By Paul Reigler
Uber VIP is a little-known elite status program offered by ride-hailing service Uber in a limited number of cities, but it has gotten more attention recently since American Express partnered with the company. As a result American Express offers $200 per year in Uber ride credits as well as Uber VIP status to Platinum card members.
Customers who have Uber VIP status have access to Uber’s top drivers and vehicles, according to the company. However, Uber is somewhat vague about the benefits that Uber VIP status confers, saying only it “unlock exclusive perks, discounts, and giveaways where available.”
It’s important to note that the American Express $200 credit can only be applied to rides in the United States and that each month’s credit is good only during that month and will not be carried forward. In addition, American Express will give Platinum cardmembers double Membership Rewards points when paying Uber fares with the Platinum Card.
When the program was first introduced several years ago, it was simply called “VIP” and status was awarded to customers who completed 100 or more rides with Uber in a handful of cities including New York and Washington, D.C. Uber modified the requirements later to be ten rides per month on a regular basis.
USING UBER VIP
Uber says that the cost of a VIP ride will be “at par” with the price of a non-VIP ride although, in our brief time as a VIP member, we’ve seen the price quoted as much as 16% higher.
An Uber spokesman told Frequent Business Traveler that there is a known issue which is causing Uber VIP pricing to be “higher or lower” for a given ride and stated that the company is “quickly” working on fixing the problem.
From the app, a VIP member will see new options for uberX VIP and UberBlack VIP in addition to the standard services. What will you get by using Uber VIP? Uber says “only drivers with 4.8-star ratings” as well as “high-quality cars.”
For my first ride, I opted for uberX VIP for a $25 ride as there was little difference between the VIP and standard uberX fare. The original driver, who had an Infiniti, cancelled almost immediately after accepting and was replaced by a driver with a Toyota Rav4. The driver, it turned out, was also a driving school instructor and was quite pleasant. Not surprisingly, she was also a very safe driver.
For my return trip, I decided to see what the difference was since the rate should have been roughly the same. Uber quoted $3 less for an uberX ride in a Toyota Camry that was not only somewhat unkempt inside but also smelled awful, as if the driver had sprayed every possible type of air freshener into the car at once.
But back to the rates. On a ride from East 26th Street in Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport, the app showed an uberX VIP car would cost $66.58 while a standard uberX car would cost $58.69. A second check on that same ride showed uberX VIP at $70.55 while uberX would cost $60.96.
On the other hand, a ride from 525 Park Avenue to JFK would be $60.55 using uberX VIP and actually cost 43 cents more using a standard uberX driver. We finally saw similar pricing when looking at a ride from the Alley Pond Environmental Center in Bayside, Queens, to Penn Station in Manhattan, namely $60.67.
The Uber spokesperson recommended that passengers charged more for an Uber VIP ride contact support via the Help section of the app to have the difference refunded.
Uber VIP is only available in a few markets including Dallas, Denver, Nashville, New York City, and Washington, D.C. and there are fewer VIP cars on the road so Uber warns that the wait time for a VIP car and driver might be a bit longer than for a standard car.
The company calls Uber VIP a “rewards program” but, unlike what it offers in Singapore, where passengers can earn “Ucoins” that can be used towards free rides and UberEats orders, the only discernable benefits from the program as it now stands in the United States are the promise of a highly-rated driver and a “high-quality car,” which should have been a given.
Still, we’ve found that Uber does deliver on the promise of better drives and vehicles for Uber VIP rides and given that there is no additional cost for the service (the current glitch notwithstanding), we see Uber VIP status as something that does provide added value without any additional costs.