Booking an Uber is now like buying a plane ticket — you don’t know whether it’s a bad deal


When you purchase tickets for a plane ride home, you don’t have to do any maths.

It’s $350, take it or leave it. If you’re flying during a holiday like Thanksgiving, you expect to pay to more, but you don’t really know how much above average you’re paying.

Much like buying plane tickets, Uber has adopted a new model of pricing that shows your upfront fare.

A ride from Times Square to Brooklyn is $34 to $43. An UberX from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Golden Gate Park is $17 to $22.

It’s a slow change over the last few months that has obscured the real cost of a ride — and how much you might be overpaying in that moment to catch one.

Good-bye to surge

When Uber first launched, it calculated its fares like a taxi.

There’s the per-minute price and the per-mile price. If there was high-demand, Uber had “surge-pricing” which then multiplied that base fare. In addition, Uber had a booking fee (formerly known as a “safe rides” fee).

All of this information was listed on the receipts so you could see what you paid for.

Uber sidebyside
Early Uber receipts show that it used to call out fare costs. Almost two years to the date later, Uber now only shows the trip fare with no other information. Biz Carson/Business Insider

Over the summer, that information has slowly disappeared from all e-mailed receipts to customers. Instead, there’s a single trip fare that doesn’t say how it’s been calculated.

The only way to find out how much Uber is charging per base fare is to go to their website.

While the information used to be front-and-center, the company now requires users to estimate their fare first, then click a “question” mark to see how the charges vary — which can be a lot.

Last October, Business Insider pulled up each city page to track how much it was charging for its “Safe Rides” — a fee that ranges from $0 to $2.50, depending on the city.

Now customers have no idea if they’re in a city where Uber charges that extra fee, or how much it is.

Upfront, but not informative

Showing a pre-ride price is more transparent for what riders care about most. Most people would rather see what their ride will cost up front than be surprised by the bill. By showing one price for the ride, consumers don’t have to do any maths to estimate how much extra they will pay because of, say, a 1.7X surge.

But up-front fares also obscure how good or bad a deal a rider is getting.

When it comes to airline tickets, no one really likes the unknown of whether the price will drop the day after they bought their tickets, but they pay anyway because they don’t have a choice.

But with Uber, customers used to have that option and could assess whether it was worth paying extra. Riders could decide whether it’s worth paying 2x or 3x normal fare to get home during a rainstorm, or decide to wait until prices came down.

The new Uber’s now charging like an airline: you can take it or leave it. It’s up to you to decide its value.

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