Last Updated on November 23, 2020 by Anisa
Choosing the NYC tourist pass that is right for you can be confusing. In this post, I wanted to explain the differences between the three major brands of passes: NY Pass, CityPass, and NY Sightseeing Pass, and help you decide if an NYC attraction pass is worth it for you.
Bear with me here – the names of the different passes are similar and the differences between them can be quite hard to work out. Get the right New York City pass though, and it’s definitely the cheapest way to ‘do New York’. My cousins, who live in Scotland, decided to visit New York City for their honeymoon. It was their first visit and they wanted to see as much as possible. Given the fact that I lived in NYC for 13 years, I had plenty of tips and suggestions for them. I think the best piece of advice I gave them was to buy the NY Pass. I know they got their money’s worth out of it.
If you are headed to New York City, you will also want to read my post with lots of tips for visiting NYC for the first time
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Please see disclosure for more details.
What is the NY Pass?
“The NY Pass is the Ultimate Sightseeing Pass” and probably the most-well known NYC tourist pass. The pass includes admission to over 100 different New York City attractions. If you were to purchase admission to all the attractions individually, it would cost you over $2000. The price of the NY Pass depends on how many days you want to use the pass. You can visit as many of the attractions as you want or can fit in during the time your pass is valid.
Is the New York Pass Worth the Money
If you are planning to come to NYC for sightseeing, then I think it is easy to get your money’s worth out of the pass. I highly recommend the New York Pass for tourists – especially if you are visiting NYC for the first time. There are so many must-see attractions and the admission fees add up quickly.
Having said that, the question about whether the NY Pass is worth the money depends on the purpose of your trip and how much time you can allocate to sightseeing. If you are coming to New York City for work, or for a special event and don’t have much time, you may only visit a few attractions. In this case, it may not be worth it. If the goal of your New York City trip is to sightsee, you will definitely get your money’s worth out of the New York Pass.
Special Perks of the New York Pass
In addition to the free admission to over 100 attractions, you also get:
- Fast track access to some of the top attractions so that you don’t have to wait in line
- Free 200 Page guidebook which is available in seven languages
- 30 exclusive offers that will save you money on dining, shows, and even helicopter rides
Best Attractions included in the NY Pass
Many of my favorite attractions in NY are included in the NY Pass. I think these are places that everyone must see!
- Top of the Rock (The Empire State Building is also included with the NY Pass, but I think the view is actually better at the Top of the Rock since you can get pictures with the Empire State Building in it!)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- 911 Memorial Museum
Note: If you only have time for one art museum, I have some tips to help you decide between the Met and MOMA.
What is not included in the NY Pass?
Not everything New York City has to offer is included in the NY Pass package. The following attractions are not included:
- Access to Statue of Liberty Crown or Pedestal (The NY Pass does include tickets for the ferry to Liberty Island and Admission to the Ellis Island Museum. If you want to visit the Crown or the Pedestal of the Statue, you need to buy this separately as it is not included in any pass and I recommend that you purchase it online here as soon as possible. Those tickets sell out months in advance.)
- Subway pass aka Metrocard. None of the NYC attraction passes include the subway or NYC buses.
- Broadway Shows (Instead check out my post for other ways to save money on tickets)
- One World Observatory – If your heart is set on the observatory at the top of the Freedom Tower, consider getting the NY Sightseeing Pass. It does include One World Observatory but not the Empire State Building. More info on alternative NYC attractions passes below.
- Tenement Museum – Unfortuntately, the Tenement Museum is not included in any NYC attractions pass. It’s one of the most interesting museums I have ever been to.
Example of Savings with the NY Pass
Let’s say you had 3 days to explore New York City so you bought the 3 day NY Pass for $274 which is the regular price without any discounts. I will use the sample itinerary below to calculate the savings.
Top of the Rock -$41
MOMA – $25
Empire State Building – $39
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise – $43
Day 1 Total = $148
Hop on Hop Off Bus – $75
911 Museum $26
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island $19*
Day 2 Total=$120
The Ride – $69
Central Park Bike Tours & Unlimited Rental – $45
The Met – $25
Day 3 Total = $139
3 Day NY Sightseeing Itinerary Cost without an NY Pass=$407 vs. 3 Day NY Pass=$274
Keep in mind this is the savings for just one person. Additionally, you could probably fit in a few more attractions if you wanted to and get even more value from the NY Pass.
Further, the regular price for a 1 day NY Pass is $129 and $199 for a 2 day NY Pass. The per day cost decreases the longer the pass is valid, so it gets easier to save more. You would even save a little bit on the 1 day pass, but the savings increase if you use the pass for more days.
As the itinerary shows, admission prices add up quickly! Also, you can’t forget about the time you will save since you can skip the line at some of the most popular sights.
* This does not include Crown or Pedestal Access at the Statue of Liberty.
Is the NY Pass good for kids?
The NY Pass has discounted rates for children age 3-12. Children two and under do not need passes. Those that are 13 or older have to get an Adult Pass. Again, you will need to do your own analysis to figure out if it is worth it based on what you would like to see.
NY Pass Tours
Since I have started my blog, I have gone on several tours that are included in the NY Pass. You might find these posts helpful when you are deciding how to use your pass:
Other NYC Attraction Passes Options
The NY Pass may be the gold standard but it is not the only attraction discount scheme for tourists visiting New York. You might want to consider one of the others if they better suit your personal circumstances. Possible reasons for choosing one of the other schemes could include:
- Limited sightseeing time available in NYC, so other options might provide better value than the NY Pass
- One of your ‘must-see’ attractions isn’t included in the NY Pass
- A promotion being run by one of the other pass providers (keep an eye on this – they happen frequently! More on this below)
You can either choose an NYC tourist pass that allows you to visit unlimited attractions or one that is for a set number of attractions. Both types of passes are only good for a set number of days.
