Ridesharing apps have been around for the better part of a decade, but if you’re behind the trend, it’s not too late to learn how to use Uber and Lyft when you travel.
You can take an Uber or Lyft ride pretty much any time you’d normally use a taxi—like getting to and from the airport, returning to your hotel late from a restaurant or bar, or making quick trips across town. Uber and Lyft’s rates are generally cheaper than those of a local cab, and all payments are made through the app on a stored credit card, so you don’t need to worry about carrying cash.
It’s easy to use Uber and Lyft, too. You don’t need to look up the phone number of the nearest cab company, fumble your way through a call in the local language, or stand out on a curb waving your arm at taxi after taxi. Instead, you tap a few buttons on your phone and you’re on your way.
Intrigued? Read on to learn how to use Uber or Lyft on your next trip.
How to Use Uber and Lyft
Your first step is to download the app. Both are free for iOS (Uber | Lyft) and Android (Uber | Lyft). Then you’ll set up the app with basic personal details including your name, email address, cell phone number, and credit card information.
When you’re ready to request a ride, open the app. It will pinpoint your location (note that this requires either a Wi-Fi or data connection). On Uber, you’ll be asked to type in your destination, and you’ll get a list of ride options as well as an estimated price. You can change your pickup location by clicking on the “My Location” button.
On Lyft, you’ll set your pickup location first and see a list of how far away the nearest Lyft car is. Once you confirm your location, you can enter your destination to get a price estimate.
After you’ve requested your ride, both apps will let you know the whereabouts of your driver as well as a rough ETA. You’ll also see the driver’s name and the kind of car he or she will be driving. If you cancel the ride or fail to show up at the pickup location within a timely fashion, you could incur a fee.
Once you’re in the car and your ride has started, you’ll be able to track the progress of your trip on a map in the app. You’ll also see an estimated time of arrival.
At the end of your ride, you’ll see a final confirmation of the price of your ride and get a chance to add a tip within the app. It’s all done on your saved credit card, with no cash required. How much should you tip? A good rule of thumb is to give whatever you would tip a cab driver in that location.
You’ll also be able to rate your driver. Although the ratings range from one to five stars, most riders leave the best possible score unless something goes wrong (on Uber, you’ll even have to explain any rating below five stars). Drivers will also rate you as a rider, though there’s currently no way to see your rider rating on Lyft without emailing the company. The Uber app will display your rider rating once you’ve taken at least five rides.
The app will send a receipt to the email address on file.
Lyft vs. Uber
Which is better, Uber or Lyft? When it comes to service, there are more similarities than differences. Many travelers have both apps on their phone, and many drivers work for both services. Prices are fairly similar in most cities, and the apps are both easy to use.
One main difference is that Uber is a larger company, so in some locations it has more drivers than Lyft. However, many travelers now prefer Lyft thanks to a string of controversies at Uber over the past few years, ranging from sexual harassment claims to questionable business practices. (Business Insider came up with an exhaustive list of 40 such scandals.)
If you’re a new rider and you want to give both services a try, keep an eye out for promo codes that will give you a free ride. Often you can get these via a referral from an existing user or by doing a Google search for “Uber promo code” or “Lyft promo code.”
Uber and Lyft Ride Categories
Both Uber and Lyft offer various types of rides tailored to everyone from budget travelers to large groups.
On Uber, the most popular offering is UberX, which is a private ride in a sedan holding one to four riders. UberSelect is a similar but pricier option with more stylish cars and highly rated drivers. Those on a budget can consider UberPOOL, which matches you up with other riders going in the same direction.
If you need more space, consider UberXL or UberSUV. Both types of rides can hold up to six passengers, but UberSUV offers luxury vehicles and is more expensive. Another premium option is UberBLACK, with “high-end black cars” that Uber describes as “great for business or date night.” UberLUX takes it a step further with luxury cars and professional drivers.
Finally, Uber also offers wheelchair-accessible cars, called UberWAV, in many cities.
Lyft’s standard offering is simply called Lyft, holding up to four passengers, while its economy-priced carpool option is known as Line. Premium options include Premier (up to four passengers, high-end vehicles), Lux (up to four passengers, luxurious black cars), and Lux SUV (upscale black SUVs seating up to six). For more affordable larger vehicles, book a Plus car, which seats up to six riders.
If you need an accessible ride, Lyft offers Access Mode in some cities. Where this isn’t available, the company may connect you with other local providers. Learn more here.
Disadvantages of Uber and Lyft
There are plenty of great reasons to use Uber or Lyft when you travel, but these services have their drawbacks.
First off, they’re not available everywhere. Some airports, cities, and even countries have banned ridesharing apps, including Vancouver and Bulgaria. (This is generally to protect the livelihood of local taxi drivers.) In other places, Uber and/or Lyft may not have broken into the market yet. Check out this list of Uber alternatives to see whether there are any local companies offering similar services.
Secondly, you’ll want to watch out for surge pricing. Both Uber and Lyft raise fares—significantly, in some cases—at times of high demand, such as at the end of a major sporting event or late at night when all the bars are closing. This could mean paying three or four times the usual fare. At such times you might want to consider a cab instead.
Are Uber and Lyft Safe?
Safety is an obvious concern when you’re getting into a car with a stranger. A recent Newsweek report found that more than 120 Uber and Lyft drivers have been accused of rape, sexual assault, or kidnapping over the past four years. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether regular taxi rides are any safer.
Both Uber and Lyft take a variety of measures to keep riders safe, including background checks for drivers, a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy, and bans on guns and other weapons. Both apps also let you send an ETA to a friend during your ride, which is meant as a convenience (so your friend can see when you’ll arrive) but can also be a safety measure that allows someone else to track where you are.
For more information and advice, see 10 Important Rideshare Safety Tips for Travelers.
More from SmarterTravel:
- How Airbnb and Uber Are Changing Travel
- How Much an Airport Uber, Taxi, or Rental Car Costs Around the Globe
- Uber’s Flying Taxis Could Be Airborne by 2020
Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.