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TPG Contributor Steven Ganeles shares a cautionary tale about what happened to him on a recent trip to China, and why he thinks you should consider using Uber or Lyft as an alternative to local taxis abroad.
Public transportation is usually a great way to get around when traveling internationally — it’s cheap, easy to use and tends to run frequently and reliably. Its only real flaw is that there’s usually a point where the subway stops running, as not all cities have 24/7 service, so it’s a good idea to do your homework and find out the closing times when traveling abroad.
On a recent trip to Shanghai, both public transit options from Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) to the city were closing down as I cleared customs. In order to save some money, I took the Shanghai Maglev Train from the airport as far as it would take me and planned to grab a cab from the Longyang Road Station the rest of the way to my hotel.
I followed all the conventional street smart rules for hiring a taxi in a foreign country — only go to a taxi stand, never get in the car with someone heckling to give you a ride, carry cash and always make the driver turn on the meter — but somehow I still managed to get into a cab with a rigged meter and ended up getting ripped off. My 17-minute trip from Longyang Road Station to the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel cost me 310 Yuan (~$46), while according to TaxiFarefinder.com, the trip should have cost at most 45 Yuan (~$7).
The experience left me angry and embarrassed. I knew I’d be heading back to the airport in just a few days to fly to Taipei and that my flight would once again be during the off-hours when the train wouldn’t be operating. At this point, I opened up my Lyft and Uber apps and realized I could use them to get around town without worrying about getting scammed by another taxi driver.
Using Lyft and Uber Abroad
Lyft currently operates in a ton of US cities as well as nine cities outside of the US, including Bali, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila, Phuket, Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Uber has a much larger international presence, operating in a total of 76 countries in 473 cities around the world.
In other countries, Uber has different ride options compared to those offered in the US, with some being cheaper than others. When I checked in Shanghai, I was given five options: UberX, UberXL, Uber Sedan, Shared Ride and People’s Uber +, which was the most interesting — and most affordable — option, designed around the idea of Uber not making any profit on rides, but just covering the costs drivers spend on gas and tolls. The company said it launched People’s Uber in China because “Chinese consumers are known to be early adopters of technology, and municipal governments have acted quickly to support forward thinking initiatives that improve the city’s quality of life.”
Since Lyft isn’t yet available in Shanghai, I opted for Uber. As always, the app was easy to use, the driver arrived within 10 minutes and my 45-minute ride from the hotel to the airport only ended up costing me 263 Yuan (~$39). Had I taken the cheapest option, People’s Uber +, the ride would have cost around 140 Yuan (~$21).
A Final Tip
Uber also allows you to earn 2x Membership Rewards points when you pay with an eligible American Express credit card, like the Platinum Card from American Express — you can even redeem Membership Reward points for free rides. If Uber or Lyft are available in a city where you’re traveling, both options can be an efficient and economical way to get around.
Have you ever had a problem with taxis abroad? Tell us about it, below.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That's up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees