I’ve been driving for Uber and Lyft for nearly five years and literally wrote the book on rideshare. In that time, I’ve learned a ton about how to make the most money as a driver, but also how passengers can save on the cost of their rides.
Typically, Uber and Lyft are cheap and reliable transportation options but we’ve all heard horror stories of people being charged hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for a short ride. Even without those horror stories, you’ve probably felt the pinch of a pricey ride or two. Luckily, there are several ways you can easily save money on your next Uber or Lyft ride.
1. Sign up for both Uber and Lyft
One thing many “saving money on Uber” articles won’t tell you is how to evaluate pricing between Uber and Lyft. There is a difference in how much they charge passengers! Let’s take a typical vacation itinerary, the San Diego Zoo to SeaWorld. Taking UberX (we’ll get into the differences in Uber options next) will cost you around $15.
Breaking it down, Uber charges passengers:
Base Fare: $0
Booking fee: $2.65
Minimum fare: $6.65 (no matter what, this is what a minimum fare will cost you)
Per minute: $.15
Per mile: $1.16
That exact same route with a regular Lyft would cost, according to the fare estimator, $12-15. That’s because Lyft’s San Diego pricing breaks down as:
Base Fare: $0
Service fee: $2.65 (same as Uber’s booking fee)
Minimum fare: $4 ($2.65 less than Uber’s minimum fare in San Diego)
Per minute: $.15
Per mile: $1.16
This won’t be the same for every city, but don’t assume that because Uber is more ubiquitous means that it’s cheaper. Lyft may be less expensive, so it makes sense to download both apps and compare prices before requesting a ride. You can even download an app like Bellhop, which is what I use and recommend, in order to compare the cost of Uber and Lyft for you.
Additionally, both companies offer discounts to compete for passenger loyalty, which means savings for you! Keep an eye on your inbox (as Uber and Lyft will occasionally send promotions there) and on your Uber and Lyft apps.
2. Avoid Surge and Prime Time pricing
Uber and Lyft are constantly tweaking their Surge (Uber) and Prime Time (Lyft) rates. Surge and Prime Time refer to when it is very busy (for example, when a big concert or game concludes and everyone is leaving the stadium, demand for rides is skyrocketing and the supply of drivers is low.
How Surge and Prime Time are calculated is difficult to determine: Uber and Lyft won’t tell us exactly how the factors all work together. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can save money as a passenger.
If you’re in a swarm of people all looking to go home after a game, consider the following options to save money:
Walk away from surge
Walk away from where everyone is requesting a ride and then request your ride. You can actually set your location a few blocks away and see if the price is lower. This may put you just out of Surge/Prime Time pricing. Here’s what the driver’s app looks like when it’s Surge time. You can see that just walking one block can take Surge down by 0.1 and the further you walk away from a big Surge zone, the cheaper your fare gets.
If you’re really motivated, you could even sign up to drive with Uber so that you can study the Surge patterns. I do this whenever I’m requesting a ride as a passenger and it’s saved me money, since I can see if Surge is going up/down over time and I can tell which direction to walk to to get out of the Surge zone.
Wait out the cost of your ride
Can you go get something to eat or drink before requesting a ride? The time spent doing something else could let the Surge/Prime Time conditions to relax, meaning by the time you request, higher prices could be gone.
In fact, Uber is testing out making fares cheaper for those passengers who will wait. According to Quartz, Uber is testing “a feature that gives riders the option to trade a shorter wait for a cheaper fare.” Currently, this feature is only being tested among Uber employees in San Francisco and Los Angeles but, if successful, we could see it rolled out to passengers nationwide.
This works best when demand peaks after the end of a sporting event, for example, when everyone wants to go home, or right when the bars let out and everyone is requesting rides.
Lyft won’t always be the cheapest, but since Uber has the majority market share, sometimes Uber’s Surge pricing is higher than Lyft’s Prime Time. Again, make sure to download both apps and compare pricing before requesting a ride.
3. Get free rides
One of the easiest ways to get cheaper (or even free) rides on Uber or Lyft is by referring other passengers! Simply share your passenger referral code (you’ll find it in your passenger account — it is your “Invite Code” with Lyft). The nice thing about this option is that you get a free ride and your invitee gets a free ride, too, when they use your link.
