After a bunch of sunny destinations, a holiday trip to NYC was high on our list. Read on to learn about our planning and the fantastic time that we had in New York City.
NYC Holiday Trip tl;dr
Wow, what a great time in NYC! Our high expectations were exceeded again & again!
This whole website is about how Sandra (aka Zuzu) and I are making memories because we finally get to travel.
I was not expecting to make SO MANY oversized memories with just a 4 day itinerary.
We knew we wanted to get the full NYC holiday experience (the lights, the tree, skating, shopping…) but didn’t know we’d be:
- reliving my Dad’s favorite Army story
- channeling my 2nd Mom
- hanging with the Blue Bloods…
all while being disappointed in one of my most highly anticipated travel hacking firsts!
We also said about 40 times: “Where are all the rude New Yorkers????” (There was only one who made an appearance on our last day.)
Why go to NYC for the Holidays?
While our beach trips to Playa Del Carmen, Jamaica, Key West and Punta Cana have been fantastic, we were really excited about a change of pace in our travels.
Sandra and I have never been to New York City on vacation so we’ve never done the NYC tourist thing. That’s why we were both itching to get to NYC during the Christmas season.
Maximizing Free Travel on Points to NYC
To get the most value out of our points and miles, we knew we were going to fly Southwest nonstop to LaGuardia since it’s a quick and cheap flight, especially with our Companion Pass.
Sandra’s roundtrip on SWA was only $11.20 for the non-stop flights between Nashville & NY LaGuardia. You still have to pay the fed even if the flight is free.
After researching options for free stays at Hyatt properties where we could get oversized value from both points and my Globalist status, we settled on the $1500/night Park Hyatt New York and the $650/night Andaz Fifth Avenue.
For free. (And you can too.)
Why split up our stay between two hotels?
First, we wanted to experience two different parts of Manhattan. These two hotels were only a couple miles apart but it allowed us a better opportunity to walk and see more parts of the city.
Second, I wanted to try out two Hyatt brands that I’ve never stayed at before.
That helped me get a free night through Hyatt’s Brand Explorer program (worth ~$225) and it also let me put together two hotel review blog posts instead of just one.
Planning our trip to NYC
With all the other travel hacking blogs and points experts online, there was a wealth of information on the Internet about booking and planning a holiday trip to New York City. Here are some of the blogs we read as we were planning our holiday trip to NYC.
However, the single best resource I found was at God Save The Points. While we didn’t go everywhere that Gilbert suggested, I really appreciated the insider tips from an NYC local.
NYC Trip Budget
While it might seem like we’re spending a ton on fantastic trips, the reality is that we’re living large from travel hacking. We’re mainly getting free travel from credit card points and hotel loyalty programs.
I’ll break down our travel budget at the end of this post but here’s the short version:
This was a $7,000 holiday trip to NYC and we saved nearly $6,000 with points and miles!
Since we knew that our free trip to NYC on points and miles would cover our hotel, breakfast every day, and our flight, we decided on two really big splurges.
We booked a dinner cruise for one night and we bought tickets to Wicked at the Gershwin Theater for another night. The total for both of these was going to be around $700.
I’ll let you know why that estimate was way off (in a good way) in just a minute.
Starting our NYC Holiday Trip
Our nonstop flight from Nashville to LaGuardia was quick and cheap and uneventful.
I had flown through LaGuardia airport 15 or 20 years ago and remembered it being old, small, cramped and just not a nice NYC airport.
Some of my research told me that it was much better now but I was shocked at how nice the Southwest terminal was when we got there. We didn’t stop at the American Express Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia on arrival Friday but I knew we would definitely head to the lounge on our departure day.
We caught a Lyft from the airport (which earns 10x Chase points on my Sapphire Reserve) and had a really friendly driver.
We talked about everything from the pandemic’s impact on New York to how Lyft/Uber have given him the income and flexibility to thrive as a single parent. He told us where he thought we should visit during our Christmas trip to NYC. It was great to hear that our plan matched a lot of his suggestions.
