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If you’ve been a reader of The Points Guy for a while now, you’ll know that though air travel is our favorite mode of transportation, we’ll still travel by land if we believe it is more convenient or if there’s a more unique experience that comes with it. For instance, back in September, TPG contributor J. Keith van Straaten shared his experience riding the hotel on wheels, Cabin, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and in December, TPG chief of staff Adam Kotkin shared his experience taking the long way from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Grand Express luxury train. When I heard that Tesloop could provide me with a more convenient, affordable and unique experience than flying between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, I knew I had to try it out.
Tesloop is a sustainable city-to-city ride-sharing service operated entirely by Teslas — perfect for reducing your carbon emissions. As the name suggests, the cars run on a constant loop like a bus line. The company, which is not affiliated with Tesla Motors, was founded in May of 2015 by Haydn Sonnad who had just turned 16 years old and was still a sophomore in high school at the time. After getting his driver’s license, Sonnad wanted a car of his own. More specifically, he wanted a $70,000 Tesla Model S. Straying off the usual path towards car ownership, he figured that he could get his dream car and cover the lease and insurance payments — the car came with free charging at the time — by driving people between Los Angeles and Las Vegas a couple times a week. If things didn’t work out, he’d leverage Tesla’s “Happiness Guarantee,” which promises that you could return a leased or financed car within three months, no questions asked.
Reality hit when he realized that he couldn’t get the commercial insurance necessary to operate the shuttle at his age, but his father, and now the CEO of the company, saw potential in the business idea and helped him turn it into an actual company. Sonnad soon found himself among a team of co-founders along with seed funding from Clearstone Ventures and angel investors.
Today, Tesloop has a team of about 70 people, eight cars in its fleet and eight more on order. Although his high school was very accommodating of the increased commitments that came with launching the company, Sonnad decided to undertake a gap year before starting college this fall. He explained that he enjoys working with his father and believes that he is learning a lot more by taking this approach than going straight to college.
The company’s first route did end up being between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but that route has since been discontinued and all of the cities currently looped together are within Southern California.
Although the booking process used to be handled manually and required you to call when Tesloop was first launched, it’s much more seamless now and can be completed online. Tesloop will release its own a mobile app in March so it will be even easier to make bookings on-the-go then.
On the first page of the booking process, I was asked to enter my starting and ending addresses along with travel date. Note, Tesloop does not provide door-to-door service, but rather uses the addresses to find the closest designated pick-up and drop-off spots; also, the system only permits one-way bookings so you’ll need to make two separate bookings for round-trip travel.
I was then presented with all of the trips leaving my area that day — including ones that were fully booked. There were rides departing as early as 5:48am and as late as 11:11pm. However, since I was making my booking the night before departure, my options were limited. There was only one trip left with an open seat and, unsurprisingly, it was the one leaving at 5:48am. I’m typically not a morning person, but I figured that it would give me the full day in Palm Springs so I proceeded with the booking.
The next step was to select my seat. There are 4 seats available on any Tesloop — one in the first row, two in the second and one in the third. In this case, the only seat left was the one right behind the driver, but had it been available, I could have saved $10 by booking the seat in the third row.
Prices vary between $29 and $79 depending on time and seat, but can be higher around major holidays or events such as Coachella. In comparison, bus and train tickets typically cost around $30 each way, Uber and Lyft around $150 and flights around an outrageous $400. That being said, Tesloop’s biggest competition is people driving themselves and that sets you back roughly $25 in gas depending on the car. My seat came out to $59, which I paid for using my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points for the travel purchase; TPG readers can save 30% off their first ride by booking with the code TPG30.
Prior to completing my booking, I was shown a map with my trip’s full route. I’d be joining the loop at Noah’s Bagel in Culver City and getting off at the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs. We’d also be making two stops in the Los Angeles area to pick up other passengers along the way, but wouldn’t be needing to stop to charge the electric car.
Cancellations are easy and free. Similar to Southwest’s Wanna Get Away fares, trips cancelled prior to 24 hours of booking will get the money back in full to the original form of payment and those cancelled anytime after will be refunded in the form of a travel credit.
Each traveler is allowed to bring one medium-sized suitcase plus two personal items free of charge. If you have oversized or additional luggage, you will need to purchase one extra seat in the third row.
About an hour before my scheduled departure time, I received a text from Myk, the concierge for my trip. The text confirmed departure details and also included other information such as my pilot’s — what Tesloop calls their drivers — name and color of my car.
I arrived at the designated pick-up spot at about 5:40am for my 5:48am departure. In this case, it was the parking lot of a small shopping center, but the roughly 100 other pick-up locations include hotels and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). At about 5:45am, a Tesla Model X with the company’s logo on the sides pulled in and immediately illuminated the parking lot. Its falcon wing doors popped open like a Batmobile and then Dominic, the pilot, came out to introduce himself. Check-in was as simple as giving my name and showing a photo ID. Unlike airlines, Tesloop is a bit more understanding if you’re running late for your departure. Cars will wait up to 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time before leaving without you.
Tesloop currently has seven Tesla Model Xs in its fleet and one Model S, but doesn’t use that one anymore for the most part. It also has eight more cars ordered and expects its fleet to grow even more once the Model 3 becomes more widely available and it launches its carsharing program (more on that later). The cars are based out of Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs and typically spend around 23 hours on the road per day; the company does not have any backup vehicles, but said that it could get loaners if necessary.