If you plan on visiting only a handful of attractions, then a pass that gives you access to a limited number of attractions might work better for you. These passes are also cheaper than the unlimited attraction passes. You just need to make sure that the attractions you are interested in are included. Both CityPass and NY Sightseeing Pass offer these types of programs.
NY Pass vs CityPass
While the NY Pass allows access to as many of the attractions included in the scheme for the length of time your pass is valid, CityPass New York does not. It is cheaper than the NY Pass and provides access to a limited number of attractions for the duration of the pass – nine days. There are two different options:
- New York CityPass which allows you to go to six attractions. Three of the attractions are the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The other three you can choose from six options. Click here to check prices for the New York CityPass.
- New York C3 Pass which allows you to visit three attractions. You get to choose the three attractions from a list of 10 attractions. Click here to check prices for the New York C3 Pass.
Is the CityPass worth it? A CityPass could make sense if you really only wanted to see a few of the main NYC attractions as it is cheaper than the NY Pass, especially if you compare it to a 7 or 10 day NY Pass. You still save money over purchasing each attraction separately, but not as much as you could with a NY Pass.
It might work well if you are traveling to NYC and have other priorities besides just sightseeing. You can get access to the attractions for 9 days but you don’t have to feel the pressure of going to as many attractions as you can to get your money’s worth. Personally, I think the flexibility and breadth of attractions available make the NY Pass worth the extra money, but it is dependent on your own itinerary.
NY Pass vs NY Sightseeing Pass
The NY Sightseeing Pass is very similar to the NY Pass in many respects. Like the NY Pass, it is an unlimited scheme, so you can visit as many attractions as you like for the duration of the pass. They also offer discounted child passes for children aged 3-12. There are some important differences to note:
- The NY Sightseeing Pass includes over 90 different attractions compared to over 100 with the NY Pass.
- The NY Sightseeing Pass includes One World Observatory instead of the Empire State Building. To me, this would not be a deciding factor since my favorite observation point is the Top of the Rock, but the Observatory is rapidly becoming one of New York’s ‘must-dos’ and I can see why people might prefer this option.
- For each NY Sightseeing Pass you buy, you get a $40 credit that can be used towards the purchase of select items on CitySightsNY.com/additional-products.html to compliment your NY experience. Options include helicopter rides, other attractions, Broadway packages, day trips to places like Niagara Falls and Washington, D.C. and dinner cruises.
- All the attractions and special offers available to NY Sightseeing Pass holders are detailed in a 250-page guidebook. The New York Pass comes with a 200-page guidebook.
NY Sightseeing Flex Pass
Are you utterly bamboozled yet? Stay with me – this is the final NYC pass option!
The NY Sightseeing Flexpass is a little different to the others. This one is valid for 30 days and you get to choose the number of attractions (from 2-10) that you want to visit from over 90 different options. This is ideal if you have been to NYC before or have limited time to sightsee and only want to see a few things. Even if you just want to see two attractions, you can save 50% and you will get fast track entry at some attractions. Plus, you also get the free 250-page guidebook, detailing all attractions and special offers available to Pass holders.
Promotions and Discount Codes
The market for NY discount passes is very competitive and both NY Pass and NY Sightseeing Pass often have different promotions running. The price they charge and the details of which attractions are included can vary according to the promotion they are running. Whichever scheme you think will best suit your needs, make sure you check the promotions before you buy! You might be pleasantly surprised to find a discount code. If the slight differences between the passes don’t bother you, then I would recommend choosing the pass that has the best promotion.
The NY Pass and the NY Sightseeing Passes are good for up to 12 months after you purchase them, so if you see a promotion you like jump on it! If you are not sure whether you are going to need the pass or not, you can purchase insurance for a small fee. This provides a 100% money-back guarantee for all non-activated pass purchases. Remember that once you’ve activated the pass, this money-back guarantee is no longer valid. If you are purchasing the passes as a gift, it is definitely a good idea to get the insurance.
Note: New York CityPass is rarely ever “on sale” as they feel their product is a discount in itself, they don’t usually offer special promotions.
What is the Best New York City Pass to Buy?
When you are choosing which New York attraction pass to buy, you need to decide how much sightseeing you are planning to do on your trip. If you are not planning on doing much sightseeing, then choose either the CityPass or the New York Sightseeing Flex Pass. If you want to see as much as NYC as possible, then go with an unlimited pass like the New York Pass or the New York Sightseeing Pass. Look at the specific attractions included to see which one includes the places you want to go. Also, keep an eye out for special promotions.
Whatever NYC tourist pass you choose, I know you will have a great time in the Big Apple. There is so much to see, you will not be bored! I may be biased but I think it’s the best city in the world. Have you been to NYC?
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Expert Tips for Buying an NYC Attractions Pass
- If sightseeing is your priority, you are going to want an unlimited attractions pass like the NY Pass or NY Sightseeing Pass. It offers the most value and flexibility.
- If you have limited time to sightsee, you may prefer a CityPass or a New York Sightseeing Flex Pass. These passes are cheaper, but you cannot visit as many attractions.
- Keep an eye out for promotions and discount codes. You can purchase the passes up to 12 months in advance. Purchase the insurance if you are not sure you will be able to use them.