Which New York City Subway MetroCard to Buy?
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.
Unlimited vs. Pay-Per Ride Card
How to Purchase a Card
How to Navigate the Subway
Which Subway App is Best
Things to Do in NYC
The video below is our guide Katherine going offer the pass choices you have.
Before we get into the cards, do note that one paying adult may take up to 3 children who are no more than 44 inches (112 cm) tall for free on subways and local buses no matter which card you choose.
- costs $32 for a 7-day MetroCard and will provide some savings:
- for 13 trips = $2.46/ride
- for 15 trips = $2.13/ride
- for 20 trips = $1.60/ride
- reduced fare is $16.00 (see below for Reduced Fare rules)
- can only be used by 1 person
- once you have swiped the card, it cannot be used again for 18 minutes
- unlimited transfers, including between buses and subways
- If you will be here for a long period of time, you may want to look into a 30-day unlimited card for $121.00 ($60.50 reduced fare (see below).
TIP: Your unlimited MetroCard can be used on other transportation systems in and around New York City. It is accepted by:
- The Staten Island Railway. This is good if you ride the free Staten Island Ferry and stay on the Island and explore it).
- The Roosevelt Island Tram which you may want to do to get one of the best skyline views of the city. Learn more by reading our post on riding the tram and visiting Roosevelt Island.
- New Jersey PATH trains that run between Manhattan and certain nearby locations within New Jersey. But you will have to add money to the card for the cost of that PATH ride. This will not change your unlimited card in any way.
“Regular” Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards
- 1 ride costs $3. You will most likely never buy this card.
- 2 or more rides cost $2.75 per ride. You get a 5% bonus on your purchase which is a nice money saving feature.
- up to 4 people can use one MetroCard ($2.75/person/ride).
- You can transfer for free between subway lines
- You can transfer for free between subway and buses or between buses within 2 hours of using your card for the first time.
TIP: Your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard can also be used on the:
- New Jersey PATH trains that run between Manhattan and certain nearby locations within New Jersey.
- Staten Island Railway. This is good if you ride the free Staten Island Ferry and stay on the Island and explore it.
- Roosevelt Island Tram which you may want to do to get one of the best skyline views of the city. Learn more by reading our post on riding the tram and visiting Roosevelt Island.
- JFK AirTrain which connects you from the airport to the subway system, for an additional cost. See our Manhattan to JFK Airport posy if flying in/out of JFK Airport.
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 the 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.
Reduced Fare for Seniors and Disabled People
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:
- Bring your valid ID, such as your passport or driver’s license that shows your age
- Go to the station agent in the booth where you will show your ID and pay $2.75 (the price for ONE ride). Not all stations have agent booths.
- You will be given a non-refillable MetroCard good for TWO rides. You also save money because you do not have to pay the $1.00 new card fee. This 2-trip MetroCard will be accepted at all subway stations, local buses, and Staten Island Railway. Your card is not accepted for any other bus lines or the Roosevelt Island Tram.
- For more information, click here.
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Purchasing your Metrocard
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!
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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.
Other posts you might find helpful:
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