Louis Armstrong was born in The Crescent City, and Tennessee Williams fell in love with The Big Easy, making it the setting for A Streetcar Named Desire. Although Hurricane Katrina took its toll in 2005, in 2014, nearly 10 million (9.52 million) people visited the city, reveling in its French Quarter, Garden District and surrounding cultural areas. Budgeting can be a difficult prospect, especially during Mardi Gras, but with care and due diligence, you can find less expensive yet quality options.
Here are 7 tips from GET.com for better times and more savings in New Orleans:
Finding Cheap Flights
From Los Angeles: Exploring our options for a basic economy round-trip fare out of Los Angeles' LAX that let us enjoy a full week in New Orleans, our very best deal was a $247 nonstop fare spanning Wednesday to Wednesday. At minimum, Tuesday flights crept to $257, Mondays $295, Fridays $307, Thursdays $337, Saturdays $347 and Sundays $357.
Sticking with Wednesdays, we found that Spirit left LAX near 10 a.m. and took off from Louis Armstrong International at 4:30 p.m. American Airlines kept pace with its own nonstop fare for $10 more. Most fares on American ran around $330 for Choice, $315 to $390 for Choice Essential, $420 to $500 for Choice Plus and $920 to $1,000 for first class. Playing with our options, we could actually treat ourselves to first class for our departure while returning in a Choice Essential seat for less than $650 total.
Image courtesy of Spirit Airlines
From Seattle: Fares out of Seattle/Tacoma International forced us to choose between nonstop flights starting at $450 or 1-stop flights for $100 less. The $350 options involved 16 hours or more total airtime versus nonstop flights totaling less than 10. We chose the nonstop flight for $451, good for Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Friday or Saturday travel quickly tipped basic economy fares over $600, but Sundays were the most expensive option, starting at $711.
The $451 round-trip deal on Alaska Airlines departed around 11 a.m. and took off for return around 7 p.m. On Alaska Airlines' site, we found our flights and compared. Each way, refundable coach tickets were $622 while some nonrefundable coach fares were $439, $553 or even $1,277 and longer, too, with 1 stop. On our flight, a first class nonrefundable ticket was $499 each way and a refundable one $747 each way. Miss out on the nonstop flight, and a nonrefundable coach fare could cost more than that first-class seat.
In the GET.com guide to finding cheap flights we offer more tips and tricks to help you get where you want to go for less.
Finding Affordable Lodging
Do your dreams of New Orleans include staying in the French Quarter, enjoying breakfast in bed and having a uniformed doorman? If so, you'll need at least $200 with taxes and fees per night for a room that includes free serve-yourself breakfast and Wi-Fi. The average cost for parking at a downtown hotel runs $35 to $40 extra a day, and you may have to rely on, wait for and tip a valet each time you leave or return.
We value our free breakfast and free Wi-Fi so that we can start the day ready to enjoy the city. We were able to find a bargain at the 2-star New Orleans Courtyard Hotel on North Rampart Street. The room had 1 queen bed for $125 a night, $1,005 for the week. However, the hotel also required a $100 security deposit, and self-parking was $25 a night.
In the Garden District, along St. Charles Avenue, we could stay in 3-star hotels and enjoy free breakfast and Wi-Fi averaging about $125 a night for 1 queen bed. Quality Inn & Suites Maison Street wanted $137 a night for 2 queen beds, and parking was $17 per day, bringing a week to $1,123 for the room and $119 plus tax for parking. Creole Gardens Guesthouse and Inn, Clarion Hotel Grand Boutique, Fairchild House, Prytania Oaks Hotel and The Queen Anne Hotel all had similar deals and excellent guest reviews. A few even had free parking!
Hilton is currently running generous welcome offers on its Hilton loyalty credit cards, and if you sign up now you should be able to meet the requirements and receive your Honors points ahead of summer. Hilton New Orleans Riverside is 4 blocks from the French Quarter.
It really doesn't get cheaper than getting a free stay just for using the right credit card to pay for stuff you already buy. Our guide to getting cheap hotel stays is loaded with more tips to help you enjoy more comfortable stays for less.
If you long to stay in a bed and breakfast, prices tend to run from about $85 to $175 a night, and amenities vary widely. We found plenty that were full of character in the French Quarter, in the Garden District and along Esplanade Avenue. BedandBreakfast.com is the site to check.
Airbnb had some interesting deals, too. We found an entire 1,800-square foot historic home on the other side of St. Claude, near Faubourg Marigny, and it came with 3 bicycles. It also had 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and accommodations for 6. For the week, it ran us $120 a night, $1,014 for the week with fees. You could use the modern kitchen and laundry and enjoy Internet access, too.
In comparison, apartments in the French Quarter started around $200, and cottages could easily cost $350 a night. In the Garden District, a neat, clean 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment ran around $133 a night for the week, $1,154 total; it had no parking, but most other options in the area exceeded $200 a night.
Depending on what you want to experience, transportation can be a challenge in New Orleans. Taxis charge about $36 to take 2 people to or from the airport; 3 or more will cost about $14 each. For downtown rides, count on $3.50 plus $0.30 per each eighth of a mile; some charge by fractions of a minute.
For many destinations, cab companies may instead use flat fees like $15 per person, and special events carry special prices. In many cases, costs for 1 cab ride can easily surpass the price of a car rental. If you want to visit sites requiring transportation, plan your itinerary to best take advantage of public transportation.
