Kelsee’s NYC Frugal Travel Hacks – Transportation

NYC, Frugal, Transportation

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It’s pretty common knowledge in my circle of friends that I take a big trip to NYC each year to celebrate my birthday. It’s become something that I plan for each year. While the trip changes a little bit each year, I usually use the same basic plans to make it happen. Three or four times every few weeks, I have people ask me about how I plan my NYC trips. I get messages on Facebook asking about where I stay, how I get there, what shows I’m seeing, etc. I thought I would answer ALL the questions I could potentially answer in a series of posts so that I can dig in with as much helpful information as possible.

Series Post #1: Transportation
Series Post #2: Broadway Shows (I know this is something lots of people are excited about.)
Series Post #3: Accommodations
Series Post #4: Things to Do That Aren’t Broadway Shows

Today we cover transportation to and around NYC.


This is probably going to feel like an overindulgent endorsement of Southwest, but seriously, they are the best when it comes to getting out to NYC on a budget. Go with me here.

TIP: Southwest has gift cards that you can use to drop your flight costs even lower – ask for one on your birthday or favorite holiday.

I’ve booked flights ranging in price from $240 (on the high end) to $5.40 (on the low end). Yes, that’s right – $5.40 thanks to Rapid Rewards points. It really does pay to be loyal to Southwest! Southwest is now offering 2 FREE CHECKED BAGS. That’s right – two free checked bags. I’ll never take two because I pack pretty lightly to go in and out of NYC, but if that doesn’t encourage you to consider the airline, I’m saying you’re crazy.

Their customer service has always been top-notch in my experience. I had a flight canceled once and they made it super easy to rebook the next day for no additional charge.

TIP: You know those crazy Coinstar machines you see at the grocery store? Dump your spare change in the machine and redeem for a Southwest eGift Code (NO FEE!) instead of redeeming for dollar bills. Use that eGift Code when booking your flight to offset some of the cost!

Booking a Flight

It’s really all about the timing…

  • Southwest ALMOST ALWAYS has some sort of deal going on. Sign up for their emails if you haven’t already so that you can see when they are offering a low fare sale.
  • While you’re at it, sign up for the Rapid Rewards program. You can sign up for the program, the credit card, and Rapid Rewards Dining & Shopping. Anything that gives you the opportunity to earn Rapid Rewards points, you will want to sign up for.
  • For cheaper prices, travel at off-peak times. Remember that NYC is a tourist destination. Prices will be higher during holidays, school breaks – summer break & spring break, and so on. If you can, traveling during the cold winter months or early spring (between spring break and graduation season), will get you better flight prices.
  • I also suggest buying 2-3 months before you plan to go. Try to stalk the sales emails that Southwest sends out, but 2-3 months out will give you the most buying options. I also suggest being as flexible as possible – be willing to travel a couple of days around the dates you’d like to go. Consider taking a late evening or very early morning flight to save some bucks.
  • When flying into NYC, I always suggest LaGuardia based on where you are staying. You’ll probably have to pass through a major travel hub, like Atlanta, if you’re flying out of Indianapolis as I do. Recently, LGA has gone under major construction, but the airport is still running. Therefore, plan extra arrival and departure time into your travels. The airport looks like it’s straight out of 1975, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I think LGA is the best airport to travel into because there’s a bus (the M 60 SBS for $5) that takes you right to the A train and that train will connect you to basically any other route of transportation that you may need. You may think I’m nuts for wanting to take luggage on transportation, but really, I’m not. I take ONE bag. One bag is NOTHING on public transportation in NYC. Pack with intention and you’ll be fine. Don’t act like a lost tourist, show up with conviction and you’ll find that traveling with your luggage on public transportation is basically a breeze. Plus, that M60 SBS bus usually has a luggage rack inside, so you can place your bag and then take a seat.


Public transportation is your friend. Say it with me: Public transportation is your friend. You may face the occasional delay or traffic, but overall, it’s your best mode of transportation.

Believe it or not, I find the subway system very simple to understand in NYC. Hopefully, your lodging situation is close to a train stop. That’s key for me – the closer to a train stop, the better. It’s usually better on your budget to use the subway system as well. Depending on how long you’ll be in the city, there are different unlimited MTA passes that you can buy that cover some buses and all trains for 7 days, 30 days, and so on. These cards are usually cheaper than paying by ride, so pony up the cash for those unlimited MTA passes.

I like the CityMapper app for navigating around because it shows you multiple routes, including buses, trains, bikes, cabs, Uber, and even the time it would take to walk.

I think it’s fun to do this occasionally, but it’s often pretty expensive depending on how far you’re going. However, if you’re going to a fancy event or whatever, I could understand a cab. There are even apps now that can e-hail you a cab! Don’t give them exact addresses – give them corners and intersections – they’ll probably have to drop you on a corner anyways. Plus, knowing intersections makes you sound more like a local instead of a tourist. Click here for some helpful NYC cab tips!

Yes, NYC has Uber. It works the same way that it probably does where you live. If you want, you can do an Uber fare estimate to see the cost of travel between your NYC destinations.

Lots of people use the Citibikes! I don’t have any firsthand knowledge about them, but I know they are popular. Maybe I’ll investigate during this trip!

Yup, use your feet. It’s free – can you believe it!?!? Bring solid shoes with you so that you can walk (swiftly) from place to place. Don’t dawdle and don’t block sidewalks. Use Google Maps to plot your course before you head out for your adventures, mostly so you aren’t blocking the sidewalks while you’re going from place to place – don’t be that walking tourist!

Join me next week for my tips on seeing as many Broadway shows as possible…without going entirely broke. It’s one of my favorite pastimes!

How do you travel around NYC? Any crazy experiences? Any questions for my upcoming NYC posts?

28 thoughts on “Kelsee’s NYC Frugal Travel Hacks – Transportation

  1. Thank you for this! I hope to make it back to NYC someday with my kids. And I always fly Southwest. I find they have the best deals, and you can’t beat their free bags!

  2. Do you prefer using Uber over Lyft? My husband and I always prefer to walk everywhere, though we have yet to travel to the Big Apple together just yet. We did hear from some friends though that it is an incredibly walkable city. 🙂

    1. It’s very walkable. If you wanted to walk the whole island of Manhattan, that’s possible. Some people do it. They plan their routes so they can walk the whole like 10-15?? Miles of the island!

      In NYC, I prefer Uber. There are more regulations. In my hometown, I prefer Lyft when they are actually any available!

  3. I have never traveled outside europe but it’s on my wishlist for sure! A friend is about to go to NY I need to give him the link to your post, he will love it!

  4. I have heard good things about Uber, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Southwest is cheaper than most other airlines. But it isn’t my favorite for comfort. I guess everything is a tradeoff.

  5. Great info that you mentioned here!! I’ve never ever been to NYC! 😮 id like to go one day though!

  6. I always try to visit Big Apple at least once a year. However, last year I visited three times to attend a couple of events! I have traveled with Southwest but I didn’t know about their amazing loyalty reward points! I’ll check them out!

  7. It’s really a cool and useful piece of information. I am glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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