Holiday Lessons Learned: Advice To Avoid Rip-Offs NYC

by Joann Hong on 28 December 2007 2 comments
Photo: img_1334

This holiday season in the city has been rough for me. I moved out to NYC for a few months thinking I'd be set with my savings and supplementary, lucrative temp work. It was the first year I had saved and budgeted, and my calculations told me I was financially stable for a good three months. However, at the approach of the New Year I still felt the financial strains. Looking back now, I want to hit my head at some of the foolish mistakes I could have avoided as a city newbie. I've learned that you've got to be quick city -- I mean this in a financially saavy way-- and hopefully my experiences with rip offs can help those who are planning an NYC trip or move to avoid learning the hard way.

Always keep receipts: With the holiday shopping frenzy going on, shoppers aren't the only ones distracted, frustrated and scatter-brained. Employees will often ring up the wrong prices, not implement proper discounts, and make various errors. You should not only keep the receipt, but always check it before leaving the store, even if the price for your purchase seems right. My own experiences? I'd been charged three times for one item, charged full price for a 50% discounted item and had mistakenly bought a falsely priced sale item. Had I take a minute to skim the receipt before hurrying out the door, I could have avoided the phone calls to the bank, the trips back to the store, long customer service lines, and the lost money.

Always ask for cab receipts: This isn't only during the holidays. It is always wise to ask for a cab receipt, even if you pay in cash (and especially if you pay by credit card). First off, if you leave anything valuable in the cab, such as shopping bags or cell phones, you will need the medallion number for the cab to track down your property. A simple receipt, which will have the medallion number on it, can save you the hassle of having to chase down one of hundreds of yellow cabs in the city. As you can see, this will virtually be impossible. Also yellow cabs now have credit card machines. This seemingly nice convenience can actually become a nightmare if, as it often happens, the machine isn't functioning properly. NY cab drivers often complain that the service doesn't work. I've used my debit card in one of these machines and twice, I received an error message: "can't process at this time." I had to then run to an ATM, incur a $2 fee plus a bank fee for using a non-bank machine and pay the fare in cash. However, when I checked my bank account the next day, I saw two pending charges for the same cab fare. A week passed before I was refunded. This could have all been resolved much more easily had I asked for a receipt and known the cab's medallion number.

Calculate cab fare before taking a trip: This may not be feasible for short trips around Manhattan that will only cost a few dollars. But for trips to the airport or further destinations, it may be in your interest to calculate a fare and get an idea of how much it should cost. Many times, cab drivers in any city will detect you’re a tourist and will conveniently take a longer route to charge you more.

Know where you’re going before getting in the cab: This relates to the above advice. It is smart to do a quick google maps direction search, or something of the like, before taking longer trips on cabs. I landed in JFK in a very tired state of mind on a red-eye flight and a normally $30 cab ride somehow came out to $50! I didn’t know the shortest way to my own new apartment, so the cab driver gave me “options”. I picked the freeway assuming it was the fastest, but of course, when I looked on the map later, I saw the driver had taken the longest route possible. Even for shorter trips, study the city! Get an idea of which areas are where – although not all cab drivers are dishonest, very few will dissuade you from mistakenly taking a longer route.

Don’t try to break the law, aka SLOW DOWN: Holiday season means crowds and people rushing everywhere. This also means that police officers are aplenty, ready to issue citations to drunk drivers, speeding road raging maniacs, and even impatient subway rules violators. Think twice before rolling through a stop sign, speeding on the freeway or, like me, running through an emergency exit in the subway (even if the turnstiles are broken!). Believe me, the police are feeling the least generous during the holidays so don’t expect any mercy and do expect hefty fines.

Of course, these experiences aren’t limited to any one place, city, or season. NYC may just prompt particular precautions: because the city moves so fast, your brain has to work just as fast. Factor in the holiday madness and your brain has to work on overdrive.

Now, please excuse me as I go return all the pity gifts I bought myself to relieve the tension of all the rip-offs.

Anyone else experience holiday city madness and rip-offs? Share your experiences so we can all benefit from becoming smarter travelers.

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Laura

Cab fare from the airport is flat rate to all locations in Manhattan, so that has decreased the opportunity to maximize the fare. If your fare from JFK was only $30, however, you must be in Queens, because I'm pretty sure the flat rate is $55. That's not inclusive of tolls, however, and some cabbies expect you to pull out cash at the toll, rather than just including it at the end.

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If you're trying to save money in NYC, why are you spending so much time in cabs? It's one of the best cities for public transportation in the US - it goes everywhere, 24 hours a day. Save your cash - take a subway or bus.