I’ll be frank—money is tight in the Miller family. I know, blowing $1,410 for a New York theatre weekend is extravagant by the standards of most of the world. But theatre is one of my passions; bonding with each of my kids is another. So, for me, it was money well spent.
And it was money carefully spent. It would be easy to say goodbye to over $2 to $3 K during a New York weekend, but we worked hard to control expenses while still having a terrific time. If you care about saving money too, here are a few budget strategies that we employed and that you may find useful.
Transportation - $195.60 for the two of us
I was sitting at my computer in January when Jet Blue sent out an email alerting me to a 3-day fare sale. The headline trumpeted “NYC for $49.” Now, of course, when Jet Blue talks about a $49 fare, they’re talking one way, before taxes and other airport fees. Nonetheless, this sounded cheap to me, and so I went to their website and began exploring exact fares for specific dates. I soon realized that flying up on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and returning Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. offered the cheapest flights. I then explored various weekends before finding the weekend of March 24. For whatever reason, if we flew up on March 24 and flew back on March 26, fares were only $29 each way. So I booked our flights. Our total airfare bill on Jet Blue, Richmond to JFK New York, came to $157.60 for two roundtrip tickets including all taxes and fees. What a deal!
The cheapest, quickest, and by my mind most relaxing way to travel from JFK into Manhattan is by AirTrain and subway. The shuttle vans are way too time consuming, claustrophobic and expensive. And who can afford a cab? The AirTrain / subway combo costs $5.60, if you do it right, and the trip takes about 50 minutes (30 minutes less than waiting for and taking the shuttle).
When you disembark from your plane, follow the signs for Ground Transportation. You’ll soon see signs for the AirTrain—follow them. Once you get to the AirTrain, take the train to Jamaica Center. It’s all very clearly marked and easy to do. You don’t pay for the AirTrain until the end of your AirTrain experience. After getting off the AirTrain, follow the signs to the NYC Subway, and just before going through the exit turnstile, purchase your MetroCard at the automatic machines that are just to your right. You can use your credit or debit card to purchase a MetroCard worth $24 for only $20 (saving 20%). $14 of that $24 will be spent paying for the two AirTrain rides you just completed ($5 each full fare, $4 each after saving the 20%) and the two subway trips you’re just about to take ($2 each full fare, $1.60 each after saving the 20%).
Once you have your MetroCard, swipe it to exit through the turnstiles, and then follow signs to the E train. Again, it’s clearly marked and easy to do. When you enter the subway station, you’ll swipe your MetroCard again, and then follow signs to the E train heading into Manhattan. Board the E train and you’ll have a comfortable and safe 30 to 45 minute ride into the city, depending on time of day. On Saturday mornings the ride is very quick.
I get off the subway at 7th and 53rd, because I like to walk a little before arriving at my hotel. But, depending on where you’re staying, you can get off earlier (Lexington and 53rd, 5th Ave and 53rd) or later (8th Ave and 50th, 8th Ave and 42nd). Wherever you get off, it should be a short walk to your hotel.
All told, our transportation expenses amounted to $195.60—$157.60 for airfare, $30 for MetroCards (you’ll see where the extra $10 comes in in a couple paragraphs), and $18 for parking in Economy Lot C at the Richmond Airport.
Hotel - $482.45 for the two of us
There are two hotels I use the most in NYC, because they are cheap (relative to other NYC hotels), clean and centrally located. They are the Edison on 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Ave, and the Milford Plaza on 8th Ave between 45th and 44th. If you know of other alternatives in or near the theatre district, please let me know. I’ve had hit-or-miss experiences in NYC using PriceLine, so I never use that service when going up with my family.
Again, a budget strategy is to book early. The later you wait, the more expensive the hotel rates will be. Also, the economy hotels in particular tend to fill up early.
If you book the Edison early enough, you can get a mini-suite (one queen bed and one sofa bed—plenty of room for my economy-minded family of four) for $225 before taxes and fees (high seasons may be more). You can get a room with one double or two twin beds at the Edison for $185. Rates at the Milford are more variable, and often slightly higher. We paid $239 for two twin beds on Saturday night, and $169 for the same room on Sunday night--go figure. The Edison is the hotel I go to first, but it usually books up before the Milford. One note about the Edison, on Friday and Saturday nights, the street noise coming from the late-night clubs on 47th Street can be really loud and last till 4 a.m. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday, ask for a room that does NOT have windows on 47th Street.
All told, our hotel bill at the Milford Plaza amounted to $482.45 for a Saturday and Sunday night stay, two twin beds in a nonsmoking room on the 23rd floor, including the extensive taxes and fees added to every hotel bill in NYC.
