A real-life Lyft driver explains how to experience a truly stylish premium ride with Uber’s UberLux, Lyft Premier or luxury-only Blacklane ride-hailing transportation app technology services, as well as how to best tip and how to stay safe when traveling abroad.
As a part-time Lyft driver on LA’s stress-filled streets and fast-moving freeways, I’ve learned about how best to glide around town in luxury while someone else does the driving. Could there be anything more indulgent than having your own driver in a detailed luxury sedan or SUV, especially in the always traffic-clogged City of Angels?
In fact, ride hailing services can be extremely cost effective. I picked up one woman in front of a lovely Hollywood Hills apartment building. She explained to me how she ditched her $500 a month car and insurance payment and now only spends about $175 a month on Lyft. “I now consider not driving to be a great luxury,” she explained.
However, ride hailing isn’t always glamorous and can even be dangerous. My gleaming black, almost-new Kia Optima Hybrid sedan may look like a luxury vehicle from the outside, but the interior certainly isn’t a leather-bound BMW, Mercedes or Audi. To truly get a premium ride, you need to order your car only from a luxury-minded ride hailing service.
And what if you encounter problems on a ride, especially in a foreign country? Plus, did you ever think about what’s fair when it comes to tipping drivers who cater to five-star passengers?
Here are my insights from driving in and around glamorous L.A. or any highly urban global destination:
Travelers who want to ride in style should NEVER go the budget-minded route of Lyft “line” or Uber “pool.” While sharing your ride can be a good way to save money, it can cost you in wasted time. And also sitting with strangers in a not-so-clean car is never fun (as in, some passengers don’t smell very good or may exhibit annoying behaviors like playing loud music or videos).
Luxury-minded locals and tourists should always pay extra for a premium car, and there are increasingly more ways to do that.
Berlin, Germany-based Blacklane is a premium-only ride hailing service with several advantages over Uber and Lyft. Firstly, you can order your car driven by a professional driver in advance. This guarantees that your stylish luxury vehicle will arrive on time and you won’t be left waiting if there are no available cars nearby.
Secondly, Blacklane is available in 50 countries and 180+ cities, equipped with drivers who expect a discerning high-tech customer. This means Blacklane drivers provide in-car WiFi connectivity, USB ports, chargers and other extras such as water and mints. You are given your driver’s contact information (who also tracks your flight or train’s arrival time) one hour in advance of your pickup time, and Blacklane’s customer service team is also available 24/7 via phone.
Thirdly, Blacklane cars can be ordered in four price and premium grade categories, including economy class (only in Asia and Latin-American cities driving a Toyota Camry or similar), business class (Mercedes E-Class or similar), business van/SUV (Mercedes V-Class or similar), and first class (BMW 7 Series or similar).
And finally, Blacklane has an “all-inclusive guarantee.” The final fare is provided prior to booking and includes all taxes, fees, tolls and gratuities. Cancellations won’t cost you if you cancel within one hour of your pick up time.
“I ordered each and every ride in advance to and from the airport and train stations on a three-country European tour,” says A Global Lifestyle publisher and editor-in-chief Aniesia Williams. “While leisurely sipping tea at my office computer, I happily typed in all of my airport and train station destinations, along with expected arrival times, flight information and other details,” she explains.
“Usually, when I’m waiting on the sidewalk for a car, I’m in “de-flight” mode. I’m stressed, tired and out of sorts. With Blacklane, a specific pick up location can be scheduled in advance and mated to your flight schedule, along with other passenger preferences for a seamless transition from plane or train to car to hotel.”
Uber pioneered the everyone-can-ride-in-luxury service Uber Black. However, to compete with Lyft’s new premier (see below) and niche luxury services, Uber will soon be launching UberLUX. This new service will combine premium vehicles (Tesla Model S, Mercedes Benz S-Class or BMW 7-Series) driven by Uber’s top-rated drivers.
