Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Outrageous Cost of Visiting Manhattan This Fall (And How to Alleviate It)

Sometimes numbers tell a heckuva story.

According to hotel expert Bjorn Hanson the average hotel room in the United States is 325 square feet.

Rockefeller Center (photo by F Diez)
In Manhattan, by my calculations (and I spent several hours today looking up the square footage of 100 hotel rooms--yeah, its a glamorous job), the average hotel room is 250 square feet, a full 23% smaller.

But it gets worse. Recently, Smith Travel Research announced that the average cost for a hotel room in the United States was $55.

Manhattan rates vary wildly by season, but looking at October prices (high season), I found the average hotel rate on this island to be a whopping $380.

That means that visitors to Manhattan (and I restricted my research to Manhattan, since its the borough most visitors want to stay in; and the one that, arguably, has the most tourist attractions) are paying an average of $1.51 per square foot per night. Compare that to visitors elsewhere in the US, who pay just 16 cents per square foot at their much-better-value hotel rooms.


Even as a native New Yorker, one who should be used to the inflated costs on our tiny island, I find these prices shocking. But they explain what I'm seeing on my hometown's streets. My city is literally teeming with visitors from countries with stronger currencies than ours. French tourists are eating at my local diner, and Japanese folks at the pizzeria. Brits are crowded aboard the hop-on, hop-off busses and frighteningly polite Germans stop me for directions on the street.

North American tourists? I'm not seeing as many of those. And that makes me sad. So, very briefly, here's some advice for my fellow residents on this continent on how to afford Manhattan, without resigning themselves to a stay in Jersey (heaven forbid!):
  • Head to the outer boroughs: Hotels like the Pan American in Queens and the Sofia Inn in Brooklyn are darn nice, yet cost much less than equivalent hotels would in Manhattan. These are just two of the ones I'd have no hesitation sending relatives to. And by staying in New York City (rather than in Jersey), you have much better transportation options as you can take city buses and taxis. Plus you'll be in neighborhoods that are interesting in their own right.
  • Choose a hotel in which guestrooms share bathrooms: Some are lovely, set in historic buildings that simply don't have the plumbing to support numerous bathrooms.  Most are in the $150-range, or lower, in high season. Faves include: The Chelsea Lodge, Chelsea Pines, the Larchmont, the Gershwin Hotel, The Pod Hotel, The Jane, East Village Bed and Coffee,  or the Carlton Arms.
  • Go monastic: Such religious hotels as the Leo House, various YMCA's, the Seafarers and International House and others, offer plain, but clean rooms at very low nightly rates.
  • Get a temporary roommate: Such services as AirBnB.com and AffordableNewYorkCity.com will place you in your own room, in the home of a local, for a third of what you'd pay to stay in a hotel. And you usually get breakfast, too.
  • Barter and shmooze: Home exchanges (where you swap your digs with someone else) and hospitality exchanges (where you stay with folks who just like to host strangers) are great ways to make NYC affordable. Heck, you're staying for free. To learn more, go to www.homeexchange.com, www.couchsurfers.org, or www.globalfreeloaders.org.
 I guess today's blog is my personal "mea culpa". We like visitors here, we really do. Sorry that we're pricing out so many!


  1. That's a great comprehensive post.

    Thinking way outside the box, there's also camping avalailable in Brooklyn on the Floyd Bennett Field for $50/3 nights

    From http://www.nps.gov/gate/planyourvisit/thingstodojamaciabay.htm :
    "Public Camping (Year - round)

    Floyd Bennett Field has four public campsites available for a unique urban, yet rustic camping experience. There is a fee of $50 for three nights. For more information, call 718-338-3799."

  2. I've never thought of camping in NYC. Seems counter-intuitive but its a terrific idea! Thanks so much for the info.