By Brad Beckstrom
In the middle of a crowded Irish pub, my friend stood up and shouted “Brad will be taking Uber home tonight!” and ordered another round to cheers and jeers. Late that evening, a shiny Jeep showed up and drove my wife and me home in the freshly falling snow. The total cost of the ride $6.28. My friend didn’t know that I use UberX about once a week and whenever I’m traveling
Having a shiny sedan show up at your home with a driver may not seem very frugal until you consider parking costs $6-$10 for a night out in the city and the occasional $50-$100 parking ticket. I got $200 worth the year before I started using UBER. The hundred dollar parking ticket was due to an expired Virginia inspection decal. I was a bit peeved until I saw that this parking ticket actually said “ticket and tow” and I’d gotten to my car before the tow truck had arrived. My Virginia inspection decal was two days expired and I was parked in Washington DC! That city will do anything for a buck as long as it’s a pain in the ass.
A few years ago when Virginia tried to ban Uber, I wrote to my Congressman and told him that he was putting drinkers back on the road if he supported banning services like Uber and Lyft. I didn’t use the word drunks because many folks who get a DUI think they’re fine until it’s too late. The average cost of a DUI can range anywhere from $7000 to $25,000 depending on the area and fines. The younger the driver, the more invincible they believe they are and more likely to have others in the car with them, not to mention the other drivers and pedestrians they endanger when driving impaired. If you’re going to be out celebrating, use it tell your family and friends to use it. I’ll give you some Uber hacks below to eliminate any excuses.
8 ways to hack Uber
- Start for free. Uber and competitors like Lyft have recently lowered their rates to compete and offer a $5 to $10 credit to start. SuperK and I both signed up for separate Lyft accounts and gave each other a $20 credit. You just need two credit card numbers. If you’re not on Uber yet, they offer similar promotions. Uber $5 code is sjc5c or Lyft $5 code. Sign up and I get a free ride as well. Ride credits change often and vary by city but the link will work.
- Once you start using Uber, you’ll notice that occasionally you see much higher rates during rush hour and after 8 PM on Friday and Saturday nights. If I see higher rates on UBER, I’ll quickly close the Uber app and switch to Lyft. I’ll pick whichever service has the lowest surge pricing. Sometimes by just closing the Uber app and reopening it, the surge pricing goes away.
- If the prices on both are crazy high all just grab a cab if I’m fairly close to home. Or you could try out an app like Curbed. It’s an Uber-like app that uses local taxicabs. I haven’t had much use for it but I keep it on my phone if I am in a pinch.
- Use frequent routes. I know that taking Uber to a specific intersection will always keep my ride under $8. From there, it’s a short 3 block walk to bars and restaurants. I know of at least three different routes that are under eight dollars that go to good drop off points. I can even get into DC for under $12 if I pick a drop-off point at the beginning of Georgetown instead of in the middle of Georgetown where all the traffic is. Get out and walk a bit, it’s good for you.
- Hop into the pool. Traveling solo, feeling adventurous, or want to meet new people? If you’re headed downtown or to the airport, you can select the pool option and share the ride you’ll save up to 50% and meet some like-minded Frugs. I’ve used Uber pool several times in a generally adds about 5 to 7 minutes to the trip. It’s definitely worth a try if you’re not in a hurry.
- Fly with Uber. Some of the biggest savings with Uber are those long cab rides from airports into town. I always fire up my Uber app when I’ve arrived to see if Uber is available to or from the airport. Recent trips to and from BWI airport saved us $40 each way versus taxis in the past. Not bad for clicking on an app, and you get to skip the taxi line. Years ago I even rented cars, not necessary if it’s an Uber town.
- Five-star ratings. Unless you have a crappy experience, give your driver five stars. I always tip a driver that helps us with a bag or has created a good experience, spotless car, good driving, you’ll know the type. Don’t forget drivers also rate their passengers so don’t be a jerk, or you may find your wait times getting a little longer.
- Unless you’re being dropped off at the red carpet, or need to impress your prom date, always select UberX or Lyft. Most people don’t need the large black Uber sedans or UberXL. Make sure you have the right type of car selected at the bottom of the app or your rates will be much higher.
Drivers often show up with pristine late model cars.
Bonus Tip. If you use any credit card points programs that offer point bonuses for office supplies (like Chase Business Plus) a great hack is to buy $100 UBER gift cards through Staples and earn five points per dollar spent. I’ll then transfer those points to Chase Saphire Reserve and can an additional 50% bonus when booking travel. That adds up to 7 1/2% off all of our Uber rides for the year, before discounts. You just need to put in the gift card code to your app. At the same time, you can be earning Delta frequent flyer points on Lyft and other bonus programs that can get your savings closer to 10%. If two people in your household use Uber or Lyft they will occasionally get special offers. I found that the heaviest users like myself get the least special offers so it’s good to have my wife have an account open. For example, she just got five dollars off 10 rides ($50) for five dollars.
Something bigger going on.
By using services like Uber and Lyft, you’re tapping into the new on-demand economy and helping a small business owner. The drivers often own their cars and take great care of them. Chat them up, many of them have interesting stories to share, like the retired NASA engineer who gave me a ride to the airport in Tampa. At 70 years old, he really enjoys carting people around in his loaded, spotless Toyota Camry and telling stories.
In the not-too-distant future (like now) I see small families able to own just one car or maybe no cars. If you’re in a two or three car family, run the numbers. I can promise you it’s one of your largest expenses. Imagine if you got rid of just one of those cars and prioritized your transportation in the following order, based on distance:
With a single car that’s paid for, you’ll be saving on all kinds of auto-related interest and insurance, parking, other expenses. You’ll save money with short Uber rides and stay healthy some pleasant walks.