You can email family/friends your referral link, share your code with coworkers, or invite people through social media. Just be careful about spamming: While not everyone has heard of or used Uber/Lyft, plenty of people have, so you don’t want to get too aggressive in oversharing.
4. Try out a ridesharing subscription plan
Many of us are already familiar with subscription plans, and Lyft (and to a smaller degree, Uber) are capitalizing on that familiarity by adding subscription plans to rideshare. According to The Verge, Lyft is expanding its monthly subscription plans nationwide. While many riders are being waitlisted right now, some Lyft users in major cities should see a option to join the waitlist when they open the app.
Those interested in joining what are called All-Access Plans “would pay $200 upfront for $15 off 30 rides… any ride $15 or less is free, and for rides over $15, passengers pay the difference.” Not all passengers will have access to these plans, but if you are offered the chance to buy an All-Access Plan, your invite will look similar to the image below.
Photo credit: TheVerge.com
Uber offers something similar to Lyft’s All-Access Plan, but on a much smaller scale. Your Uber Ride Pass will “unlock benefits such as discounts on eligible rides through payment of a one-time activation fee.” According to Uber, ride passes are still in testing and are only available for a limited number of rides per month.
5. Consider sharing your ride
Did you know Uber and Lyft let you share your ride, making your overall fare cheaper? In some cases, you may be the first to be dropped off (ahead of your fellow passengers), making it an almost seamless interaction. You can save a few dollars or more on your ride if you’re willing to take UberPOOL or Lyft Line.
With UberPOOL or Lyft Line, you request a ride through POOL or Line (you’ll be given the option on your passenger screen) and then are partnered with a driver and another passenger (or two) that are going in the same direction as you. By taking POOL/Line, you’ll save money because you are sharing your ride.
Your fellow passenger(s) may be dropped off before your stop or after, so if you’re in a hurry (or running late for the airport), POOL/Line might not be a good choice. However, if you’re willing to share a ride and add on potential time to your ride, it’s a good option to save some money.
Let’s take our vacation example again, except this time in Nashville, Tennessee. You could shave off just about a dollar going from the Grand Ole Opry to the Country Music Hall of Fame by taking an UberPOOL instead of an UberX (single ride).
Taking the same route with Lyft Line versus regular Lyft, you could save $1-3.
Depending on if it is offered in your city, you could save even more using Uber’s Express POOL. Express POOL is similar to UberPOOL in that you share your ride with other passengers and share the cost of your trip. However, with Express POOL, you will be directed to an Express spot for pick-up.
When you’re dropped off, you will be dropped off in another Express spot, which means you won’t be directly dropped off in front of your hotel, Airbnb, event, or wherever you’re heading. However, you could save a few more dollars for just a couple extra steps, making it another attractive option to save money on rideshare costs.
Bonus tip: Use Uber or Lyft a Lot? You might be getting overcharged
Now, this gets a little tricky, but if you use Uber or Lyft a lot, this trick might save you a lot of money. This doesn’t happen in every case, but over at TheRideshareGuy.com, one of our contributing writers found that Uber has the tendency to charge frequent (or business) riders more than casual riders.
Our RSG writer, Will Preston, found that when he requested a ride through his wife’s account, she was quoted a reasonable fee, whereas when he requested through his frequently-used Uber account, he was quoted higher prices. You can read more about his methodology and findings here, but the takeaway is to be strategic about how/where you request rides.
He says that if you want to pay the advertised prices for your market and no more, set your destination to something on the way to where you’re going. Then, on the way, change your destination to your actual one.
Using one or several of these strategies will help you save money on your future rides with Uber or Lyft. By downloading both apps, comparing prices, sharing your ride (and your referral code!) and being aware of upcharges, you can take advantage of all of the benefits ridesharing has to offer while keeping more of your hard-earned money in your pocket.
Harry Campbell is a former Boeing Aerospace Engineer and founder of TheRideshareGuy.com, a blog, podcast and Youtube channel for Uber and Lyft drivers. He is also the author of a new book titled The Rideshare Guide: Everything you need to know about driving for Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies.