My Birthday Weekend in New York – Part 1: Trip Planning & Getting to New York

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Emily:  Daraius and I went to New York City the last weekend in June to celebrate his birthday.  We stayed at the Andaz 5th Avenue, a Hyatt hotel in the heart of Manhattan.

Andaz 5th Ave 2

View from our room at the Andaz 5th Avenue

Daraius:  I had meetings with the banks in New York, so I jumped at the chance of using my Southwest Companion Pass and having a weekend getaway with Emily in New York before the meetings.  My mom was also in the area, so the timing worked out perfectly.

I booked my ticket using Southwest airline points, and used my Companion Pass to add Emily for free (ok, $5 in taxes and fees)!

I had 4 nights (Friday through Monday) in New York City and hotel prices are usually very expensive in New York.  So I booked 1 night at the Hyatt Andaz 5th Avenue for ~$300 and the 2nd night using 22,000 Hyatt points.

I booked the 3rd night at the Radisson Lexington in New York for ~$130 a night (a steal in New York) and I earned 50,000 points for that stay thanks to the Radisson Big Night Giveaway promotion (enough for another night in New York), so I effectively paid half price or $65 for the night.

And for the 4th night, I used 50,000 Club Carlson points at the Raddison Lexington, of which I earned 44,000 points from an earlier stay at the Country Inn & Suites.

I did feel bad paying $300 for the 1st night at the Andaz 5th Avenue, but here’s how I rationalized it.

  1. I would spend  at least $80 mattress hopping at a cheap Hyatt Place (checking in and out of hotels only to earn points and stay credit towards elite status) to maintain my Hyatt Diamond status.  So the incremental cost of the hotel room was $220
  2. I’d get free breakfast credit of $75 a day as a Hyatt Diamond at the Andaz 5th which is more generous with the free Diamond breakfast than other Hyatt hotels.  And I really wanted to taste those lemon poppy seed pancakes which Gary raves about!
  3. The hotel is in the heart of the city and close to everything my mom and Emily want to do in New York which would save on metro and taxi fares as well as let us maximise our time in New York
  4. I could use a Hyatt Diamond suite upgrade certificate to upgrade to a suite and hopefully the hotel would let me keep the suite and wouldn’t make me change rooms on the 2nd night when I used points
  5. I could also treat my mom to a nice hotel room the next day when she visited
  6. It was my birthday and I like surprising Emily!

So hotel and airline loyalty programs work both ways – not only do I extract value from the airlines and hotels – but sometimes the airlines and hotels get me to spend more money than I would otherwise.

So it is important to put a value on elite status and not overspend when chasing elite status.

But I suspect that I still come out ahead overall in the miles and points game.

Emily:  Our flight left Kansas City at 6:00 pm, and we had a layover in Chicago.  We used 2 Southwest drink coupons to have Bailey’s on ice to start off the weekend!

Daraius:  The flight from Chicago to New York was in their new Boeing 737-800.  This version holds 175 passengers which is significantly more passengers than other Southwest Boeing 737s.

The flight attendants were really excited with the new plane and were showing off the oversized lockers and changing the overhead lighting effects.  They even mentioned that the planes would eventually fly to Hawaii and Mexico!

Andaz 5th Ave

New Southwest Boeing 737-800

Emily:  We reached New York’s LaGuardia Airport at about 12:15 am and we waited in line for 1.5 hours for a taxi.  Daraius usually has everything planned out, so I was surprised at the long wait for a taxi.  We finally reached the hotel at around 2:00 am.

Daraius:  Our arrival to New York was slightly delayed, which I expected.  What I did NOT expect was the long line for taxis.  I called the car service companies who had advertisements in the terminal, but they were not accepting on-the-spot reservations from LaGuardia.

So we waited for 1.5 hours for a taxi and finally reached the Andaz 5th avenue at 2:00 am.  I suppose this was one of those moments when Emily wonders how the heck I get to write a travel blog!

I could have googled other car service companies, but I was pretty optimistic that the line for taxis would move quickly, and I didn’t want to spend extra cash.  But, alas, the line moved very slowly and I had a lot of time to reflect on how I messed up the transportation from the airport to hotel.

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44 responses to “My Birthday Weekend in New York – Part 1: Trip Planning & Getting to New York

  1. I like the post so far…as I always find airline and hotel choices to be very interesting, and you provide a ton of detail.

    I’m not familiar with the Club Carlson, or the Radisson Lexington and its normal rate, but was using 50K CC pts on a room that goes for $130 a “good redemption value?” Especially with cashback portals out there, etc.

  2. Jeez, why not just get on the bus when you saw the crazy taxi line? Always have a plan B!

  3. So did they let you stay in the suite? 🙂

  4. I’m with Mike. At some point, you just gotta jump on the M60. At that time of night you’d be into Manhattan in 20 mins.

    And I don’t know what this “metro” is of which you speak 🙂

  5. Carsten Varming

    The Q33 takes about 15 minutes to Jackson Heights subway station. From there you can get to the Andez in one simple train ride. Should the Q72 show up before the Q33 then take that to Junction Blvd and catch the subway. In other words, if you have a smart phone the smart thing to do in NY is to look up public transport on Google maps.

  6. Glad you had a good time. Lets meet next time you’re in town. 🙂

  7. Regarding the taxi line (at ‘normal’ hours) – if there’s a long line, head to the drop-off area and hop in a cab as someone is getting out. The taxi drivers aren’t allowed to do pickups there, but it hasn’t stopped them in the past. Wink.

  8. Forget the taxis! Next time post that you are coming to the city, would have given you a free ride! The least I could do for turning me into a mile and points junkie.

  9. The GF and I are spending 2 nights in NY this week as well with the SPG BRG promo. 2 free nights and we drove in since we live across the river.

  10. dhammer has a good tip to head to the drop off area to pick up cab when the line is long.
    Also never wait in the lines that are in front of the baggage claim when you first exit LGA, always go to the line that is on the far right hand side, this line moves faster than all others and seems to have a larger pool of taxis waiting at all times.

    I understand trying to maximize points and value by staying at different hotels in the city, but 3 different places in 4 nights sounds kind of hectic. Don’t you prefer to settle into a hotel before you have to pack up again and move?

  11. your best option (one which I use whenever I have the time) would have been to take the M60 bus outside the terminal. that takes you over the RFK bridge (fka the triboro bridge) to manhattan – 125th Street. At lexington, you could’ve switched to the 4,5 or 6 subways to grand central. next time, call or email me and I’ll give you NYC suggestions.

  12. “At some point, you just gotta jump on the M60” (from Reader, above)

    This. $2.50 fare, 20 minute ride into Manhattan during off-hour times. From there you could cab or metro down.

  13. I don’t think there are too many cabs making drop-offs at 12:30 AM at LGA.

  14. As a NYC resident who has many times seen & did not experience the disaster TAXI line (especially in 5 degree weather) – what you needed to do is as soon as you saw what the line looked like, go to the other “illegal” cabs asking for a ride & take someone who looks safe to you & pay him ther few extra dollars.

  15. Listen man, do not take the MTA bus even at 12:15 at night. That thing comes every 30 minutes at that hour of the day. And you only get into the city fast when few folks get on/off. I don’t care what anyone says about the bus to/from LGA. Never do it if you value time.

    This is what you do when the line is too long. What you do is take one of those airport express buses that will take you to Grand Central, Penn Station or Port Authority. There’s usually a flat price per person of like $10 to $15 dollars. For the two of you, that’ll run you $30 at most. These buses run around every 15 to 20 minutes and from LaGuardia since it makes no stops until you get to one of the three designated stops, it’s about as fast as a cab would be to Grand Central. Then once you get to GC (since you stayed on the east side), you then hail a yellow cab from the curb. Since you stayed at the Andaz 5th avenue, your cab would get there in like, 2 minutes.

    The only catch is…. hailing a yellow cab at 12:15 is a bitch on a Friday or Saturday night. Still, you won’t wait anywhere near 90 minutes.

  16. @ kathy – I would not advisethem to be getting in to the 125th street station @ 1:00 in the morning!

  17. Depending on luggage size, some people may not want to deal with buses, especially after a flight. I live in midtown and I rarely use buses either. Sometimes I go to LGA using train and bus, but that’s when I’m departing NY. Normally when I come back, I take a cab, unless I land in JFK or EWR, then it depends on how I feel.

  18. @Danny – those would have been their best bet – but do they run in middle of the night??

  19. IH, what’s wrong with getting the train at 125th and Lex at that time? Spoken like someone who probably hasn’t done it.

  20. This is why I usually book a car service ahead of time. I use one service that is $52 to get into the City (including tip). They are there when you land and take you to the front door of your hotel.

  21. This works in ANY airport, go to the upper floor or deapartures section, then just wait for a taxi that is dropping off a passenger and get on it, you will wait seconds. Same thing when I get picked up, my friends pick me up in the departures section, no line at all!

  22. That is when you wish you made reservation with limo company such as manhattanlxlimo.com. No wait, meeted by driver and nice cars, just a tad bit more then taxi.

  23. As always, i appreciate your post, darius. I like to hear that you had to wait like a “normal traveler”….it makes me think more highly of you! Oftentimes i read travel blogs and feel overwhelmed because everything flows so smoothly and perfectly that i feel i could never replicate the same trip. So thanks! I think that people learn just as much from you posting minor mess ups as they do otherwise.

    We are planning our trip to the big apple that we will be taking in the fall. Hope you had a wonderful birthday!!!

  24. Emily, I love the dress you are wearing in the picture. A big part of travel for me is wearing my favorite things.

  25. Departure arrive for cabs and pickup is best

  26. Why not stay at LGA for 1 night instead of Andaz? If you knew you were getting in to NYC so late, you kinda lose the value of the room you paid $300 for (or 22k points, neither of which is something I want to part with easily).

  27. How was the leg room on SW’s new jet? I’m thinking about that Hawaiian flight and I’m 6’1″ 🙂

  28. Yeah, def take the subway next time.

  29. Next time if you’re in that situation you could always call a car from Uber. If you have an iPhone, they have an app where you set your location and your car comes. From the airport to the city and vice versa it’s $65. Includes tip in the price.

    I loved the Andaz 5th!! The breakfast is amazing.

  30. happy b-day of 20. 😉
    next time, rent a car and drop off in downtown area just for one day, it’s made up the taxi and you don’t need to wait. i know driving in NYC downtown is scary, i survived from Chinatown a few years ago. 🙂

  31. Even if you don’t want to take the bus all the way to the subway to the city, it’ll at least get you to a place (Jackson Heights by Q33, or Astoria by M60) where there are always car services available. In situations like this, the key is to get the heck out of the airport.

  32. @ everyone- Glad you all liked the post, and thanks for the public transport advice. We know it will help others.

    @ Anne- Thanks! I got it at modcloth.com. 🙂

  33. @ken, it’s ok leg room, i am 6′, but if you head to Hawaiian from East coast, its an issue. however, i fly Japan with United economy(not plus) for many times, i am ok with that. however, keep it in mind, SW flight is always FULL. talking about leg room and full flight, you get the picture.

  34. Yep. Arriving at NYC airports is really basic: either arrange a car service in advance to meet your flight or take the express bus to midtown.

    http://www.nyairportservice.com/

    Trying to take cabs from the drop-off point is illegal and can cause the cabbie to lose his airport privileges and even his medallion. Not advised. And, as another pointed out upthread, there aren’t likely to be too many drop-offs after midnight.

    • @DAVID – Sure, it wasn’t extracting the most value from the 50K points. But I have limited vacation days and have planned out most of my vacation for next year, so I’d rather use the points and save cash instead of having them sit in my account and potentially devalue.

      @Mike – Because the bus to Midtown had a long line as well.

      @Ryan from MA – They did!

      @Reader
      – Ok, Ok, it is called the subway and doesn’t run to the airport. Can’t you tell I don’t visit NYC often?!

      @Carsten Varming – Thanks for the tips!

      @Mike – It was a very busy trip, but perhaps another time. Thanks for the offer!

      @dhammer53 @IH @ORD-TGU – I thought about that, but didn’t expect any drop-offs at 1:00 am at LGA. But I should have tried instead of just waiting in the line.

      @Roberto P – Thanks for the offer!

      @Rick – Have a great trip!

      @John – Thanks! I didn’t know there was a second taxi line. I stayed in only 2 hotels – Andaz 5th for 2 nights and Radisson for another 2 nights. Emily hates packing and moving, so I moved hotels only when she went back to Kansas and I stayed on in NYC.

      @Kathy (Will Run For Miles) @Eric – Thanks for the tip!

      @AT – That’s what I thought too.

      @Danny – Thanks for the tips! We actually walked from Andaz 5th to Grand Central on Sunday to explore it, and taking the bus there would have been a great idea.

      @Tine – We just had carry on bags, so buses would have worked, but would be very inconvenient if we had larger bags.

      @David @Mike – Probably best to use car service from LGA the next time!

      @Vanessa – I do see myself as a normal traveler and do make mistakes. Safe travels and thanks for your wishes.

      @Mike – Emily doesn’t like moving hotels and since she was there for only 2 nights, I didn’t want her to move each night.

      @Ken – I didn’t have a problem with it, but you could always pay $10 for early boarding and try to snag an exit seat.

      @David0603 – I’ll be better prepared next week.

      @Benny – Thanks for the tip! You’re right. The breakfast was really good.

      @Mike – Good point!

      @Killington – Thanks for the link!

  35. I can’t wait for part 3 of what you did in the City.

    I’m planning a trip up there next month for two boys (15 and 8).
    We’re still planning out what to do and where to go.
    So far I have not got past the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Bldg, Times Square, and where the towers once stood to visit. I know there is lots to do but I have two boys who don’t care for theaters, art, plays, or any of those other typical NY tourist things.

  36. I love La guardia airport. Its so quick and cheap for me to get into the city. I usually take the M60 bus and get off either in Astoria (Ditmas BLVD) which is like 5 minutes from the airport. Just ring the bell when you see the NEPTUNE DINER! From there I get the N tain into the city.
    Or you can get the Q48 to either Flushing/mainstreet or mets-Wilets point where you can catch the 7 train to grand central or times square, depending where you are going.
    The subway is 24 hours and the bus at least until 1am so try it next time so easy and no waiting.

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  38. Daraius, for future reference, if the taxi line is long at LGA, walk over to the next terminal where there may be taxis waiting or a shorter line. I’ve used this trick successfully. Hard to believe that there would be taxis at one terminal and not another, but welcome to NYC.

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  42. I agree with Benny. I used UBER last time. I had credit from a friends’ referral and it saved me $20. You could use my code 69BZM and we will both get $20 off our next ride.