Theatre Tickets - $520 for the two of us
Because we were arriving on a Saturday morning, we purchased our Saturday matinee tickets for Curtains in advance using BroadwayBox.com. If you’re not familiar with this web site, you should be. It’s your best opportunity to purchase discounted tickets in advance. Our Curtains tickets were perfect seats, 9th row center orchestra. We bought them on BroadwayBox.com for $81.50, which included a $3 per ticket service charge for ordering on line and a $1.50 per ticket theatre restoration charge. Regular price tickets are $114.50 if you order them on line or over the phone. So we saved 29% ($66 for the two of us) by using BroadwayBox.com.
But we elected to save more than 29% on our other tickets by purchasing them on the half-price TKTS line. When we arrived on Saturday morning, we checked into the Milford at 10 a.m.—yes, they had a room ready, which surprised the heck out of me. We then immediately got on the subway just outside the Milford’s door (8th Ave and 44th) and took the A train downtown to the second TKTS outlet at South Street Seaport (the C train would have worked just as well—just remember to follow the signs to Downtown). We got off the train at the Broadway Nassau stop and exited onto Fulton Street. Taking a right on Fulton, we walked a few short blocks to South Street Seaport, passing a Duane Reade pharmacy on the way. The closest ATM machine to the South Street Seaport TKTS booth is just inside the door of Duane Reade. Remember, the TKTS booths in NYC take cash only—no credit or debit cards, no personal checks.
The TKTS booth at South Street Seaport opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. On Saturday mornings, the Times Square TKTS booth sells only Saturday matinee tickets. However, on Saturday mornings the South Street Seaport TKTS booth sells only Saturday evening and Sunday matinee tickets. We already had our Saturday matinee tickets, so that’s why we headed to South Street Seaport.
To reach the ticket booth, walk down Fulton and cross Water Street. One block after Water Street, turn right onto Front Street and walk one block. The TKTS booth is on the corner of Front Street and John Street—just look for the line. But remember, the line at South Street is much shorter than the line at Times Square. We waited in line approximately 15 minutes and then purchased half price tickets for Grey Gardens on Saturday night and Spring Awakening on Sunday afternoon. Our Grey Gardens seats were great (rear orchestra, two seats off a center aisle), and our Spring Awakening seats were front row orchestra. That’s right, several times I’ve purchased front row seats at the South Street TKTS booth, because most ticket buyers don’t like to sit in the front row.
The best part of this particular TKTS booth experience was meeting the woman standing in front of us in line. She turned out to be a Williamsburg resident, and a subscriber to Theatre IV’s children’s theatre programs in Newport News. It was great to meet someone who not only knew and respected our work here in Virginia, but who was also a savvy NYC theatre lover. As fate would have it, we sat in the row just behind her and her husband that evening at Grey Gardens.
More and more Broadway shows now have Sunday evening as well as Sunday matinee performances, which I think is wonderful. To buy our half price Color Purple tickets, we left the Spring Awakening matinee at approximately 4, walked to the TKTS booth which is temporarily on 46th Street, stood in line for about 15 minutes, and then purchased our first choice of shows.
Each of our half price tickets was $56.50 (full price is $113) plus a $3 TKTS booth charge. All told, we spent $520 for the two of us to see four Broadway shows, including all service charges etc. If we had paid full price for the exact same tickets, and purchased them via the internet or telephone, we would have paid $925. In other words, by using the various discount opportunities, we saved $405 (44%). And we had great seats for each show, and saw exactly the shows we wanted to see. This is not always the case. This time, we lucked out.
Food – Approximately $210 for six meals for the two of us
You can go to NYC and eat great for a lot of money. Or you can make up your mind to eat modestly for a little money. Because we don’t have money, we usually choose Option B. Saturday lunch, we ate at the food court on the third floor of the South Street Seaport. My daughter the vegetarian and I shared a make-your-own salad and Broccoli and Chicken over fried rice. The meal was healthy and delicious and came to $13 with no tip. Saturday evening between shows, we ate at Food Emporium on 49th and 8th. The food here is also delicious and the selection is amazing. Our total dinner came in at under $20. You get the picture. Other cheap eateries that earn our support are the great little café off the lobby of the Edison Hotel on 47th, the Evergreen (especially for breakfast) on 47th just east of Broadway, and Smiths, located just across 8th Ave from the Milford. Our one splurge was ordering from the vegetable, cheese and seafood anti-pasta bar at Bond 45 on 45th Street, just east of Broadway. We had a delicious Sunday evening dinner for around $50, including tip. And, as a former waiter, I’m a good tipper.
When you add it all together, I think we did well on keeping costs low.
Grand Total - $1,408.05 for the two of us; $704.03 each!
Grand Total - $1,408.05 for the two of us; $704.03 each!