My Review of Uber Rewards

As a carless commuter, I was initially excited when Uber rolled out its Uber Rewards loyalty program. But in the intervening weeks I've had an opportunity to review the benefits and decide how likely they are to incentivize my loyalty to Uber. Here's the chart for reference:

When the program launched, I started at the Gold level due to how much I spent with Uber during the previous six months. This level includes two benefits beyond those of Blue: priority support and flexible cancellations.

The priority support benefit entitles me to access the priority support team from within the Uber app, which is supposedly made up of experienced support agents. However, the company makes no guarantees about response times. If you manage to navigate through the maze of canned support situations and find one of the tiny, hidden text fields Uber doesn't want you to use, only then can you actually submit a free-form question and make use of this benefit.

Unfortunately the priority support team's answers, in my experience, are scripted and rarely helpful. I shudder to think what non-priority support looks like for the uncleansed Blue members. In fact, my experience so far with Uber's customer support has been so abysmally bad that I've been giving nearly all of my business to Lyft. In a future post I'll compare my customer support experiences with Lyft and link here for clarity.

The flexible cancellations benefit allows me to cancel a ride request and avoid a cancellation fee providing I request a new ride within fifteen minutes of the cancellation. At first glance, this benefit doesn't sound very valuable to me because I almost never cancel a ride request. The only time I ever do this is when the Pool timer is making me wait five minutes and in that time Lyft offers a competitive rate.

And if I'm cancelling the ride request, why would I request a new ride? I suppose if I forgot something or otherwise needed to delay my ride this might be useful. But in practice this never happens to me. The fine print makes this benefit even less attractive since Pool and Express rides are not eligible, and it can only be used once in an hour and up to three times in six months.

After reaching Platinum status I earned two new benefits: price protection and priority pickups at airports. I don't have much to say about the latter because I don't travel for work. When I return home from personal travel, the regular pickup times I experience at the airport are acceptable. This could just be that San Diego International Airport is smaller and drivers are plentiful. Maybe the benefit would be more useful in other cities with larger airports. But the vast majority of airports I travel to are in foreign cities with strong public transit options and wouldn't be eligible for these benefits anyway.

I was very interested in the price protection benefit since it offers protection from congestion pricing between two locations of my choosing. It was my hope to leverage this benefit and avoid congestion pricing between home and work. Unfortunately the fine print strikes again because Pool and Express are not eligible and the price protection ceiling is about 30% above the regular price, except during very heavy congestion and then the discount is limited to 20%.

So let's say an UberX ride from home to work normally costs me $18; Uber is promising the price will not exceed $23 under normal congestion. If the surge price is $25 then I will pay $23. But if the surge price is greater than 20% above $23, say $30, then by my reading of the rules I will pay pay $25. I arrived at this by adding the $23 ceiling and the difference of $30 and 20% above $23.

Are you confused yet? If you'll recall from my last post, a typical Pool ride to work costs about $12.42. So using this benefit would cost me almost twice what I currently pay. I made up the $18/$23 numbers above but I was offered approximately $23 in price protection when I selected my home and work locations. If we assume $23, the maximum savings Uber is offering for my route is just under $5. If I were the type of customer to spend double on UberX rides, would I really care to save up to $5 on occasion?

Although some of the Diamond level benefits might be interesting, I will never spend enough to reach them. The most valuable benefit is actually the one offered to all levels: 1% cash back. I would like to point out that Blue has two benefits listed but they're actually the same benefit. Every $1 of Pool and Eats spending earns 1 point, and every 500 points earns $5 in Uber credit. (UberX earns 2% back and Black earns 3% back.)

The cash back offering is not enough to incentivize steady loyalty over Lyft, but it does slightly change the economics of ridesharing in general. The bottom line for me is the Uber Rewards program does little to encourage loyalty as a commuter. As with my last post, I'm left wondering who this program was designed for.

Related to: Economics of Uber's Ride Pass