Uber or Lyft? The two titans of rideshare apps duke it out for your loyalty, but also for your cash. Both have been in hot water over their policies. Uber has especially been rocked by scandal — most recently, Uber drivers protested, demanding fair pay and reasonable working hours ahead of a multibillion-dollar IPO. Earlier in May, Lyft was sued by investors for overstating its market share.
But if saving money is what motivates you to choose Lyft or Uber over another, there’s a lot to know about everything that goes into the cost, down to subscription services and how much you’re encouraged to tip.Uber and Lyft have different tiers of service, from the basic single ride to shared rides (UberPool and Shared Lyft, respectively), to a luxury car (Uber Black, Lux and Black SUV on one hand and Lyft Lux, Lux Black and Lux XL on the other). Since this is about saving you money, we’ll put aside the luxury lines and focus on the economy rides and shared trips. Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft make it really hard to pick the “winner” because so much about the price varies depending on the time of day, where you are and how many other people want a ride right now. But there are good rules of thumb to follow that can help you get the best possible rate. Here’s everything you need to know about Lyft and Uber’s ability to save you cash. (Skip to the end for the final breakdown.)
How Uber and Lyft pricing worksLyft and Uber both break down trip fees by the base fare, the distance, the duration of the drive and a fixed service or booking fee. Prices can change based on demand and traffic for both services, which makes it tough to nail down which is cheaper when. For example, if there are fewer drivers on the road during a busy time, either app might be pricier, even charging 1.5x the normal price during peak hours.
Best tip: Load both the Uber and Lyft apps on your phone and compare the price at the time you want a ride. It only takes a few extra seconds that can save you dollars. The farther you’re going, the more you can save by comparing them at the same time.As an example, Uber estimates an 8-minute, 2.9 mile trip in Louisville, KY (where I live) on a Thursday at 2:00 p.m. would cost $7.20 minimum. It’s important to know that the minimum cost for any Uber trip is a flat booking fee that’s added to each trip. For a field test of the pricing, I took an Uber to lunch and a Lyft back to the office an hour and a half later. Traffic was equivalent and so was the duration of my ride. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison by any means, but I did want to see if there was a big difference in pricing: For my trip, both Lyft and Uber’s base fares were $1.00. Uber’s cost per minute $0.22 higher than Lyft, but Lyft’s cost per mile was five cents less than Uber’s. I tipped both drivers $2.00, as well. On a different day, those prices could easily be reversed depending on rider demand and driver availability at any given time in any given intersection. The one concrete takeaway from this, is that the moment you hail an Uber or Lyft, you’re in for $7.50 to $10, even if you only drive three blocks.
Shared trips will save you money, but there’s a catchBoth Uber and Lyft offer shared rides, which pair you with another passenger with similar pickups locations and destinations. You can hail a carpool with up to two people, and essentially, you’re splitting the cost of the ride, but based again on complicated algorithms that include the time of day and all that. In some cases, a shared ride costs half the price of a private car; other times there’s little difference.
Shared rides can take longer, and the time can add up if the driver picks up a passenger while you’re en-route, especially on long rides. You also have no control over your drop-off priority, so build in plenty of time if you’re headed, say, to the airport. For my field test, UberPool wasn’t available when I went to lunch a second time specifically to test these services for myself. Google Maps calculated a trip from Union Square in California to San Francisco International Airport to be about 12.7 miles and 21 minutes on a Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. While a shared ride with Uber might be a bit cheaper or less complicated in theory, you’ll still want to compare both services simultaneously to pick which one actually costs you less that day and that time.
Tip: Savvy riders will hail a shared ride if they’re not in a rush. If the driver doesn’t pick up an extra passenger, you’ve just had a solo ride for the price of a carpool.
Tipping: Uber wins on flexibilityUber and Lyft both encourage driver tips with suggestions for either a cash amount (e.g. $1, $3) or a percentage (e.g. 15%, 18%), depending on the final price of the ride. But Uber gives you much more flexibility over the extra you’ll pay. Where Lyft only let us add tips in dollar increments in our many rides, only Uber lets you pay any amount you want, from as little as a penny tip (but don’t do that) to a specific target like $5.15, or, more likely, $5.50. Uber also lets you split tips with another rider. These concessions give you more control over your total spend, which means you don’t have to feel like you’re overtipping if the right amount for you falls somewhere in between the dollar increment (especially for short rides). Lyft used to let you do this, but removed the option in 2018. Both companies give drivers get 100% of the tip, and let you add extra cash up to 72 hours after the ride’s complete. The moral of the tipping story is that if you want more control over tips, Uber will save you the most money if you want to thank your driver on your own terms.
Subscriptions save you money if you ride a lotUber and Lyft both have subscription plans for frequent riders, and trust us, it’s worth looking at the fine print.
Uber’s murky Ride Pass saves up to 15% on ridesUber’s Ride Pass subscription service for UberX and Uber Pool promises to “consistently” save you money on each ride, regardless of traffic, weather conditions or time of day. Uber said you can save up to 15%, but that number could vary, and it isn’t clear if you’ll mostly hover in the 10% savings range or closer to 15%. That’s uncomfortably vague for our liking, especially since Ride Pass costs $25 per month. One benefit, though, is that prices won’t go up because of a traffic jam or a freak snowstorm, for example. If the ride costs $20 when you book it, that’s how much you’ll pay, no matter what. Price protection, as Uber calls this benefit, is already available for platinum level Uber Rewards members, but it only covers two routes, like your morning commute and the ride home. Ride Pass price protects every ride for subscribers. The pass also gives you a 30-minute free use of Jump e-bikes and scooters if they’re in your city. That’s a nice bonus if you want to travel a short distance and don’t want to go to the trouble of hailing a ride, but Uber does say it’s a limited-time offer, without sharing what the limit is (the deal’s still ongoing at the time of writing).
Even more plans from LyftLyft also offers a Commute Plan and a Personal Plan, which differ from the Smart Savings and All Access plans. The Commute Plan applies to the addresses you’ve saved as home and work. The Personal Plan applies to the designated pick-up and drop-off points selected at the time of your ride purchase. Either plan can cost between $2.00 and $10.00 depending on the route you’ve locked in, according to information from Lyft. The plans are also only available to select riders by invitation only. We didn’t learn what qualifies a driver for this plan or who sends the invitations.
Uber Cash Rewards Program can save money in pointsUber’s free membership rewards program gives you points for rides and Uber Eats orders that’ll add up to Uber Cash. You won’t save money off your bill as you would with these other programs, but you can recoup some of your costs in other ways. Uber Cash can also get you 5% off on the money you add to your balance, and the funds never expire. You earn different points with different Uber fares:
- UberPool, Express Pool, Uber Eats: 1 point per dollar
- UberX, UberXL and select rides: 2 points per dollar
- Uber Black and Black SUV: 3 points per dollar
- Tipping drivers or on deliveries
- Paying cancellation fees
- Portions of ride covered by a promotion
- Portions of trips paid by another rider through split fare
- Damage or cleaning fees
- Purchasing Uber Cash, credits or Ride Passes directly
- Taxi, bike, and scooter rides
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Also important to note that unlike most companies, Lyft doesn’t treat gift cards as a form of payment. Instead, they are treated as promotions or credits that can’t be combined with promotions such as “25 percent off for being a five-star rider.”
I was unfortunate enough to discover this after purchasing a gift card for my significant other who had a discount that didn’t apply — Lyft support was adamant that the gift card was a promotion (even though it was purchased at full price) and couldn’t be combined. This is entirely different from places like CVS, Starbucks, most grocery stores, etc. The gift card balance also cannot be applied toward a tip.