As we were getting close to the Park Hyatt NYC, he commented about how this area was the absolute most bougie area of the city. Sandra and I got a kick out of that and “Bougie Like That” was kind of our theme as we lived high on the hog, on the cheap, in one of the most expensive areas in the world.
Park Hyatt NYC
The Park Hyatt NYC is (by far) the fanciest and most expensive hotel we’ve ever stayed at. At $1295 per night ($1539 after tax & fees), we never would’ve stayed at this fantastic hotel without Hyatt points to make it a free award stay.
After staying there, it’s easy to understand why most travel hackers consider this one of the best hotels to stay at in NYC on points.
It’s very different than the beach resorts we’ve stayed at with Hyatt points so it’s hard to make a direct comparison. Fortunately, travel hacking means that we’re able to experience the best of what the world has to offer for almost no out of pocket cost.
After checking into our room, we had about an hour to kill so we went on a short walk to Central Park.
Central Park was beautiful, even though most of the trees had lost all of their leaves and the beauty of snow in Central Park had not arrived yet. But the thing we noticed most was the ridiculous contrast between the park and the crazy skyline right next to it.
Walking back from the park, we went through Columbus Circle.
On the south west corner of Central Park, Columbus Circle is a hub of activity in upper midtown Manhattan. There are shops, restaurants, and the Trump Tower that we’ve all seen on the news.
On the Central Park side, they were a lot of temporary Christmas shops at Columbus Circle. Lots of people and plenty of options to get your Christmas shopping done.
NYC Dinner Cruise on the River to Statue of Liberty
Like I said, one of our big splurges was going to be an NYC dinner cruise.
That was supposed to be on Saturday night with Skyline River Cruises. We both thought that seeing the NYC skyline from the river at night as we cruised down to the Statue of Liberty would be a great idea. The total was $367 for the two of us for a four hour cruise including buffet dinner and an open bar.
Unfortunately, a huge storm was scheduled to come through that night. When we arrived at LGA on Friday, I got a call from Skyline letting us know that the Saturday night dinner cruise was cancelled. They gave a full refund and then said:
“Would you be able to come tonight? For Free?”
Hmm, let me think about… YES, YES WE WOULD!
I really should do a full blog post about our NYC dinner cruise. The summary would be: It Was Great! An unexpected highlight of our 4 day trip to NYC!
Even if it wasn’t free, it would have been one of our favorite memories as first time NYC tourists.
Since we got a free dinner cruise that was supposed to be $367, the rest of the trip had an unexpected feeling of being under budget. We felt like we were playing with house money so we actually splurged more than we had intended.
Bus Tour of NYC on The Ride
One unplanned thing that we did, specifically due to the generosity of Skyline Cruises giving us a full refund, was book a bus tour of NYC. After some quick research, we booked The Ride.
The Ride is a super interesting concept.
You hop on a bus with 3 rows of stadium seating which face the left, the sidewalk side. Then you drive around and stop to see street performers who are part of the experience.
For someone from Nashville, it was surreal to see how most pedestrians in NYC totally ignore and avoid eye contact with all the street performers.
On the way to The Ride, we saw Tiny Tim performing for the 3pm show.
Here’s this guy dressed like a grown up character from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol who’s rapping and walking along with this bus for several blocks.
No one paid any attention to him besides the bus riders.
Our 2 tickets for The Ride totaled $167 (so we’re still $200 under budget after the $367 refund, YAHOO). If you’re over 6 foot (I’m 6’5″), you’ll be uncomfortably cramped in the 2nd or 3rd rows. You can pay extra for the front row.
In total, we saw about 8 street performances who were mic’d up and interacted with the bus tour.
As I said, this was a really interesting concept but it wasn’t worth the price to us.
The biggest disappointment was the 2 emcees. They were OK but they focused too much on comedy related to the concept of The Ride. It was like a below average nightclub act with the bus as the star and these 2 as the supporting cast.
We felt like they missed the opportunity to give us a more interesting commentary on where we were and what we were seeing. Long stretches of their filler content just weren’t very entertaining.
