The cheapskate’s guide to getting around New York

New York is an expensive place, as you might expect. A basic lunchtime set meal starts upwards of US$15, a weekly pass on the subway costs US$31 (A single ride on the subway will cost you $2.75, regardless of how far you’re going), and if you’re not into NY tapwater (which regularly wins awards for being the ‘champagne of tapwater’), a 330ml bottle will set you back US$1.60 every time you chug.

That doesn’t mean the seasoned travel hacker can’t find ways and means of saving money though, especially on transport.

I’m assuming everyone here uses Uber already so I’m going to skip that because whatever sign up bonus you’d have must have been used already. But the US is the land of competition, and there are numerous other ridesharing services, each keen to offer you some sign up credit for free.

Protip: If you’re going into Manhattan from JFK/EWR, you can get $35 flat fare Uberpool rides. That’s a good deal in my book, and cheaper than a yellow cab.

If you know how to use Uber, there’s no reason why you can’t figure out the following

Lyft

Lyft is available in pretty much every major US city including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Portland and Seattle.

If you use my code AARON761045 you get $20 in credit when you take your first ride.

But…depending on your travel patterns you may be more interested in the generic Lyft offer of $5 off each of your first 10 rides.

If you’re taking a single long trip, my code makes more sense. If you’re taking several short trips (like I did in NY), then use Lyft’s generic offer to maximize your value.  Decide what makes more sense for you and go with that

I maximised my $5 off 10 rides in NY by using Lyft Line, Lyft’s equivalent of Uberpool. Trips in NY are generally short in distance but long in time (Due to traffic). I was able to hop around distances of 20-30 blocks without spending more than $2-3 of my own money. Take that, public transportation!

I also found Lyft Line extremely useful in DC, where fares are a lot lower than New York.

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I can’t think of more than a handful of times when I had to share my Lyft Line with anyone else. Drivers were uniformly excellent. I had one who simply wouldn’t believe me when I told him the Toyota Camery he was driving would cost about $100,000 in Singapore. I told him I couldn’t believe his country was about to elect either Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. “Touche”, he said.

I struggle to think of a single difference between Lyft and Uber, except that after your ride Lyft prompts you to select a tip amount for your driver, along with the rating. Everything else works the same way.

Via

Via is yet another ridesharing startup that is going to change the way we travel yada yada yada.

Here’s the hook: All rides within Manhattan (South of 125th street) are just $5, regardless of distance. That’s right, $5. I got $10 of free Via credit when I signed up, and you can too with the code: aaron5g5

I’m sure this is promotional pricing and it’s not sustainable in the long run, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.Via operates in Manhattan south of 125th Street, as well as the JFK + LGA airports.

Via works like this- you enter where you are and where you want to go.

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The system will match you with a passing by Via. You’ll see here that I’ve been given a routing that sees me get picked up in 3 minutes. Via quotes expire about 30 seconds after they’ve been made, after which you’ll need to get a new one.

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To improve efficiency, Via will pick you up and drop you off within 2 blocks of where you need to go. This involves some walking on your part, but if you’re the only passenger in the car the drivers gladly drop you at the door.

Here’s the other catch about Via- there are operating hours. Presumably, its $5 pricing model means it’s only economical to offer Via when it can fill up those vehicles with as many passengers as possible, so they operate during periods when that’s most likely to happen.

Via operates weekdays, 6am to midnight, Saturdays 10am to midnight, and Sundays 10am to 9pm. 

The full pricing model can be found here, if you’re interested.

Via was a lifesaver when I wanted to get to JFK upon leaving NY. I left the hotel at 4pm for an 8.55pm departure (so I could enjoy more of that lovely Virgin Clubhouse, more on that to follow!) on a Friday. 4pm seems like a good time to avoid the evening rush! I told myself confidently.

The usual UberX fare to JFK is about US$55. If you opt for UberPool it will be about US$47. So when I see this…

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US$102.93? Methinks surge pricing has gone a little bit crazy right now.

No problem. I’ll use Lyft Line!

Wait, what?

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$94.74. Hmmm….

The alternative was to get a yellow taxi and pay $52 + tolls and tip, which would bring it closer to $65. But I get stressed out when tipping and besides there wasn’t a yellow taxi in sight.

Then I remembered- Via has flat $39.95 rides to JFK. Plus, I had $10 of credit I could use, bringing down the price to $29.95. Horrary!

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I ended up sharing my ride with a very stressed Australian lady who had a 6pm flight. We ended up getting to the airport at about 5.45pm, meaning she missed her plane. I suppose there’s a teachable moment here about overbudgeting travel time.

Gett

Gett offers new riders $10 of free credit. I never actually used this when I was there but if you’ve exhausted your Via and Lyft credits here’s another $10 to get you around (sign up code: GTUADGI)

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Juno

Juno is a competing rideshare app to Uber that is currently still in its beta phase. 

I didn’t actually try Juno while I was there, but it’s still in beta mode and has a 25% off fares which puts it cheaper than Uber. It also does not have surge pricing.  You can read about Juno here. No free credit for sign ups, but 25% off and no surge pricing will save you a pretty penny on your trips if you don’t fancy using the subway.

Conclusion

The NY subway is great and all, but assuming you’re staying for one of those awkward periods that makes the unlimited 7 day $31 pass not economical and buying individual $2.75 passes each time you ride not a good deal either, then you can leverage all this free rideshare credit to save money on your transport.

Of course the advice here can be applied to pretty much any big US city where these ridesharing services operate, but I find that a lot of them launch in NY before diffusing elsewhere.

One last shoutout: you can also consider using an app called Bandwagon if you’re taking a cab from JFK. This is a taxi share service that lets you split the cost with someone heading the same way. Haven’t tested it, but might come in handy if you’ve exhausted all your credit with other apps.

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