If you can take the heat, go in summer, when New Yorkers hit the beach and business travel tapers off, prompting prices to dip about 25% below December's highs, says hotel researcher STR. Go even lower by shunning Times Square, where rooms often top $400.
Look for small hotels in residential neighborhoods, such as the Chelsea Inn (about $180 a night) in Chelsea, says Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet.
Lisa Ritchie of Time Out New York recommends Z NYC, just over the bridge in Queens, which is under $200. It's in a gritty industrial area, but there's a free shuttle into Manhattan. In downtown Brooklyn, close to hip nabes like the buzzing Smith Street restaurant row, the new Sheraton is $224 in the summer.
They soar above ordinary trips and perform feats of vacation derring-do, all while nailing their budget. Here are their travel tips.