Lyft is finally getting into the luxury ride game with its newly-launched Lyft Premier service, which matches you with a “high-end sedan or SUV like a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Lexus ES, or Cadillac Escalade in minutes.” (This service is only available for now in the Bay Area, L.A. and New York City.) For a limited time, get 20% off your first 10 Lyft Premier rides with this promo code: LyftPremier20. For $50 in Lyft’s basic service ($5 off your first 10 rides), download the Lyft app using my referral link: https://lyft.com/ica/SHERYLL898053.
Here’s more good advice on pickups, extras, where to sit (and where not to sit), what happens if your ride gets stopped by the police in a foreign country, and how to tip on short, medium, long and airport trips.
You can help drivers find you more easily by standing on the sidewalk in full view of the street. If you are in a difficult-to-find-or-reach spot, then find a major point of interest (POI) or exact address for the pick up with an unblocked driveway or empty stretch of sidewalk.
It is perfectly acceptable (and preferable) to “hail” the driver with a polite wave upon spotting their car. If you and your driver are having trouble connecting, always call and talk it through. Be prepared to walk to your driver or cross a street if you are able, or if you are on a hectic street or in a crowd of festival, theater or premiere goers.
Don’t sit in the front. It’s bad form to sit in the front unless there’s more than two riders. As a woman driver, I especially don’t want men to sit next to me. Unfortunately, people try to ride shotgun all the time. Be polite. Sit in the back and let me drive you like Miss Daisy.
Don’t expect any goodies, and tip for any stops or over-the-top needs fulfillment. Profit margins as a ride-hailing driver are slim so drivers cannot afford extras. I always supply a box of Kleenex in the back because people do, unfortunately, sneeze. For long rides, I offer each rider a small bottle of water in the middle of the trip. Although I do carry a stash of things people may need (everything from mints to bandages to tampons to pens to tape to a sewing kit), so far nobody has requested an item from my magic “emergency” bag. If you do make an odd request and the driver can fulfill it – especially if it is a short stop (I’ve had people ask me to let them pick up a paycheck or hit the ATM or a drugstore) — then always give a generous tip of at least $3-$5.
Don’t be stingy. Ride hailing services pay notoriously low wages, so tips are an important income supplement for drivers. Blacklane, Uber and Lyft drivers have their lives in your hands. If they are clean, friendly, safe, and go the extra mile for you or prove to be super helpful, then give five-star drivers a tip of $1-$3, even on short rides. Five bucks is considered an excellent tip for medium-length rides with top-level service.
If you are going to an airport that is always busy (especially LAX), then give your driver a $5-$10 tip for their time wasted sitting in airport traffic. Even five bucks takes the sting out of losing several rides while sitting on that blasted airport loop. And if your driver was extra helpful in stowing all your luggage or pushing to get you to your flight on time, then throw in a $20 tip.
Considering a long ride? Drivers have to pay for their own gas and aren’t guaranteed a ride back the way they came, so add a $5 tip or more for every 40 miles.
Using a ride-hailing service, especially in a foreign country, can be dangerous. A Global Lifestyle publisher Aniesia Williams and a colleague recently took an Uber from a posh restaurant in Milan, Italy, back to the city’s historic five-star Dorchester Collection property Le Principe di Savoia when her Uber driver was pulled over by the local police.
In what seemed to be a shakedown of their cash and documents, Williams says the best thing to do is what she did: Call your hotel to confirm for the authorities that you are in town on business (or leisure) and ask for recommendations on how to handle the situation.
Also, when you arrive and throughout your stay, Williams recommends chatting with the hotel staff to alert them that you’ll be using ride-hailing services to get around. That way, hotel staff are well-informed of your presence if and when an emergency situation arises.
Williams and her colleague also smartly refused to hand over identification, such as passports, to any authority. (Thankfully, their passports were stowed safely in the hotel’s safe.) She recommends that travelers stash the hotel’s business card in their wallet upon arrival so it’s handy for just such potentially nefarious occasions.
Ride hailing app technologies for stylish rides from Blacklane, Lyft and Uber certainly can be cost effective, fun and freeing for locals and tourists. For those seeking the always-luxury global lifestyle, these tips can help you not only be a better and safer rider but show you how to get more out of each trip.