Cheap US city breaks: how to get the best value using cheap trains and no-frills flights

Air fares remain relatively high this autumn, with return flights from London to New York costing between £335-£565. The latest long-haul report from Post Office Travel Money found that because of inflation, consumer prices are also high in New York (though they have fallen slightly since last year).

High prices mean that many holidaymakers will be looking to get the maximum value from a transatlantic trip, which could either mean looking at cheaper alternatives to New York, such as Philadelphia, or spending longer in the destination to justify a higher air fare.

New, cheap rail fares offered by Amtrak could be just the ticket. The national passenger railroad company is offering “Night Owl” fares on many popular Northeast Corridor train routes, with fares from as little as $5 (£4.10). It has recently extended the offering between New York and Boston, a journey of around four hours or 200 miles that usually sees fares of $40 (£33).

You could combine a New York City break with Boston (Photo: Getty Images)

Amtrak trains – which have designated quiet carriages as well as large, leather seats with free Wi-Fi and power sockets, and a luggage allowance of up to four bags – link the two East Coast cities with ease, meaning you could get more bang for your buck with two city breaks over the course of several days, or even a week.

New York’s Penn Station, where trains depart for Boston, has seen $1.6bn dollar investment in recent years with the opening of the huge Moynihan Train Hall in 2021.

The new Moynihan Train Hall at Pennsylvania Station in New York (Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The new Moynihan Train Hall at Pennsylvania Station in New York (Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Night Owl fares could double up city breaks elsewhere, too – they are available between key cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC and Baltimore, on services between 7pm and 7am. New York and Washington to Boston costs $20, but cheaper routes include Washington and Philadelphia to Baltimore for $5 and New York to Baltimore for $15 (£12).

Meanwhile, the return of no-frills transatlantic routes in recent years – offered by Norse Atlantic Airways, JetBlue and Play – means that there are lower-priced flight options for those who are happy to travel with minimal luggage and forgo onboard catering. For example, Play offers flights from Stansted to New York Stewart in the Hudson Valley via Reykjavik, Iceland, from £278 return.

With routes between the UK and East Coast cities such as New York and Boston, it’s also possible to book “open jaw” flights into one city and returning from another, joining the dots with Amtrak’s night trains.