The city runs 3 streetcar lines: the St. Charles, Canal Street and the Riverfront. You can pay $1.25 in exact change or by phone app for each ride, or pick up a Jazzy Pass (1 day pass - $3, 3 day pass - $9, 31 day pass - $55). The streetcar pass gives you unlimited rides, and can offer very good value if you like to spend your time getting around.
For relatively short distances, don't discount SpinLister for bicycle rentals. The League of American Bicyclists awards New Orleans silver status; however, avoid busy highways and stick to safe neighborhood areas. Uber is also a more affordable option, and the app lets you estimate costs before calling a driver. The Algiers Ferry carries pedestrians and bicyclists to Algiers Point for $2 each.
Whether you're looking for Cajun, Creole or something else, New Orleans has some inexpensive places worth the calories you're sure to consume:
- On Magazine Street, at District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew., donuts are scratch-made right down to the sprinkles, and locally sourced organic beef, chicken or tofu sliders are handmade to order. Try the "griddled donut sandwiches," a blackened Caesar salad or a custom coffee specialty. Your wallet will still be intact.
- In the Central Business District, on Camp Street, Majoria's Commerce Restaurant will fill your breakfast plate with a 3-egg omelet, grits, meat and toast or a lunch platter with a muffaletta po-boy or T-burger. It's real food and plenty of it; they also serve salads, "Super Spuds," and gluten- or carb-free specials daily.
- A bit off Magazine Street, on Delachaise Street, The Milk Bar is small and uses counter service; however, if you're looking for fresh gourmet po-boys and ingredients like roasted red pepper, eggplant, artichokes, marinated chicken, roast lamb or sautéed shrimp on ciabatta – or a hand-dipped cappuccino milkshake – check it out. They have 7 awesome salad entrees, too.
- In the French Quarter's French Market, on North Peters Street, Alberto's Cheese & Wine Bistro specializes in fresh Mediterranean and European cuisine while keeping prices below $10 yet portions substantial. The menu tempts with "Brie cheese Belgian waffles," select cheese plates, signature salads and specialty sandwiches. As accompaniment, they've got wine, champagne, beer and more.
New Orleans Power Pass
A New Orleans Power Pass is available. You can choose 1-, 2-, 3- or 5-day passes costing $85 per adult, $55 per child; $120 per adult, $85 per child; $160 per adult, $130 per child; or $200 per adult, $150 per child. It provides entry to 26 currently participating attractions posted on the Power Pass website. Days are calendar days, not 24-hour periods, and ages 2 to 12 count as children; some attractions already admit children free. You must pick up the physical bar-coded card at the New Orleans collection desk or pay $16 domestic or $26 worldwide shipping charges. If transportation is an issue, consider that some pass attractions lie outside easy downtown walking distances.
New Orleans has a lot to do and see, and veteran visitors advise taking time to smell a few select roses rather than rushing through the garden. Most attractions (the Audubon Nature Institute, for example) issue online coupons, promo codes and package discounts that let you save. Buying online in advance is also more economical.
Things To Do
Did you know that New Orleans' French Quarter is actually a National Historic Landmark? Tuesday through Saturday, national park rangers lead 1-hour riverfront history walks at 9:30 a.m. for 25 ticket holders. Tickets are free on a first-come basis, but each person must be present to claim one.
If you miss out, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau posts a self-guided walking tour map on its website. Most of the historic buildings, however, are managed by private organizations that establish admissions.
In the French Quarter, Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis King of France, or St. Louis Cathedral, is one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the United States that has been used continuously. The Old Ursuline Convent is about 3 blocks away on Chartres Street. Admission to both is free, but you can pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet at the cathedral for $1.
By the way, the St. Louis Cemetery is to the cathedral's northwest, past Rampart Street; it's truly a city of the dead, with its aboveground vaults, some of which are architectural wonders in themselves. However, new rules specify that all visitors must be accompanied by a licensed tour guide. SaveOurCemeteries.org offers some of the most affordable tours and packs them with history.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is always free. Although the waterways are impassable for canoes or kayaks, you can still experience the bayou's famous irises and other wildlife firsthand hiking the Barataria trails. Park at the visitor center on Decatur Street, and walk the loop trails and boardwalk. Access to the park's Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery as well as the Acadian Cultural Center, however, may be problematic if you don't have a car.
The Garden District is a National Historical Landmark and includes the architectural wonders on St. Charles Avenue and the retail mecca of Magazine Street. Many tourists spend the day simply appreciating the assortment of antebellum, Greek revival, Victorian, Italianate, Queen Anne and Eastlake-style mansions and cottages. Lafayette Cemetery is here, too.
Swamp Tours are big moneymakers in New Orleans, and make for interesting experiences. But if you don't have your own transportation to the departure site, your cost will most likely double.
Honey Island Swamp, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area are all 30- to 45-minute drives from the French Quarter. Even so, prices range widely, from $25 to $100 or more per person. Choices range from touring on a large airboat to canoeing or kayaking.
Downtown, shopping, galleries, pricey food and drink, and cheesy ghost tours are everywhere. If you're content to walk off the beignets on self-guided tours and pick and choose among the attractions you really want to experience, you'll get to appreciate the real New Orleans – the history, music, food and people that combine to form the city's unique Acadian culture.