If you can find a big discount, I’d be good with spending $25-30 per person on The Ride. Just don’t spend $83 each like we did.
We followed Gilbert’s advice on God Save The Points to visit Times Square once or twice.
Wow! It’s a lot!
And then we were done with Times Square.
Well, maybe we’ll be back, maybe. But now that we’ve crossed it off the list, there are way too many other places to see in NYC for us to make it a priority to return to Times Square.
On Sandra’s list of Top 10 Things to do in NYC, pizza was half the list. I’m only slightly exaggerating.
One thing that we appreciate from the emcees from The Ride was they told us that 2 Bros Pizza was great. It was!
The Rockefeller Center is one of the must see Christmas attractions in NYC.
We went to the area twice to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink. It was jam packed on Saturday night but not crowded on Sunday night.
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center was spectacular and beautiful. But I’ll tell you, both of us think it looks bigger on TV.
There are about 3 different angles where you can get a selfie with the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. The most crowded was on W 49th St near the Today Show Studio.
The least crowded shot was on the opposite side of the Christmas Tree, from W 50th Street. That’s the shot we’ve posted here. You can see the NBC News Today Show Studio in the background on the right.
We weren’t in NYC for the Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting but that would be pretty cool to see.
What date is the Rockefeller Tree lighting 2022? Wednesday, December 7, 2022 is the date for the next lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.
Sak’s Light Show
On the edge of the Rockefeller Center, the other huge crowd is watching the 3 minute Christmas light show on Sak’s 5th Avenue.
The Sak’s Holiday Light show uses over 700,000 LED lights on 10-stories of the department store. The light show is coordinated to songs including “Christmas — Baby Please Come Home” by Darlene Love, “So Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Russian Dance” from “The Nutcracker,” and “Carol of the Bells.”
The light show repeats every 5 minutes. Try to get a good spot across the street to watch. And hopefully you don’t have a tour bus park in front of you for the entire show.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
Our third big stop in the Rockefeller Center area was St Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s immediately next door to Sak’s on 5th Avenue.
There was a huge crowd inside St Patrick’s. Quite a few people praying and quite a few just touring.
There was a big line near the Christmas Nativity Scene but there was an even longer line at the bathroom.
St Patrick’s was a must see because it’s part of my Jones family lore.
In 1950, my Dad was shipping out with an Army buddy to France on Christmas Day. They were in NYC on Christmas Eve with no money and ended up at St Patrick’s Cathedral, mostly to get out of the cold.
There was a huge line to get in for Midnight Mass but a cop saw the 2 GI’s and took them through a side door and got front row seats for them.
After Mass, a parishioner took them home, fed them and gave them a place to stay on their last night in the US.
I’ve heard that story so many times that, even though I’d never been to St Patrick’s, I’ve always felt a connection. My Dad & brothers really enjoyed the pictures I shared with them.
Bathrooms Near Rockefeller Center during Christmas
Plan ahead because there are almost zero public restrooms for the crowds around the Rockefeller Christmas Tree area. There is one bathroom inside St Patrick’s Cathedral open to the public. And it’s not 1 for Men & 1 for Women. It is 1 single bathroom. So there was a big line.
A Cathedral usher gave me an insider tip on finding the best public bathroom amid the holiday crowds. Next door to the Cathedral, on 51st Street, you can go into the public atrium of the Olympic Tower. There is both a Men’s & Women’s restroom which had reasonably short lines.
Zuzu with NYPD Cops
The NYC Police were everywhere in the city. One of Sandra’s favorite shows is Blue Bloods so she kept looking for Jamie Reagan.
We never found Jamie but these 2 officers who were working the crowd near the Rockefeller Christmas Tree were happy to pose with Zuzu.
They offered she could have a picture in the back seat of their cruiser but she declined. I thought that would have been hilarious.
Andaz 5th Avenue Hotel
We spent Friday and Saturday nights at the Park Hyatt NYC. On Sunday, we moved about 2 miles from the Park Hyatt in Midtown North to the Andaz 5th Avenue in Midtown South.
