My flight arrived at JFK at 5:30 am on Thursday morning. While I never have any problem sleeping on planes, it was still only a 5-hour flight, and it was really 2:30 in the morning Los Angeles time.
Right next to my baggage claim carousel was a Dunkin’ Donuts. This was clearly a sign, as there is no Dunkin’ Donuts within a 50-mile radius of where I live. The only way we can get DD coffee in southern California is to find it in a grocery store and brew it yourself. So, hell yes, I was going to get me some. I got an almond-flavored iced coffee for $3.78.
To get to Manhattan, taking a cab from the airport didn’t make frugal sense since I was traveling alone. Flat fare to get into Midtown is $45, plus any tolls and tip. If I had been able to share a cab with one or two others, it might have been worth it. I was originally looking for a group van or Super Shuttle to take in for about $15-20. After reading too many horror stories about pretty much all the companies on Yelp, I opted to take the AirTrain. From there, I transferred to the E line, which took me to the 53rd and Lexington stop, 5 short blocks north of my hotel. It took about an hour and 15 minutes, but I took my time because it was the crack of dawn anyway. When my BFF came in on Wednesday evening, it took her over 2 hours in a cab because of rush hour.
Cost of the AirTrain ticket: $5.00. At that point, I also bought a Metro Card for $10, and they automatically add a bonus of 70 cents to it. There is also an option of getting a 7-day unlimited pass for $29, but I didn’t think I would be taking the subway enough to warrant it. Cost of the subway ticket for the E line was $2.25, so my total cost to get into Midtown was $7.25.
I wasn’t able to check into my room until 3:00 pm, so I left my suitcase with the baggage clerk in the lobby and went to meet my BFF, who was staying at the Hilton. I was treated to breakfast at the Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue, which just has REALLY BIG, tasty food.
I did some window shopping in Midtown and stopped at Barnes & Noble for their free Wifi. I rendezvoused with a childhood friend in Chelsea for lunch. Subway ride: $2.25. We met at a lovely Italian restaurant called La Zie, and he ended up paying for lunch.
I took the subway back to the Hilton (another $2.25) to pick up my conference badge (which also included seven drink tickets for the weekend’s parties), then walked back to the Barclay to check in. I was back at the Hilton in time to watch POTUS’ welcome to us(!), then headed for the Evening at the Expo, where over 130 sponsors displayed their wares. I tried a gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich from Udi, Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, Rickland Orchards Greek Yogurt Bars (which I am SO-OO getting at Costco), frozen fruit from Dole and coffee flavored with Bailey’s non-alcoholic creamer.* I also wasn’t that hungry due to my two large earlier meals, so these nibbles ended up serving as my dinner.
On the walk back to my hotel, I stopped at a Duane Reade drugstore to get a travel hairbrush, as I usually use a full-size one but it fell apart. I also had an impulse buy of a Band-Aid anti-friction stick, just because I knew there was more walking to come. Cost: $14.97.
The situation for my meals on Friday and Saturday were identical: breakfast and lunch were already included in the conference pass, and there was food at the parties that served as dinner. I did hear about quite a few attendees who had a problem getting lunch and experienced outrageous lines, especially on Friday, but I was in the ballroom early and lucked out.
On Friday afternoon, I had a glass of wine in the Hilton lobby bar ($16.73) with another friend who had transplanted from L.A. to New York. Yes, that’s for ONE 5-ounce glass of wine. Here’s a breakdown:
Actual wine – $13.50
Tax – $1.20
15% gratuity that they automatically added – $2.03
THAT is the insanity of New York prices. Donna Freedman describes it perfectly.
I made another stop at Duane Reade to get a contact lens case (the one I packed already had lenses in it; that’s what I get for packing at 3am), a 5-pack of Allegra (forgot my normal allergy pills), and scissors (I was using moleskin to prevent blisters and my cuticle scissors weren’t being effective). Cost: $13.90
I got an iced coffee at Starbucks ($3.43) on Saturday afternoon because it was so darn hot, and to use their wifi because the Hilton’s was so bogged down with BlogHers.
After that night’s parties, I was craving something sweet and stopped at the Magnolia Bakery near Rockefeller Center on the way back to my hotel for a blondie ($3).
Check-out was at noon, so I left my bags with the lobby clerk again and met K, another friend of mine, for brunch at Steak Frites in Union Square. Again, we haggled over the check and she ended up footing the bill, though I promised that it would be my treat when she was in Los Angeles in September.
So, even though I had been prepared to pay for my extra meals outside of the conference and budgeted accordingly, my generous friends ending up treating me. Basically, the frugal planets aligned for me. I do realize that I already did pay for the meals included in my conference pass, but that was money that had already been expended and not out of pocket at the moment.
K had to drive downtown towards the Brooklyn Bridge, so she dropped me off at Canal Street so I could do some shopping (saved $2.25 by not taking the subway). I was in search of a knock-off handbag (I had gotten a couple of great ones during my last visit 5 years ago), but this time around, there was nothing that jumped out at me. I ended up just getting a scarf and faux pashmina for $9 altogether (I bargained the shop lady down from $11). Always haggle with vendors, and pay cash if you can!
From Canal Street, I walked up to Spring Street in Nolita to go to Rice to Riches. I don’t know of any other city that has a rice pudding store with 2 dozen flavors. This is where I treated myself. I got a solo serving of the tiramisu rice pudding ($7.00), ate half there and ended up eating the rest on the plane. Yes, it is ridiculously expensive, but if the last time I had it was 5 years ago, I don’t feel so bad about it.
Other things of note: the Hilton had free Wifi that I used whenever I was there. The Barclay charged $16.95 for 24 hours of use, so I simply didn’t access the internet while I was at my hotel. There were enough public hot spots in the city that it wasn’t necessary.
As is typical of August in New York, it was ridiculously hot and humid. I brought an empty collapsible water bottle (3 for $15 through a deal on Tippr) through airport security, then filled it for the plane. You can do the same with empty standard plastic water bottles, but they take up more room in your purse. I continued refilling throughout my trip, as New York tap water comes from upstate New York and is some of the best in the country. Additionally, the Hilton kept us well-stocked in sodas, coffee and water the entire time.
Taking the E line/AirTrain back to JFK took one hour and another $7.25 total. I thought for sure that I would have to pay for my checked suitcase because of the swag I had acquired, but it weighed in at 49 pounds, 1 pound under the limit! Score there. Because there was a storm coming in 60 miles west of New York, my flight was delayed an hour. I took that opportunity to get one last Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee ($3.54). Once we boarded though, we sat on the jetway for an hour. Once we were wheels up, the head flight attendant said we “were so good” that she gave us all the in-flight movies for free (normal cost $5.99)! I ended up watching “The Avengers” again. Might I also mention that JetBlue gives unlimited snacks, and they don’t blink an eye if you ask for more than one.
Recap of daily expenses:
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee: $3.67
AirTrain: $10 for both ways
Subway Metro card (total for all 4 days): $12.80
Duane Reade, Thursday: $14.97
Glass of wine at the Hilton Bridges Bar: $16.73
Duane Reade, Friday: $13.90
Blondie from Magnolia Bakery: $3.00
Scarf and pashmina from Canal Street: $9.00
Starbucks, Saturday: $3.43
Rice to Riches: $7.00
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee: $3.54
Tips for baggage clerk: $4 ($2 on Thursday, $2 on Sunday)
Tips for housekeeping: $9 ($3 per day; I tip daily to make sure the person cleaning actually gets the tip)
If I hadn’t bought the stuff at Duane Reade, I could have kept it under $100, but I was fine with making the purchases because they are all things that I will still use when I get home.
I never once felt that I was depriving myself or missing out on any experiences by not spending money during this trip, nor did I ever go hungry just to save a buck. If I had wanted to have a meal at a special restaurant that someone had recommended, I would have done it. I was focusing on getting the most out of attending BlogHer and spending time catching up with old friends; it didn’t matter if we were at an expensive restaurant. I did not take a single cab ride and ended up walking 8 miles on Thursday and 5 miles on each subsequent day (I had a pedometer on me), so at least I got exercise. I did not get a chance to use the Barclay’s free fitness center for their guests, but it was nice to know it was there. To me, frugality is about having the freedom to spend your money when you want to, or not.
So, the grand total for my trip to BlogHer ’12 was $1,407.30. I think I did all right for flying 3,000 miles to visit the most expensive city in the country.
* I am not receiving any type of compensation for mentioning these companies.