My $19 NYC challenge: plans taking shape


On Friday I described my upcoming trip to New York City, and a challenge I set for myself: I would travel on miles and points, and spend no more than $19 per day.  See “My $19 New York City challenge.”  In that post, I described my initial plans and the dilemma I had because those plans left me with only $2 to cover sightseeing, transportation within the city, and incidentals.  Clearly that wouldn’t work, so I turned to readers for help.

A few readers made it clear that I’m an idiot for even attempting this, but most people took this in the spirit that was intended: whether it works out or not, this will be a fun challenge.  This isn’t the first time I’ll have been to New York and it won’t be the last, but it’ll almost certainly be the least expensive.

Reader Advice

After reading through all of the comments from the original post, I’ve collated the following advice (as of mid-day Sunday):

Transportation to or parking at the Detroit Airport

Readers suggested the following:

  • Use
  • Take the Air Ride Bus
  • Try a new service called Valet Connections that is based out of the airport Comfort Inn

I looked at each of these options and decided to try out Valet Connections.  My total cost with that option will be $18, which is $6 less than my original plan of using a coupon at US Park.  The Air Ride Bus would only save me $2, but I’d have to park near the bus station for $2, so that wouldn’t help.  And, the website CheapAirportParking quoted a higher rate than US Park even with a suggested discount code.

Transportation From LaGuardia to the city

  • No fewer than 17 people told me to buy a metro card at the airport, and take a bus to the train to get downtown.
  • One person suggested I walk (jokingly, right?)
  • One person asked if I had a leftover Groupon for airport transportation.  Unfortunately, no. 
  • A couple of people mentioned Uber.  I used up my Uber cash during my last trip to the city.

There’s no doubt in my mind now that the MetroCard/bus/train option is the way to go.  I’ll buy a $10 MetroCard at the airport which will automatically give me a 7% bonus.  This way I’ll have enough on the MetroCard to get to and from the city, and I should have plenty left over for a couple of metro rides within the city, as needed.


  • A few people cautioned me that my plan for using a voucher and OpenTable check might not work to cover my whole bill.
  • Two people suggested apps for food discounts/credits:
    • LevelUp
    • ScoutMob
  • Two readers suggested seeking out $1 per slice pizza
  • Three readers suggested finding good cheap food in Chinatown
  • Two readers suggested the Crocodile Lounge where you can get a beer for $3 along with free pizza.
  • Other suggestions included:
    • Mexican
    • Food carts
    • Street vendors
    • The Ukranian old age home on 2nd avenue (?!)
    • RockWoodMusicHall

For Tuesday evening dinner, a friend and I have reservations at the Ethos Gallery restaurant where I plan to try my voucher / OpenTable check trick.  If it doesn’t work, that’s OK, I’ll have learned something useful.  If it does work, great!

On Wednesday, I’ll play it by ear.  I love pizza.  I love dumplings.  I like trying new things.  There may be opportunity to try at least two options: one for lunch and another for an afternoon snack.


Here’s the reader suggestion tally:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met): 6 votes
  • Museum of Natural History: 3 votes
  • People watching: 2 votes
  • Staten Island Ferry: 2 votes
  • Central Park: 3 votes in favor, one against
  • High Line Park: 3 votes in favor, one against

Suggestions mentioned only once:

  • Walk Soho
  • MOMA
  • The Morgan Library and Museum
  • Ground Zero museum
  • Improv comedy at UCB theater for under 10 dollars
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art
  • Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Bronx Zoo

These are all great suggestions.  I’ve been to the High Line Park before and really enjoyed it, but I probably won’t go again this trip unless I decide to try to find Seth, the Wandering Aramean, working from a bench.  I have fond memories of visiting the museum of Natural History as a kid, but I’ll probably keep this one for a future trip in which I bring my kid.  As to the others, we’ll see.  I’m definitely leaning toward a visit to the Met.