While not as bougie as the Park Hyatt NYC, the Andaz Fifth Avenue was still a pretty fancy hotel. Rooms were $529 + $123 so $652 with tax and fees.
The Andaz Fifth Avenue is right across the street from the main NYC Public Library which shares a block with Bryant Park.
The hotel was at 100% capacity while we were there for the last 2 nights of our holiday trip to NYC. While we didn’t get upgraded to a suite, we did have a great view of the NYC Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
NYC Public Library at Bryant Park
Bryant Park Christmas Shops
On the far side of the NYC Public Library, Bryant Park was transformed into the Winter Village at Bryant Park (or Brrrrrryant Park). There were close to 100 Christmas shops and places to eat as well as the only free outdoor skating rink in New York City.
Wicked at Gershwin Theater
Our second big splurge was getting tickets to Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre.
Tickets for Wicked were $160 each ($320 total). There were 6 performances while we were on our holiday trip to New York. We chose the Sunday night tickets because it had some better seats available and because it fit our schedule pretty well.
Sandra absolutely loved seeing Wicked. I’m not a big fan of most musicals and I enjoyed it.
One tip if you go: The concession stands sell drinks and snacks before the show and during intermission. Unfortunately, you can not take any food or drink (not even water) into the seating area. That wasn’t clear until patrons in line started spreading the news. There were quite a few people who had to guzzle their drinks as the ushers were trying to get us all to our seats.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Tour
High on our list of things to do in NYC was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The only way to get to Liberty Island and Ellis Island is on the official ferry by Statue Cruises.
You can’t get up into the Crown of the Statue of Liberty anymore. But we did book the “Pedestal Reserve” ticket for 30 cents more than the General Admission ticket.
Spoiler alert: It was worth the extra cost.
That allowed us inside the statue’s pedestal. We climbed the 224 steps to the observation deck which is just below Lady Liberty’s feet. There is an elevator but it’s only available to those who have serious mobility issues. You can’t just take the elevator if you want to.
Chinatown in NYC
After a long day at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, we made our way to Chinatown.
We weren’t quite ready for dinner so we decided to get a snack. After Googling what to eat, we came up with a hole in the wall place called “Fried Dumplings.”
You need to know that I have pretty high standards for Chinese food. This beautiful lady has been my 2nd Mom since around 1981.
But OMG, the old lady at Fried Dumplings in Chinatown made the best dumplings I’ve ever had. And they were 15 dumplings for only $5! I’m afraid even Ama can’t compete with that.
In her defense, Ama is like my Mom. They put in all the cooking that can be expected of anyone by the time their kids were out of the house. And then, not so much cooking after that.
Back in the day, Ama would have put the Fried Dumplings lady to the test. But I’m sure she’d tease me now: “Ross, why you not bring some dumplings for me!!”
Little Italy in NYC
Little Italy in NYC is right next to Chinatown. After we finished our dumplings, we walked and explored Little Italy for an hour or so.
No surprise, there are tons of places to eat in Little Italy.
What was a little different was that many places had a hawker outside on the sidewalk trying to get your business. The most entertaining hawker was Carmela at Lunella on Mulberry Street.
Carmela told us we were crazy to go anywhere else for dinner. She’d take care of us.
She knew better than we did what we wanted for dinner, she told us in no uncertain terms. Who am I to question an Italian New Yorker who’s obviously looking out for us?
We ate outside in a mostly enclosed, heated area. But I messed up by not listening to Carmela.
Me: “Can you bring me a drink while we decide?“
Carmela: “I told you what to get but sure.“
The dinner special came with an app (bruschetta), entre and a glass of wine. All for $25.
Sandra got the pizza (because…. pizza) and I got the Penne Pomodoro.
Carmela went back to telling pedestrians what was best for them. It was like dinner and a show 😉
One glass of wine came out with dinner for Sandra. Where’s mine?
Pizza & penne were great. But where’s that other glass of wine?
We finished dinner and Carmela brought us our check.
Me: “Umm, I never got my glass of wine?”
Carmela: “Why you not tell me? I’ve been out here like 10 times! Let me get that for you!”
