Brooke and I were fortunate enough to get in on the now-famous Etihad mistake fare tickets. We booked two round trip tickets from New York to Abu Dhabi for $250 each! The only wrinkle in this fantastic deal – we do not live in New York. The ticket deal was simply too good to pass up, so we decided to book a “positioning flight” from home to NYC. Since we would be passing through the big city, we added a few extra days for adventures in Manhattan. We used Southwest RR points from my Chase Southwest Premier Card and our Companion Pass to get round trip tickets to the Big Apple for FREE! The weekend we spent in the big city was an absolute blast!
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We landed at LaGuardia mid-day on Saturday. Before catching an Uber to midtown, we popped in to the Centurion Lounge for some cocktails, courtesy of my American Express Platinum Card benefits. The Centurion Lounge was awesome! It features a full-service bar with local artisan cocktails and an excellent buffet. We munched on some delicious salmon, vegetables, and desserts while sampling a few cocktails. My personal favorite was the Spanish Harlem, made with tequila, fresh juices, ancho chiles, and sprinkled with dark chocolate!
Oldest Hotel in NYC
New York is a notoriously poor place to redeem hotel points. Most hotels require so many points to book, that the $/point value is very unfavorable. We wanted to be in the middle of the action, so we searched availability in midtown Manhattan using this awesome hotel point tool. We identified a few Marriott Autograph collection hotels that looked interesting. When we visited Marriott’s website, we found that the Algonquin hotel was on a point saver special which saved 5,000 points per night. We booked one night for only 40,000 points, yielding a value of 1 cent/pt*. The hotel was beautiful and full of character. It was built in 1902, has a cat who helps manage the facility, and features a swanky martini bar.
The Chase Marriott card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 70,000 points + TWO free nights!
*Room cost would be $419/night. Marriott Points are typically valued at 0.7 cents/pt.
Broadway for $27
After checking in and dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked a few blocks north to the Eugene O’Neill Theater. We both wanted to see a Broadway show, and we had heard the Book of Mormon is hilarious. Perusing online ticket websites was a bit depressing, because the cheapest tickets available cost $185! Then, a friend told us how he scored cheap tickets to this very show.
The ticket window opens two hours prior to showtime and offers a very limited number of standing room tickets for only $27!! To score these bargain tickets, we lined up an hour before they went on sale. This may seem like a hassle, but honestly, the time passed very quickly. We made friends in line (Hi Greg and Jake!), and even ended up grabbing dinner together before the show started. Additionally, prior to selling standby tickets, the theater holds a lottery and draws names for $33 front row and box seat tickets! We were not among the lucky few to win the lottery, but we were perfectly happy with our huge savings. The show definitely lived up to its hilariously irreverent billing!
Holiday Inn Express
We were short on Marriott Points, so we decided to use the IHG points from our Chase IHG card to book the Holiday Inn Express on the same block. The walk took one minute from the Algonquin to the HI Express. We used the cash + points option to book this hotel for 2 nights totaling 60,000 points and $70. The $50 statement credit from the IHG card sign up bonus, and 8% cash back from MrRebates, reduced the out-of-pocket cost for 2 nights to only $14.40! It may not be the fanciest hotel, but the location was prime, and free breakfast is also nice.
The Chase IHG card currently has an offer for 80,000 points + a $50 statement credit. This offer is semi-targeted. To find it, begin to book a room via IHG’s website. If you are targeted, the offer should appear before you finalize the reservation. The current public offer is for 70,000 points.
5th Avenue & Central Park
On Sunday, we wanted to take it easy, so we strolled down 5th Avenue to Central Park. We did a bit of window shopping and stopped at FAO Schwartz to play with the toys. I tried (and failed) to recreate the scene from Big with the giant piano.
I always marvel at how Central Park can make me forget that I’m in the center of one of the world’s busiest cities. We ate some street cart hotdogs and enjoyed the beautiful weather with no real agenda. If you want a great free activity in NYC, take a day and just explore this massive park.
Jimmy Fallon Tickets
Many people who plan a visit to New York have tried to score tickets to a filming of the Tonight Show. It is indeed a very elusive ticket, and the ticketing process is pretty awful! To get tickets for the show, you must follow the Tonight Show on twitter, where they announce the exact day/time for the monthly online ticket release. Tickets are free and non-transferrable, so demand is high. On the specific day, the ticket window will open, and you must have the fastest fingers on the planet to have any chance! We had four devices connected on our gigabit Internet connection at the exact release time, and we still missed out! Some websites estimate that over 200,000 people try for tickets to the 220-seat theater!
We were sad to miss out on the show tickets, but at least we could get tickets to the monologue rehearsal, right?? NO! Those tickets sold out just as fast! We turned to TripAdvisor for any other suggestions. Turns out, there was one more way to maybe get into the show – standby tickets.
The Tonight Show is taped in front of a live audience, so empty seats look bad. NBC wants all seats filled, so they offer standby tickets at 9am on the day of taping. These tickets are first-come, first-serve, and they do not guarantee that you will get a seat. Since the demand is SO high for tickets, we decided to follow the advice from TripAdvisor and line up early. We arrived at NBC headquarters to wait in line at 4:45am, and we were numbers 7 & 8 in line. Most days, only the first 10-15 standby ticket holders will get in for the taping! The line was over 20 strong by 5:30am! By the time the ticket window opened, over 60 people were present!
While we waited, we made friends in the line (Hi Carla and James!). This really helps pass the hours, and turns an awful chore into a really good time. Around 7am, a few of us from the line discovered a fantastic coffee shop next to NBC – Blue Bottle Coffee. (Seriously, try their New Orleans Cold Brew and thank me later!) At 9am, we presented our ID’s and were issued standby passes labeled with our position in line. Reps told us to return at 2:30pm for the first round of cuts. After passing the first cut, we had to line up again at 3:45pm to finally find out if we were getting in.
When the final cut was made and the purple show tickets were handed out, we were quickly ushered to the elevator and escorted into the Tonight Show studio. Sorry, no pics of the show – cell phones and cameras were strictly prohibited in the theater. It was an incredible experience to see the whole uncut taping. Jimmy was hilarious, and the Roots played some great jams. Checking off this bucket list item was definitely worth the all-day process!
With our time in New York coming to a close, we headed to JFK to catch our flight to Abu Dhabi/Dubai. We passed the time before the flight at the WingTips Lounge in Terminal 1. Complementary access to this lounge is a part of my PriorityPass membership, another benefit of the American Express Platinum card. This lounge featured a full dinner buffet of roasted chicken, potatoes, vegetables, and blueberry pound cake! They also had a fully stocked bar and beer cooler. Lounges are really great!