New York - Quick Tips Part 1
I was recently asked by a friend of mine for some tips for going to New York. I went last year and now they are going and wondered if I had any pearls of wisdom to share.
I haven’t even got around to writing my New York trip up yet, I’ve been so busy so I told her to fire some questions at me and I would do my best to answer them. This is what she wanted to know.
What about this City Tax?
So New York like many other cities charges a tax on hotel rooms. Two taxes actually – the hotel tax and the city tax. The city tax is a flat rate of $3.50 per room per night. The hotel tax is currently 14.75%.
Most of the time any prices you see displayed for a hotel room (just like most other goods for sale) will be excluding both of these taxes. For instance, I booked my hotel on booking.com and when the hotel charged my card they took almost $300 more than I was expecting. I contacted the hotel to see what was happening. They had taken out the hotel room rate plus both taxes. I hadn’t noticed this in my email confirmation:
“14.75% Tax is excluded.
US$ 3.50 City tax per night is excluded.”
Some hotels wait for you to pay the taxes when you check out, certainly some let you pay the city tax at the end of your stay, so if you have booked a room in New York and are not sure if you have paid the taxes already or whether they will be due when you check out, then check the small print in your confirmation or better yet confirm directly with the hotel to be sure. Check also if you can pay the city tax by card because some hotels only accept cash, and at the end of your holiday if you are anything like me you might be a bit short of that!
Yellow cabs or Uber?
We didn’t use Uber and we didn’t use a yellow cab at all during our trip. The only interaction we had with yellow cabs was taking photos of them. Yes, they can be expensive, especially if they are running off the meter and you get stuck in traffic. If there are a few of you sharing it though then obviously the price works out better.
For getting around Manhattan, well we walked everywhere. It’s pretty doable if you don’t mind walking, and the streets are laid out like a grid, it’s virtually impossible to get lost if you know where you are going. You get to see much more this way too, places you might want to stop at that you otherwise would have missed. We used the subway twice in seven days – once to get into Brooklyn, and once when I was ill down by 9/11 and couldn’t face more walking.
For transport from the airport into Manhattan, well that depends which airport you fly into.
Newark (EWR): take the shuttle bus, you can book online beforehand or buy tickets at the airport. I booked the Go Airlink bus – it was $17 one way (in 2019) and you get dropped outside your hotel. Depending on how many people there are to drop off and where your hotel is on the list will affect the journey time. I was the last to be dropped off but the journey still only took about 45 minutes. You can book one way or return.
JFK: my daughters landed here and took the subway from the airport to Howard Beach and then got the A train to Manhattan and then walked to the hotel. They can’t remember the exact cost but believe it was less than $10 each. Taxis are meant to do flat rates from JFK to Manhattan of $52 plus tolls and tips.
La Guardia (LGA): you can subway from here also but this will involve two changes. They are currently trialling a cab share at LGA where you pay a flat rate of $15, this only applies to terminals C and D at the moment (Jan 2020) and probably excludes tips. I don’t know how many people you have to share with but the website is at https://ridewithvia.com/ if you are interested.
A yellow cab from any of these airports will cost you between $60 and $100, maybe more if the traffic is bad. Subway is the cheapest option from all three airports but then you may have changes and walking at the end. If you have luggage I would rule the subway out unless you don’t mind lugging suitcases up and down stairs and then jostling for space if the subway is busy.
For me, the convenience of just sitting in one place was worth the possible extra time the bus may take, and the bus I took was definitely under an hour so pretty good. There are lots of options so if you are still not sure what to do I would recommend checking these two websites:
Rome2Rio is my go to site for transport queries: https://www.rome2rio.com/
This is the link for the shuttle bus – it serves all airports: https://www.goairlinkshuttle.com/
Alternatively Google Maps is pretty good, just put in your start and end point and select public transport. It will give you all the options available too.
If you do go for a yellow cab, make sure it is an official metered cab.
Hint: if you plan on using the subway download a subway map that you can look at offline.
Staying in Times Square!
If they’d asked me before they booked I would have said don’t stay in Times Square (sorry guys!). But not to worry, it will probably be fabulous having said that, it will definitely be an experience and it is a good location for other sightseeing (so basically ignore me). I wanted to stay in Times Square myself before I went. As long as the room has decent soundproofing it will be fine and you could get some awesome views.
Times Square is so touristy, it’s one of the big draws of the city, and for good reason. You will be mesmerised by the whole scene, the lights, the noise. There is usually some kind of street entertainment going on. It’s amazing.
If you are staying here, I would recommend looking for food and drink elsewhere. Times Square is very expensive for eating and drinking. It’s a captive audience so of course the prices hike right up, like anywhere touristy. We stopped and had one piece of the famous cheesecake at Junior’s. For that and three soft drinks the bill was something like $20. And, I apologise now to all the Junior’s fans, but the cheesecake was nothing special, it really was not worth the price. I don’t mind paying more for something that is worth it but it was just a cheesecake. I think it was a culture shock also, I had just come from Spain where the equivalent would have cost around $11. Then on top of that you are expected to leave a tip and the receipt tells you how much you should leave. On a bill of $20 the suggested tip amount was $2.66 – $3.54. Which brings me on to the tips and what to expect.
I would sum up Times Square by comparing it to the rowdy, brash part of the family that you visit now and then. You do love them, but breathe a sigh of relief when you leave
You are expected to tip
Tipping is a contentious issue, debates get quite lively in the travel groups I am in. Depending on where you come from it may or may not be normal for you to leave a tip when you eat out. For example where I live it isn’t expected. For drinks only you don’t leave tips. For meals you leave what you think is fair. It is not compulsory unless there is a charge for large parties. If you are not aware I can tell you that tipping is definitely expected in the U.S.
I have heard of (never witnessed) servers getting cross and shouting at customers when they do not leave what they believe to be a sufficient tip! As I understand it, the servers are paid minimum wage or even less than this because they are expected to make up their salary with their tips. This is awful, and the system needs to change and pay them fairly! I don’t believe for one minute that tourists should be subsidising people’s basic wages but if that is how the system works then it is better to be aware of it and carry some extra change / $1 bills.
I would still treat it very much like at home though – leave what you feel is fair for the level of service received.