Saturday, January 24, 2015

Uber: The Frugal Traveler's Taxi

Being a Techy "TAiT" (my acronym for Travel Agent in Training), I've been on the lookout for cool travel apps. I'm also one of those people who loves to get a good deal, so it's an especially happy day to discover something that satisfies my inner geek, traveler and thrifty tendencies, all at the same time.  Uber is such an app.

Before I go much further, let me tell you that Uber also offers a referral bonus - a free ride, both to any new users I refer and to me, so if you try it out based on this post, please use referral code: yvettef39, so we can both get the free ride!

I'd heard about Uber from a couple of my friends...  "Uber is excellent! It's a great way to get home from a party if you've been drinking." "I'll just use Uber to pick up my daughter from the concert."...  I imagined it was just a local way to get a quick ride, but since I rarely need quick rides, I didn't even think to check it out or download the app as something I'd use when traveling.

Then last weekend I decided to take advantage of a cheap fare to Miami to escape the cold.  The one-way ticket from Denver was only $39! (It did mean taking the red-eye, but I'm not complaining! I arrived for a gorgeous sunrise over Miami Beach!) However, the taxi ride from the airport to the resort cost $55 before tip... more than the airline ticket!

The next day when South Beach was on the itinerary, someone at the hotel suggested Uber rather than a taxi.  I downloaded the app, pressed a button, and, as if by magic, suddenly "Hans" was at the hotel with a BMW ready to be my chauffeur.  It reminded me of one of those commercials where the Allstate agent suddenly appears like a genie to get you out of a rough situation.

Hans, our driver and a 4th year med student, was extremely friendly and we chatted the whole way to South Beach. After a fun afternoon in South Beach, I used the app again, and this time a Mercedes appeared in less than a minute, with friendly J.J. who drove us back to the hotel, raving the whole time about Uber and how he'd found his calling.

When it was time to get back to the airport, I used the app for a 3rd time, and this time, the fare (before tip) was $26.10, less than half of what the taxi fare was.  I'm sold!

All that being said, there are a few tips that new users should be aware of to optimize your dollars if you're on a budget.

  • There are car types such as UberX and UberSelect that you can set using a slider bar at the bottom of the screen when you sign into the app.  UberSelect is the most expensive and was the default setting when I first used the app.  With this setting you get rides in the fancier cars (BMWs, Mercedes), but at about twice the price of the cheaper option, so not really that much savings over a taxi. It wasn't until the ride back to the airport that I discovered how to set my option to UberX, to get the best deal.
  • When you set up your account, you have to tie it to either a credit card or a PayPal account.  This is convenient because you don't have to worry about having the cash on you, like you do with a taxi, but I'm always a little leary of having an app directly linked to one of my accounts.
  • The tip is not included in the fare that is pulled out of your account so you still need to have some cash on you to tip your driver.  If the drivers are friendly, as all of ours were, it's nice to be able to pass along some of the savings from not using a taxi along to them in the form of a good tip. Be aware, though, that they don't seem to carry change, so it's good to be prepared with the bills you'll need. 
  • Remember that the fare is pulled directly from your account and let any of your travel companions know that.  On our way to the airport, my companion hadn't realized that the fare was already being pulled from my account, so gave the driver the amount of the fare plus the tip and the driver ended up getting  a very big tip! (When we discovered the mistake, we both agreed that he deserved the good tip.)
  • There's a promotional code you can use ("AppStore") that I discovered on my iPhone to get $10 off, but it's only good the first time you use Uber.  I tried to use it on my 3rd time, but it was too late.  However, remember you (and I) can get a totally free first trip if you use my referral code: yvettef39.
  • The rates change depending on demand, time of day, etc. so check the fare estimator to get an idea of how much a ride is going to cost you.  
  • I've only used the service 3 times in Miami and I imagine there are a variety of experiences depending on what driver you get, where you are, etc.  I've only heard positive things about the app and the service, though, so I'm guessing this is the way of the future!  Next time you need a ride, give it a try!