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This post will help you determine which NYC subway MetroCard, “Unlimited” or “Pay-Per-Ride” is best for you and how to purchase it. We also include information about reduced fares and rules about children riding for free. A good way to have fun and get an in-person lesson about the subway is to take our Manhattan in One Day Tour.
The video below is our guide Katherine going over the pass choices you have.
TIP: Your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard can also be used on the:
How to decide which card is best for you?
Often visitors are in the city for only 3 or 4 days. The main question you need to ask is whether you think you will use it at least 12 times. If so, then the unlimited card will likely save you money. You are likely to use the subway at least 2 times per day, but you could use it at least 5 times if you were on our All-in-One Tour.
This MetroCard calculator can do the math for you so you can decide between the two cards described above.
If you like to take taxis, then having a pay-per-ride MetroCard may be your best choice. You might find that taking a taxi makes more financial sense, especially if you are going short distances. A taxi costs $3.30 + $2.50/mile ($1.55/km) + tip. There is a $1 surcharge for weekday rush hours, 4 pm – 8 pm.
A taxi can be cheaper for most trips under 2 miles (3.2 km), especially if you have 3 or 4 people in your group. Of course, a taxi saves you time, which is hard to calculate. Read more on how to take a taxi in NYC.
Seniors 65 years+ and also those with qualifying disabilities can get a reduced fare. To receive a refillable reduced fare MetroCard, you must submit an application and wait a few weeks to receive it. So unless you plan to be here for a very long stay, follow these easy steps below for your reduced fare card:
To purchase your MetroCard you will use the machines located in the station. There are two types of machines pictured here: the big machine lets you pay with cash, credit cards or ATM/debit cards. The smaller machines do not take cash.
Paying with a Credit Card:
If you use your credit card (on either machine), you will be asked to enter your zip code after you dip your credit card. If you are not from the United States and do not have an American zip code, you are allowed to type in 99999 for zip code.
Paying with cash:
If you pay with cash from the larger machine, and pay with a large bill and not the exact amount, you will receive the difference back but in $1 coins, not bills. NOTE: The machine can only return up to $9 in change.
Example: You want to buy a new card with 2 rides. You will pay $1 for the new card, and $5.50 for your two rides. That is a total of $6.50 but all you have is a $20 bill. You should get $13.50 in change, but because the machines cannot dispense more than $9 in change you will be losing $4.50. So be sure if you are buying with cash to have small bills with you.
TIP: Always choose the option to get a receipt. If something is wrong with your card you will have proof that you paid for it.
Once you have purchased your card, here are some tips on how to use it!
Make the most of your MetroCard and Subway travel
Foreign Language Speakers
The MTA website offers translations of their site. Simply look in the lower left-hand corner of the page and you will see an option for Google Translate.
Don’t Do It Alone.
Our New York Subway Art Tour, our All-in-One Tour as well as our Manhattan Night Tours use the subway and are part subway immersion courses and a great way to familiarize yourself with the New York Subway System.
MetroCard offers discounts and deals.
For certain attractions, theater tickets, and events. Most New Yorkers do not even know this! Click here for what discounts are being offered currently. We can also tell you where to find discounted tickets for major attractions and Broadway shows.
Enjoy the ride.
Perhaps the best part of riding the subway is the great free musical performances you’ll come across. Our post Where to find New York City Street Performers and Subway Music will lead you straight to them!
For any other information, visit the MTA website.
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