Carmela: “Here you go. I’m so sorry! Why you not tell me? I’ve been out here 10 times and you not tell me!”
Sandra & I didn’t really think she had been out 10 times during dinner but I know better than to question Carmela. She forgave us for not listening to her or telling her earlier.
We got our glass of wine and went inside to warm up before heading back to our hotel.
btw, Carmela was not the “one rude New Yorker” I referenced. Far from it. She was entertaining in a way that really endeared her to us.
Grand Central Station and Subways
On our Holiday trip to NYC, we mostly walked and took a Lyft to get around. Next time we goto New York City, we’ll definitely take the subway more.
We did use the subway a handful of times and got to pass through Grand Central Station which was close to the Andaz Fifth Avenue.
Heading Home after our NYC Holiday Trip
After 4 nights of living “Bougie Like” a fat cat in NYC, we were looking forward to one last treat waiting at LaGuardia Airport: The Amex Centurion Lounge.
Amex Centurion Lounge LaGuardia LGA
I just got my first Amex Platinum card last month: The Amex Business Platinum Card.
It comes with access to Centurion Lounges which many consider to be the best line of airport lounges available. I was excited to enter my first Centurion Lounge as we departed NYC.
While the physical lounge was nice and new, I have to admit that I was underwhelmed with the experience.
This was the largest airport lounge that I’ve been in. And I did appreciate the space to spread out, eat, get some work done or to just relax before your flight.
The parts that were underwhelming were the service and the food.
The service was fine but certainly not better than I’ve experienced in several airport lounges that I’ve accessed though my Priority Pass membership.
For example, there was a significant line at the bar both times I went there. And our empty plates and glasses sat on our table for quite a while before being removed.
The food was pretty good but there were not many options and the buffet was not refilled very often.
I admit that I had high expectations. Maybe too high. But I certainly saw opportunities for improvement.
Hopefully, the LaGuardia Centurion Lounge will be able to improve some of these issues before we have a chance to return to New York City.
Go Vols! in NYC
Since I’m always repping my Tennessee Vols, we started counting the number of “Go Vols!” that we got.
For any non-Vol fans, “Go Vols!” (short for “Go Volunteers!”) is the proper greeting to a fellow Volunteer.
Acceptable replies are “Go Big Orange” or “GBO!” I’ll also allow a heartfelt “Amen!” or “Beat Florida/Bama/Georgia!”
I counted 12 “Go Vols!” but Sandra said the last 3 didn’t count because we were at LaGuardia at our gate for the non-stop back to Nashville.
How Much We Spent on this NYC Trip
Our Holiday Trip to NYC was a fantastic experience. Here’s how the finances came out.
From points and miles, we scored $5,464 of free travel from our hotel stays and flights.
We still spent alot on this holiday trip to NYC: $1,310.
Most notably, we spent $535 on Wicked tickets, The Ride, and our Statue of Liberty visit. We also ate 4 really nice meals in the city which averaged about $100 each.
All of these expenses went on one of our rewards credit cards which earned 4,515 points from this trip. That should be worth at least $80-90 when we cash them in on our upcoming trip to Hawaii.
$1,310 is alot more than we’ve been spending on most of our other trips in the past year. On average, we’ve spent about $200-400 out of pocket when we’re traveling on points.
But NYC is a super expensive destination and we intentionally splurged on a few things.
Overall, this was a once in a lifetime type trip that we’ll be able to afford again thanks to travel hacking with credit card points.
I hope we’ve inspired you to see how you can travel Bougie Like That by taking advantage of points and miles.
If you want to see my current recommendations for earning travel rewards points, click here to see how we’re doing this.
Next Trip to NYC
After this much fun, we’re really looking forward to another trip to NYC in the future.
Some of the things that we’d like to do in NYC include the 9/11 Memorial, Hudson Yards, Little Island in Hudson River Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, more of Central Park, and Happy Momma Buffet in Harlem.
More Stories from our Holiday Trip to NYC
Check out these other blog posts from our holiday trip to NYC.