One person weighed in with a very positive review of the Hilton Garden Inn, West 35th St.  TripAdvisor and Yelp reviewers also liked this one, so I’ve booked it.  One reader questioned whether I’d really get breakfast for free.  I’ve read reviews where other Hilton Gold status members did receive a free full breakfast at that hotel.  I also stayed at another Hilton Garden Inn in the city recently (on points) and I received free breakfast there.  I think this one is safe.

Budget Check

Thanks to reader suggestions, my budget is now looking much more practical:

  • Detroit Airport parking: $18
  • Flight to/from NYC: 9000 Avios + $5
  • Transportation between airport and downtown, and within downtown: $10
  • Tuesday evening dinner: Free (I hope)
  • Hotel: 80K points for two nights (compared to the $400 per night room rate, this gives me 1 cent per point value, which is much better than the Fair Trading Price of .48 cents per point).
  • Wednesday lunch & snacks: TBD
  • Wednesday sightseeing: TBD (assume $2 donation to the Met?)

My total budget is $57 across three days.  So far, I have $35 accounted for.  So, I have $22 to cover lunch, snacks, and incidentals.  I can make this work!

Follow Along

Once my trip begins on Tuesday morning, I’ll tweet updates regularly.  If you’d like to follow along, make sure to follow me on Twitter.  Feel free to tweet back with on the fly suggestions!  If you’d like to join me for lunch and/or sightseeing on Wednesday I’ll tweet enough information for you to find me. 

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[…] farther distance from the airport on public transportation for about $1.30. This is kind of like my Frequent Miler challenge for Barcelona. I took out 140EUR from the airport ATM for 12 days of […]

[…] farther distance from the airport on public transportation for about $1.30. This is kind of like my Frequent Miler challenge for Barcelona. I took out 140EUR from the airport ATM for 12 days of […]

Joseph M

Way off topic but here a review of the Ukranian Restaurant.

Also Veselka in the same neighbourhood is cheap and great.
Also here a link to Cheap Eats under $10 in East Village.


I will second the comment of Indian restaurants, they have all you can eat buffets for under $10 which can fill you up for dinner as well.


I’m a huge fan of Ethos as well, definitely try the grilled octopus or calamari. Some other cheap eats in midtown -Shake Shack – $4.55 single burger and Num Pang Sandwich Shop (great Vietnamese sandwiches) – $7.75. If your staying in midtown east (e30s-e40s) your taxi from LGA probably won’t be more than 20-25 dollars. If you can find someone in the taxi line willing to share, you can split the fare and save time.


Just a trick to get more use out of your NYC Metrocard: if you buy an unlimited Metrocard with a debit or credit card, you’re automatically enrolled in the balance protection program, which refunds you the pro-rated value of your card if you lose it.

If you buy a 30-day card for $104, you can call the number at and give them your info (during business hours if you want to get them–they shouldn’t cancel your card until the EOD, though). They’ll pro-rate back the rest of the value of the 30-day card at $3.47 per day. In short, you can get unlimited Metrocard rides for 3 days for only $0.31 more than you were otherwise going to pay.

[Keep in mind that in order to prevent abuse of the program, the MTA only allows a user two refunds in a calendar year. The first refund is free but, if you should do it again, the second refund is subject to an additional $5.00 administrative fee.]

Amy C

The natural history museum also has a suggested donation of $19. The ticket kiosks will only let you buy tickets for the suggested doantion ammount. If you want to pay less you have to go to the counter. I agree with you and Rob that ethically, it’s best to pay the suggested amount or choose an activity that is both cost-free and guilt-free.


While the premise may be fun, please don’t take advantage of the Met’s “suggested donation” to meet your spending objectives. You can obviously afford the full admission price ($20), especially since the trip is almost free already. I’m sure that no one will hold it against you for contributing to a valuable cultural institution. If everyone took your advice, there won’t be a Met to enjoy. As a New Yorker, that would make me sad.


These are great suggestions everyone! Luckily I should have plenty of chances to visit NYC so I can try many of these ideas in the future.

