In the hotel listings, I’ve tried to give you an idea of the kind of deals that may be available at particular hotels. But there’s no way of knowing what the offers will be when you’re booking, so also consider these general tips:
Choose your season carefully. Room rates can vary dramatically—by hundreds of dollars in some cases—depending on what time of year you visit. Winter, from January 4 through mid-March, is best for bargains, with summer (especially July–August) second best. Fall is the busiest and most expensive season after Christmas, but November tends to be quiet and rather affordable, as long as you’re not booking a parade-route hotel on Thanksgiving weekend. All bets are off at Christmastime, New Year's, and the weekend of the NYC marathon—expect to pay top dollar then.
Bizarrely enough, when the city fills up, lesser quality hotels will often charge prices that are equal to or even higher than the luxury hotels. It makes no sense, but it happens quite often. So it’s important to NEVER try and assess the quality of a hotel by the price it’s asking. Instead, read the reviews carefully and compare the prices you’re being quoted to make sure you’re not getting taken.
Go uptown, downtown, or to an outer borough. The advantages of a Midtown location are overrated, especially when saving money is your object. The subway can whisk you anywhere you want to go in minutes; even if you stay on the Upper West Side, you can be at the ferry launch for the Statue of Liberty in about a half-hour. You’ll not only get the best value for your money by staying outside the Theater District, in the residential neighborhoods where real New Yorkers live, but you’ll have a better overall experience: You won’t constantly be fighting crowds, you’ll have terrific restaurants nearby, and you’ll see what life in the city is really like. Lodgings in Brooklyn and Queens offer particularly good savings.
Visit over a weekend. If your trip includes a weekend, you might be able to save big. Business hotels tend to empty out, and rooms that go for $300 or more Monday through Thursday can drop dramatically, as low as $150 or less, once the execs have headed home. These deals are prevalent in the Financial District, but they’re often available in tourist-saturated Midtown, too. Also, you’ll find that Sunday nights are the least expensive. Check the hotel’s website for weekend specials.
Buy a money-saving package deal. A travel package that combines your airfare and your hotel stay for one price may just be the best bargain of all. In some cases, you’ll get airfare, accommodations, transportation to and from the airport, plus extras—maybe an afternoon sightseeing tour or restaurant and shopping discount coupons—for less than the hotel alone would have cost had you booked it yourself. Most airlines and many travel agents, as well as the usual booking websites (Priceline, Orbitz, Expedia) offer good packages to New York City.
Shop online. There are so many ways to save online and through apps, I've devoted several paragraphs to the topic (see below this bulleted list).
Choose a chain. With some exceptions, I have not listed mass-volume chain hotels in this chapter. In my opinion, they tend to lack the character and local feel that most independently-run hotels have. And it’s that feel, I believe, that is so much a part of the travel experience. Still, when you’re looking for a deal, they can be a good option. Most hotels—particularly such chains as Comfort Inn and Best Western—are market-sensitive. Because they hate to see rooms sit empty, they’ll often negotiate good rates at the last minute and in slow seasons. You can also pull out all the stops for discounts at a budget chain, from reward points to senior status to corporate rates. Most chain hotels let the kids stay with parents for free. Ask for every kind of discount; if you get an unhelpful reservation agent, call back. Of course, there’s no guarantee.
Two chains with franchisees in Manhattan are: Best Western ([tel] 800/780-7234; www.bestwestern.com), though their rack rates for New York hotels are higher than you’d expect, and Howard Johnson ([tel] 800/446-4656; www.hojo.com; its brands in NYC include Wyndham, Night, and Tryp). There’s a Best Western at South Street Seaport and at two Midtown locations, and a Howard Johnson in Soho, three in Queens, and two in the Bronx. Check their websites for all the details.