Your Private Driver: Upgrade Ü

This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.

The vast majority of people using a ride-hailing app like Uber never think of using more than the default options for getting from one place to another. UberX if you want to ride solo, Pool if you really need a cheap ride, and maybe XL if you need to move a family gathering from one place to another. Sure, you may have glanced at the premium options like Select or Black out of curiosity, but as soon as you saw that price quote, shook your head and nope’d right back out of there.

Well, if you are feeling fancy for an evening, are those more expensive services worth it? What are you really getting for that price?

UberSelect is described as “a low-cost ride with an added touch of luxury.” The vehicles on this brand are all luxury sedans with leather seats, like Cadillac, Mercedes, or even Tesla. It’s a great look to impress a date or even go for a night out on the town without looking too out of place; you don’t want to pull up to Maestro’s in a Prius, do you? Or heck, maybe you just want something more comfortable after a long flight. Whatever the reason, this is a way to ensure a nice vehicle. Fares run a little over double the cost of an UberX on average.

UberBlack takes the ride-hailing experience to another level. The vehicles are all commercially-licensed luxury sedans or SUVs, all in black with black leather interiors. They’re also driven by professional drivers with appearances to match, not by the same average joes that you see on UberX. Think of it as “Uber First Class” and you get the idea. UberBlack is typically the service of choice for celebrities, executives, and in some cases even royalty. When appearances and service really matter, UberBlack is what you want. Fares run about triple the cost of UberX on average.

Here's a price comparison of all Uber's services for a sample ride from West Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles, a distance of roughly 14 miles.
Here’s a price comparison of all Uber’s services for a sample ride from West Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles, a distance of roughly 14 miles.

Other than just to show off, there can sometimes be practical reasons to use a premium service. One case is whenever Surge pricing is in effect. The different service levels actually all have different Surge criteria; when UberX is surging at 4X or more after the bars close or that Beyoncé concert finishes, UberSelect and UberBlack may not be surging at all. This means that you can get a luxury vehicle for significantly less than you’d end up having to pay for a Prius!

There’s another benefit that’s specific to UberBlack. Since this service only uses commercially licensed vehicles, their drivers are allowed to pick up and drop off in places where other TNC drivers can’t go. For example, how about curbside pick-up at airports instead of having to walk to a waiting lot several yards away? How about being able to get dropped off or picked up on the lower level of LAX during times of peak congestion, saving around twenty minutes or more? How about not having to track down a rideshare pickup zone at a large resort (like Disneyland or MGM Grand) or after a major event like Coachella?

There are two more service levels I haven’t mentioned yet, and you can probably see them in the chart above. Black SUV is identical to Black, with the exception of vehicles that can seat at least six passengers. Uber Lux has even fancier vehicles, stuff like Maseratis and Rolls Royces. Unless you’re just in a mood to splurge, I can’t really make a case for it at prices that five times the cost of UberX.

Lyft also has similar high-end services. Lyft Lux, formerly known as the less-likely-to-be-confused-with-anything-Uber-does Lyft Premier, is basically identical to UberSelect, pricing and all. Lyft Lux Black and Lux Black XL are that company’s black-car offerings. One major difference between Lux Black and UberBlack is that Lyft’s vehicles are not required to be commercially licensed and insured, which means that you’re not as likely to get a professional-quality driver. I guess they’re hoping you won’t notice the difference, because there’s no difference in price.

The final question you have to ask is that of price. No matter which service you choose, you’re looking at spending at least double what it would normally cost you to get from one place to another. Is the markup worth it? Hard to say for sure, but I think everyone owes it to themselves to try out one of the high-end options at least once. You’ve earned the right to spoil yourself a little, no?

Sekani Wright is an experienced TNC driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or at @djsekani on Twitter. Have a safe trip!