The New York Pass claims to offer visitors access to over 80 popular attractions for a single daily price, starting at $85 for one day. Wow, this sounds like a fantastic deal -- I can go to 80 different New York City attractions in one day for $85? Not so fast. It would be impossible to cram all 80 attractions into one week, let alone one day, but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile purchase for your trip. As with just about everything, whether you should buy a New York Pass depends on many things.
Who Should Buy The New York Pass?
- You might want to buy a New York Pass if you're an aggressive sightseer or if you're here for several days or a full week and plan to see several different sights each day.
- You might also want to buy a New York Pass if you're looking to control your costs -- while it might not be the best deal, you'll know exactly how much you're spending to see a variety of different attractions, and that might make budgeting for your trip easier.
- A New York Pass can also be a fantastic gift idea if you know someone who is planning a trip to New York City. Whether it's a family vacation or a honeymoon, the recipient is sure to enjoy having 50 different attractions to choose from while they're in New York City.
New York Pass often has online promotions, so if you're planning your trip in advance, watch for a sale and buy your passes when prices are discounted. They can be used at least a year from purchase, so you don't have to worry about them expiring before your trip. Sometimes they discount prices up to 20% or offer free additional days. You can also buy New York Passes at most of the participating attractions, but your not going to get any special deals this way.
Keep in mind that the New York Pass is good for contiguous days -- if you have a three day pass and validate it on Monday, it will be good for Tuesday and Wednesday as well, not two additional days of your choosing. I am happy to report we didn't have any trouble using our passes -- every ticket counter attendant was familiar with the New York Pass and knew how to handle issuing tickets to us.
You can only visit an attraction once per day, but if you have a multi-day pass, you can return as many days as you like for the duration of your pass. This is a great feature for museum goers who want to scope out a few museums and might want to return to their favorites later in the trip. It's also a good choice if you want to see the view from the Empire State Building both during the day and at night.
In my experience, the "Fast Track" feature of the New York Pass is of little value. For most attractions where it is offered, lines are short, and for the attractions where it would really matter (like the Empire State Building) it's not available. It does enable you to skip the ticket line at the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry, but it doesn't let you skip the line to wait to go through security and board the boat -- and this is the long line at the attraction.
Recommended attractions included on the New York Pass:
- American Museum of Natural History
- Central Park Movie Locations Walking Tour
- Central Park Zoo
- Circle Line Sightseeing Tour
- Empire State Building
- Radio City Music Hall 'Stage Door Tour'
- Whitney Museum of Art
Buy Your New York Pass
A quick calculation will help you determine whether buying a New York Pass makes financial sense: Divide the cost of the pass by the number of days you’ll use it (i.e. you may choose to buy a 7 day pass, even though you’ll be here for just 5 days), to come up with a "per day breakeven" cost. This is the amount you'd have to spend on sightseeing each day in order to break even on the New York Pass.
Most attractions featured on the pass cost $15-20 dollars. There are a few "big ticket" items (Empire State Building, Circle Line Ferry, Madame Tussauds) that cost more. I recommend using $15 as a guideline -- divide the cost per day by $15, and that should give you a rough idea of the number of attractions you'd have to see to break even.
An aggressive sightseer can get to 4 or 5 attractions in one day. This will entail a long, tiring day of activities, but it is possible. It's also unlikely that you'll be able to maintain this pace for more than a day or two at a time.
A typical sightseer can visit 2 or 3 attractions in one day. This will leave you time to enjoy meals, experience the sights you visit and room to include some non-New York Pass activities, like Broadway shows, nightclubs or musical performances.
A leisurely sightseer will probably check out 1 or 2 New York Pass attractions a day. This leaves visitors tons of time for shopping, leisurely meals and little rushing around. For most leisurely sightseers, the New York Pass isn't a great idea, unless you're here for a full week and contemplating purchasing the 7 day New York Pass.
Of course, if you have a multi-day pass, you might have a couple of "aggressive" days and a couple of "leisurely days" and the New York Pass may be a good purchase.
In my experience, most people overestimate the number of things they'd like to see and do on vacation in New York City, so if you're coming up close to the break even point, it might make more sense to pay a la carte for your sightseeing. If you're going to be in town for a week, the New York Pass is a great deal, especially because you can evaluate a few different attractions and even return to the ones you like the most.
If you've decided to purchase a New York Pass, here are some suggestions for getting the most value out of your purchase.
- Spend some time reviewing the list of attractions included with the pass.
- Sort the list into three categories: Must See, Might See and Won't See.
- Find the must see attractions on the included map, and mark their location with an X.
- Circle the locations of the "Might See" attractions on the same map.
- Identify areas of the map where you have several attractions that you want to see and coordinate seeing them on the same day. Remember to double check the schedules enclosed with your pass by calling or visiting the attractions' websites.
- Picking attractions that are close together will save you from spending good parts of the day traveling from one attraction to the next. This is good advice for visiting New York City regardless of whether you're using a New York Pass. It's amazing how much more you can see when you organize a day's activities around a particular neighborhood or area, rather than spending lots of time below ground on the Subway.
- Make the most of the day by identifying activities that you can start early and/or do late in the day. Nearly all attractions can be visited from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., so it's good to find something to do early in the day and after most of the other options are closed.Suggested Evening Activities:
- It's a good idea to include a variety of different activities on your agenda for each day. Again, this is good general advice for anyone visiting New York City -- even the most intrepid tourist will be worn out from standing all day, and most people (me included) reach "museum saturation" after just a few hours. Putting together a day that includes a museum, a tour or two, one of Circle Line's Cruises and perhaps an evening visit to the Empire State Building or Madame Tussauds Wax Museum is a great way to "get your money's worth" and pack a lot into one day, without wearing yourselves out or whining about aching feet or minds.
Still unsure about the New York Pass? Check out Mark's helpful insight into whether buying a New York Pass makes sense. He's got some helpful analysis of the transportation add-on discount, as well as some other factors to consider.
Buy Your New York Pass