to make at least four to five trips per day (which you will, if you’re using mainly the subway on your visit).

6. Don’t Buy CDs From People on the Street

It’s not uncommon for aspiring musicians to stop you on the street, and press their album into your hand. You’ll be expected to give them something for this, and they’ll usually want at least S$25+

Avoid it because, first of all, that’s pretty pricey for a CD. And second, some of them are outright scam artists - you’ll probably find the CD is blank or unreadable, once you get home (if the scammers are polite, they’ll burn a bunch of random songs onto it).

Read This Next:

5 Steps to Recoup Your Losses (If You Get Thrown Off an Overbooked Flight)

4 Tips for Saving Money on Food While Travelling

Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.


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