I’ve bookmarked so that I can check that out when I’m there.

I tried to book a Big Apple Greeter, but they don’t allow requests this close to the trip. I sent them an email just in case.

I had no idea that the Met has a recommended charge of $20 (it actually looks like $25 online). I’ll pick a different activity if I find that this isn’t in my budget. There are so many things to do that I wouldn’t want to “cheat” by giving too small of a donation.


FYI, iirc Ethos is also a RewardsNetwork restaurant, so check your miles/points earning dining partner to confirm.

Also, unless Ethos has changed its policies, each diner gets a free dessert of Galaktoboureko!

Finally, another +1 for their grilled whole fish or octopus.

There are free tourguides matched up with visitors through Big Apple Greeters. I’ve heard great things from friends who have used the service.

Oh and more fun with Metrocards…Double dipping is often possible when traveling in 1 direction by subway & returning via a bus. The card swipes as a free transfer & not as 2 separate trips/fares.


I love all the comments and advice. I go to NYC often and will be there next week. I am not planning on any challenges except to have the best time I can in 3 days, Enjoy your trip, and I look forward to hearing all about it.


Miler, that idea of walking might not be as outlandish as it sounds:


Hope you have a great trip.

There’s always costco, hotdog and coke dirt cheap


Amazing 2 NYC threads (incl. comments). I think there is a need for an informative and updated website with this kind of specific information for cities like NYC. Hard to look up bus numbers and stops…


Be sure to make a 1000 point reservation. I tried this trick at the other Ethos location when it was on Opentable, to no avail… But I think with the midtown location, you should be fine!


Ha ha – this sounds like the exercise my friends and I did every weekend while in grad school at NYU! Totally doable and actually sometimes really fun. NYC has so much to offer that doesn’t have to cost anything at all (especially in good weather). Have fun!


check for a list of all sorts of cheap or free events going on. the Brokelyn website has some good things sometimes as well.

Food Wine and Miles

Ethos is great – make sure to try the grilled calamari!

Staten Island Ferry is also great for a good, free view of the Statue of Liberty – best view is from the very back of the ferry (when leaving from the Manhattan side)

Crocodile Lounge is indeed a great deal, but you’re probably going to want to be a few beers in before you try the pizza 😉


Bryant Park, Central Park, and Highline Parks are great to check out. Union Square and Washington Square Park are some other options.

Soho and LES are very walkable. You can also check out Williamsburg – it’s quite quirky and hipster


Rockwood Music Hall is amazing for a live music. The bands are fantastic. You should expect to give $1 tip for each band and buy a drink once in a while

Around St Marks square there is Ukrainian neighborhood. Do not go to Veselka. I’m not sure if that’s the same place as someone else suggested (old age home), but there is a decent Ukrainian restaurant on 2nd ave and 6th street. It’s kind of in a basement. It’s super cheap and the food is not half bad.


Not bad!


Crocodile lounge is great. Free personal size pizza with every beer! By no means the best pizzeria in the world it is still great. Fun younger crowd lounge near NYU. The bar also had photo hunt and ski ball, what’s not to love!


I’m a little surprised at the list of suggestions you got for things to do in NYC. There is almost always free music and/or theater to be found. I used to look in the Village Voice for that but now it’s probably online.

Also, you can also find inexpensive Indian food. (e.g., E. 6th street, but it still might be above your budget.)

Also, if you are swapping things, if you have any memberships at any local or Chicago museums they often have good swaps. (For example, the Hands-On Museum and other science museums around North America. . . )


Ha! I didn’t see the comment, but the idea that someone would vote “against” Central Park is astonishing to me. Particularly the way the weather’s been lately, I struggle to find a single better free way to spend a portion of a day in Manhattan than just chillin’ in the park.

Have a great trip!


you didn’t mention the Opentable/ TIP amount which is not covered by the coupon


Jamison: The OpenTable check is supposed to be as good as cash so theoretically I should be able to use that check to pay both the tip and the balance left over after the coupon