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Finding Bargain Lodging in New York City Is Not an Impossible Dream : A consumer's guide to 10 of the Big Apple's most affordable hotels.


New York on a tight budget? Yes, it's possible.

In the heart of Manhattan is a well-scrubbed, nicely refurbished hotel called the Pickwick Arms where single rooms go for just $40, and that's every day of the week. A remarkable price, it is one of the best lodging bargains to be found in a city notorious for its hefty room rates. And there are a variety of other hotel bargains awaiting visitors.

Of course, there is one rather significant catch to the Pickwick Arms' $40 rate. The hotel's Spartan single rooms offer only a sink in place of a full bathroom. To use the toilet and shower, you must journey down the hall. Nevertheless, for students--or anyone on a limited budget--affordability can easily justify the inconvenience. Not surprisingly, the hotel is popular with tourists from Europe, where in-room baths still are not standard in some older hotels and inns.

I headed for New York recently to search out decent, well-located but modestly priced lodgings, and I found a group of 10 that easily qualified. Rates for two people range from $65 to no more than $145 a night. In all but two of these hotels--please note--the cheapest price actually does include a private bath. In a few, you are treated to a complimentary breakfast.

To compile my best-of-the-bargains list, I weeded out several lower-priced hotels that seemed dingy or were in questionable neighborhoods. They may not have been flophouses, but they certainly looked the part. Any hotel that furnishes its lobby with a soda pop machine was immediately rejected as aesthetically unappealing. So were hotels where the registration desk is protected by a glass or plastic shield. Too off-putting.

Instead, I chose hotels where the management seemed to show it cared by providing bright and inviting lobbies and guest rooms. All but one of the properties, the Jolly Madison Towers, has been redecorated recently, and it does not seem in dire need of it just yet. During my survey, I stayed in only one of the hotels, the Radisson Empire, but inspected all 10, which included a walk through a variety of guest rooms in each.

Two important factors should be kept in mind when booking a New York City hotel:

--Taxes. On a room renting for $100 a night or more, city and state taxes total 19.25%, plus an additional $2-a-night city occupancy tax. This brings the full tax on a $100-a-night room to $21.25. However, for rooms under $100, the combined city and state tax is just 14.25%, again plus the $2 city-occupancy tax. This brings the full tax on a $99 room to $16.10. The lower tax--a saving of at least $5 a night--is something to remember when choosing between two hotels at or near the $100 rate. Some mid-priced hotels keep their rates at $99 so guests can benefit from the lower tax.

--Weekend rates. Many of the fancier hotels slash their regular rates by 50% or even more on weekends--usually Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday nights. Rates also drop during slack seasons when business travel is light, such as midsummer, December and early January. At these special times, the posh hotels actually become price-competitive with the mid-priced hotels, a factor that keeps the cheaper hotels from raising rates. Indeed, one of the mid-priced hotels on my list lowered its rates slightly because of this competition.

New York offers dozens of low- and moderately priced hotels. These 10, which offer affordable rates throughout the week, are among the best of them:

MILFORD PLAZA Just one block west of Broadway on 45th Street, the huge and bustling Milford Plaza Hotel offers its own $99-a-night package, and it is available every night of the year. Called the "LullaBuy of Broadway," the widely advertised package may be the best-known hotel promotion in New York. For the price, two guests get a room plus welcoming cocktails, continental breakfast and dinner (the daily special) at the Stage Door Canteen, which is on the premises. Sometimes the hotel drops dinner and the welcoming cocktail and offers the package for $75 a night.

Once a boarded-up eyesore, the 30-story hotel was thoroughly refurbished in 1980 and reopened as the first major project in the ongoing redevelopment of the Times Square area. Fourteen theaters are within a two-block walk, and the hotel has exercised a bit of theatrical whimsy to note this fact by painting a bright white star on the door of every one of its 1,310 guest rooms.

When I showed up, the expansive marble lobby was teeming with conventioneers and seemed as hectic as a big-city airline terminal. But maybe this should be taken as evidence of its popularity. Part of the crowd was headed for Mamma Leone's, a moderately priced Italian restaurant just off the lobby that is a perennial favorite with matinee-goers.

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