Some links to products and partners on this website will earn an affiliate commission.
I think it’s true to say of most cities in the USA (maybe excluding New York and San Francisco), that they only way to really get around is by car. There are limited alternative options available when it comes to getting around, especially in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Whilst we hired cars a couple of times, my fiancé is under 25 so would incur a surcharge of circa $20/day and doesn’t cope well driving on the “wrong” side of the road as we found out at an intersection in Mexico last year…
I didn’t want to spend the holiday being designated driver, so we decided to make use of so called “ride sharing” apps Uber or Lyft to get around town, with SuperShuttle to get us back to San Jose airport. These, sometimes controversial, services have exploded onto the scene over the past few years and I thought I’d share my experiences with you.
First though – make sure you’re on the right phone network for travelling abroad, as these services will use potentially expensive data connections!
What is Uber/Lyft, and what’s different from a Taxi?
The app based services use your phone’s GPS to locate you, and show you the location of the nearest drivers. You enter your destination, and the app gives you an estimate plus any “Surge” or “PrimeTime” mark ups during periods of peak demand. This is where the model diverges from standard Taxis, and you have to be careful when you request your trip – such as the person who got charged $1,100 for their trip home on New Year’s Eve during a 9.9x price surge…
For me the attraction is the process is completely cashless – you link your debit/credit card or PayPal account to your profile and off you go. No routing around for change or awkward situations when the driver “doesn’t have change for a 20”. This also means you can collect Rewards points from your linked card… Excellent! 😉
Your destination is also preloaded in the app – no need to explain or give directions which is useful if you don’t speak the local language.
Uber/Lyft to/from the Airport.
Airports on the West Coast seem to have accepted Ride Sharing as a legitimate transportation service here to stay, and have started designating official pick up areas for these services.
For example in Las Vegas:
The drivers must wait in a car park off site, so I’d recommend you request your trip as collect your luggage unless you fancy a 5-10min wait outside – and check the airport’s website in advance so you know where you’ll be picked up. The great thing is you can see your driver’s location and they can see yours, so they know exactly where to pick you up even within a large pick-up area.
Using my links above, you can also get your first trip with Uber up to $20 free (or up to $20 off), or $10 off with Lyft in the USA. I also receive a credit for each referee who signs up and takes a trip.
To give you an idea of the fees, I’ve put together a table comparing a Taxi, Uber and Lyft in Las Vegas to get from the airport to our North Strip hotel, the SLS:
Las Vegas Taxi
|Price per Mile||$2.76||$0.15||$0.15|
|Price per Minute||$0.50 (<8-12mph)||$0.90||$0.93|
|Credit card fee||$3.00||n/a||n/a|
|Estimated fare to SLS Las Vegas||$25.75 (cash)
I chose Lyft when we arrived (it seems to be bigger in Las Vegas than Uber), as I had a promo code for $5 off. The actual cost for our trip was $14.97, and I added a tip of $5 (which was essentially free due to my promo code) for the driver as he helped with our bags, and didn’t complain about us wanting to fit 4 suitcases in his Prius!
One thing to note is Lyft allows you to add tips in the app during payment and rating, Uber doesn’t seem to offer this option – I’m not sure of the protocol whether you should tip in cash or not – so unfortunately Uber drivers suffered our British ignorance of the “unwritten rules of tipping” and didn’t get tipped!
SuperShuttle Airport Transfers.
Whilst on the subject of airport transfers though, you need to ensure you check all your options, especially if you need to travel at peak times, or your airport is a long distance away.
We had to get from downtown San Francisco to San Jose airport to fly home. We had 5 cases (hey, we were flying First Class so we made the most of our baggage allowance!) which meant we realistically had to look at an SUV sized vehicle. Public transport was definitely out of the question.
Checking Uber and Lyft for cars of an appropriate size (which increases the cost), plus the surcharge as we were going to be travelling during the evening rush hour, my estimate was around $275! Whilst I understand it’s only an estimate, I didn’t hold out much hope for “light” traffic on the interstate to help bring that down.
Enter SuperShuttle – a company dedicated to airport transfers. Whilst offering the usual shared van transfer approach, they also have a partnership with ExecuCar so you can book private “Black Car” or “Premium SUV” transfers. The rate quoted by SuperShuttle is fixed, and for a Premium SUV for my transfer was $160 – much more acceptable than the Uber/Lyft estimate!
There are often promo codes available for 10% off, the approach is cashless just like Uber/Lyft, they allow cancellations for free up to 1hr before your scheduled trip departure and they have a similar app interface to Uber/Lyft that displays your driver’s location when it’s time to pick you up – no need to stand outside on the kerb scanning every car that drives past! You can also link your account to the major US airlines and earn miles – for me I chose to earn 150 Delta Skymiles due to their partnership with Virgin Atlantic so they may come in useful someday? And I never say no to free miles…
Getting around town with Uber/Lyft.
We used both services extensively in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and to a lesser extent in San Francisco as the city is more walkable and has better public transport.
The hotels in Vegas had designated pickup areas for Uber/Lyft, in LA they picked us up wherever was free outside the lobby.
Our experience in both Vegas and LA was that the rates were very cheap, especially compared to regular taxis. We never spent more than $15 on a trip, even during Surge/PrimeTime pricing, for the basic standard of car. By linking our Facebook profile to our Uber/Lyft accounts, the driver sees a picture of you to help them locate you when picking you up.
I found it significantly cheaper than renting a car, having the hassle of paying for fuel, finding and paying for parking and it meant I could have a beer or two with lunch as I wasn’t driving! At the Beverly Hilton in LA, overnight parking is $42. That alone will get you two or three 20-25min Uber/Lyft rides, that’s without factoring in the money you would spend actually hiring the car.
A novelty of the services is the option to “upgrade” the level of vehicle, whilst prices remain realistic. For example, we fancied leaving our Beverly Hills hotel in style, so we chose UberBLACK to transfer to our airport hotel. Cue a swanky Mercedes S-Class, suited chauffeur and complimentary bottled water, for $60. Ok, a standard Lyft or UberX would have probably been in the $20 range, but we were on holiday and got to sit in the freeway traffic travel across LA in style for an extra 40 bucks.
I am converted. As a traveller, Uber and Lyft are a relatively cheap and easy way to get around an unfamiliar city.
- You don’t have to scrap about for change in an unfamiliar currency
- You won’t fall foul of not “validating” your ticket for the bus/train at the seemingly hidden validation machines (I’m looking at you, European public transport systems!)
- You have no worries about missing your “stop” or the driver taking a circuitous route to run up the meter – Uber/Lyft track the journeys by GPS and give the driver the quickest suggested route. If they deviate without you instructing them to, you can complain to Uber/Lyft and get a refund.
- If you leave an item in the vehicle – the apps give you the option to contact the Driver via Uber/Lyft to try and retrieve it – no hope of that in a randomly hailed cab!
- You get to have a conversation with the more friendly drivers just like a taxi, but at lower prices.
- Surge/PrimeTime pricing. Watch out for this, or what you think will be a $15 trip can become extremely expensive. However this changes dynamically minute by minute, so waiting 5mins can save you $20!
- It requires you to use data on your mobile phone. If you don’t have an appropriate roaming plan, this will cost a small fortune if you can’t use public wifi.
- Credit card fees for foreign transactions – make sure you link the right card, or you’ll be facing a 3% fee for every journey!