With Thanksgiving only a few days away it makes sense to begin planning for the Christmas and New Years holidays. Last week I purchased a round trip ticket from Seattle to New York City, departing on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 and returning on Wednesday, January 3, 2007. Roundtrip airfare was only $450, incluing all taxes, fees, and a commission for my travel agent. I had planned for an even higher airfare, but I guess I made the reservation early enough. I also saved $20 by travelling a day later than my original plan and on a flight that actually arrives in Newark, NJ 12:02 a.m. on December 21. That schedule also allows me to leave in the early evening so I can work most of the day and save a vacation day. I much prefer to depart in the late afternoon or early evening anyway, as opposed to getting up at some ungodly hour to catch an 8:00 a.m. departure. And my travel is non-stop on Continental. I happen to be a lifetime member of their Presidents Club from back in the 1980's. But I haven't actually flown on Continental since the early 1990's before I moved from Colorado to New York City in 1993. Interesting how the airlines are evolving.
Next I need to strategize my hotel stays. I expect to make several overnight side trips during my stay in Manhattan, which will help to keep my hotel costs down. Even a low-end 3-star hotel on Hotwire.com is $205 per night (including the New Years Eve weekend), for a grand total with taxes and fees of $3,406 for a 14-night stay, which is more than a bit over my budget (about $1,500).
I'll probaly spend at least two or three nights in Atlantic City, to enjoy seeing the ocean, to visit my mother in Ocean County, and to keep my overall hotel budget down. The casino bus from NYC to AC is cheap since the destination casino gives you a nice gambling credit which you can easily convert to cash.
I'll also probably stay at least a few nights in Jersey City, a Path train ride away from lower Manhattan, to save some money.
Back in the old days, I would usually stay at the Park Hyatt UN Plaza for around $149 a night. Now, Priceline shows that hotel at $269 a night if I stay they whole 12/20 to 1/3 trip. That's an average. The first six nights would be $199, then $299 for three nights, then $429 for the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday leading up to New Years Eve, and then $199 for the final two nights. That's a total of $3,776 for the 14 night stay, plus $503 in taxes and fees, for a grand total of $4,279, which is more than a little bit over my budget. Ah, for the old days. Nonetheless, I might opt to stay there for a few of the cheaper nights. This hotel is only three blocks from my old apartment. I haven't stayed in a Manhattan hotel since 1999, since I got an apartment in the city in 2000.
With Priceline's "Name Your Own Price" feature, I may be able to get some of these $199 nights for even $100 or less.
One key decision is whether to stay in Manhattan for New Years Eve. That night is very expensive due to very high demand. It is fun to be in Manhattan for New Years Eve, but I've done that many times, so the novelty isn't there. In fact, two years ago I simply walked outside my apartment, at the corner of First Avenue and 42nd Street and just stood on the Tudor City Place overpass looking straight down 42nd Street to the Times Square area where you could see most of the fireworks after midnight. Not as dramatic as being near Times Square, but none of the hassle either. If I do decide to stay in the city for New Years Eve, I'll need to make that part of the reservation (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) fairly soon to lock in as cheap as possible a rate.
Staying up all night on New Years Eve is also an option that a lot of people will pursue.
The weather is a big wildcard in all of these plans.
By the time I get out to the curb in Newark after my flight, it may be 12:30 a.m. or even later. I'm debating whether I should even bother getting a hotel room and maybe simply stay up for the night, which is relatively easy to do in New York City, and then hope I can check in to a hotel fairly early. Besides, 2:00 a.m. in Manhattan will be only 11:00 p.m. Pacific time.
It looks like there is a NJ Transit train leaving the Newark Airport Railroad Station at 12:41 a.m. arriving at NY Penn Station at 1:13 a.m., and another train at 1:31 a.m. arriving 2:03 a.m. if my flight is delayed. The "Rail" fare is only $6, but there is a bizarre "Access Fee" of $8.00, so it would cost $14.00 one-way. That's not too bad.
There is bus service by Olympia Trails that departs at 12:40 a.m. from Newark Terminal C and arrives at NY Port Authority Bus Terminal at 1:10 a.m., and the last bus departs at 1:10 a.m. and arrives at 1:40 a.m. There is actually a bus departing at 12:10 a.m., but there is virtually no way I could catch that bus unless my flight was very early or unless the bus was late. The one-way fare is $14, the same as the train. Round trip is $23. This sounds like my best bet.
The alternative is to take a cab, which costs a lot more, but lets you minimize total wait and travel time.
More planning to come
-- Jack Krupansky