My trip was operated by an electric blue Model X.
Despite the seats being of white faux leather, they were kept spotless — as was the rest of the car.
In my opinion, my seat, second row left, was the best because there was no seat behind me which meant that I could slide and tilt my seat as far back as I wished without having to worry about impeding anyone else’s space.
That being said, the seats in the front row and the one right next to me still had practically the same amount of legroom, which was good.
The seat in the third row on the other hand, did not. That seat’s legroom was seriously reduced and the passenger seated there ended up having to sit at an angle. Unless you’re traveling with a child who would be sitting there, I highly recommend paying the extra $10 to select any of the other seats.
Regardless of the seat you end up in, you will never be bumping shoulders with anyone.
Although not as fancy as the one on Emirates’ A380, there was a bar onboard. Okay, maybe it’s not exactly a bar, but there was a cooler packed with complimentary snacks and beverages located between the two seats in the middle row.
The selection of snacks included various types of nuts and protein bars …
… and the selection of drinks included still, sparkling and coconut water.
The center console offered two USB ports with iPhone and micro-USB charging cables available for passengers to use. The car is also equipped with a 12v power inverter that will let you plug in and charge larger devices devices that require standard power outlets.
Given that check-in was a piece of cake, we were soon on our way to pick up the remaining passengers. One of the passengers was a Palm Springs native who frequently uses Tesloop to travel to/from LAX and the other two were first-time users visiting Palm Springs for leisure. Once everyone was onboard, we had a video call with Myk, the same concierge who texted me at the start of my trip, for a briefing on how Tesloop operates, basic guidelines and the autopilot feature, which would be used during the majority ride.
That being said, the car isn’t fully autonomous. Tesloop’s pilots, who go through a series of background checks and rigorous trainings, are still required to keep their hands on the wheel at all times and can override the autopilot feature at any moment. Furthermore, every trip is tracked by a real person, referred by Tesloop as a ground controller. Their job is to monitor things such as the car’s location and speed as well as work with pilots to ensure that the most efficient route is taken. The company’s founder is very proud of its safety record and believes that autopiloted cars will soon be the safest way to travel. In the nearly three years of operating, there was one minor incident involving a Tesloop; it was caused by another vehicle that hit it while driving on the highway, but there were no injuries and damage was minimal.
Besides being safe and environmentally friendly, Tesloop aims to provide a comfortable journey by offering an array of complimentary amenities.
Items that were readily available onboard included travel pillows and Sony ZX110NC noise-canceling headphones.
As previously mentioned, there were snacks and drinks available in the cooler.
I was most excited to find out that there would be free 4G Wi-Fi available onboard. Much to my disappointment, despite being the only one in the car connected to the network, I could barely get an email to go through so it was practically unusable and I ended up using my mobile connection instead. The company later informed me that it believes that the modem was not properly turned on by the pilot and as a result the Wi-Fi was capped at 2G speeds.
Although not yet offered during the time of my trip, Tesloop has added sightseeing to their trips. Pilots will now point out and share information about notable sights, such as the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, along the journey.
We eventually reached the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs, the stop where I’d be getting off, at 8:50am. Although we arrived in style, we were nearly 50 minutes behind schedule. The company says that their on-time arrival rate is currently between 80% and 85% but with how unpredictable traffic going in and out of LA can sometimes be, I’d calculate plenty of buffer time if you typically have no flexibility in your arrival schedule.
Although not required — nor expected — Tesloop lets you leave a tip for your pilot anytime after your trip through its website.
Tesloop’s founder, Haydn Sonnad, was very eager to share details about the future of the company during a conversation we had. First and foremost, the company is working to rapidly expand its route network. It plans to connect the Texas Triangle — Houston, Dallas and San Antonio — by the end of the year. Other routes being considered include San Jose to Napa and Fremont, California, to Sparks, Nevada.
Sonnad explained that the company would like to focus on 100- to 200-mile routes and that it doesn’t plan on having routes that would ever truly compete with air travel. I asked if the company has any plans to launch routes on the East Coast, such as between Manhattan and the Hamptons, but Sonnad responded that besides South Florida, it is not considering any routes there because it prefers to keep the cars in better weather for now.
Further in the future, Tesloop hopes to offer one-way city-to-city car rentals — using Teslas, of course. Although the LA to Vegas shuttle line probably won’t be returning anytime soon, it expects that to be the first route for the new service. Each rental will be for a fixed amount of time and priced at $100, making travel between the two cities much more affordable for families or groups of friends. Beyond that, the company hopes to introduce a car-sharing program that would essentially enable Tesla Model 3 owners to monetize their cars; more information about that should be released in the coming months.
As a points and miles enthusiast, my biggest question for Sonnad was regarding the future of their loyalty rewards program. Up until now, Tesloop has been giving frequent travelers one free ride for every 10 taken. However, within the next three months, Tesloop will be implementing a blockchain-based program where users will earn points that could be redeemed toward free rides based on how many pounds of carbon dioxide they saved while traveling sustainably; it also plans on introducing a referral program since that is something not offered yet.
With a modern fleet of zero-emission vehicles, plentiful complimentary amenities and reasonable fares, Tesloop is an excellent option for intrastate city-to-city travel and I would definitely use it again. The company has put much thought toward making the travel experience as comfortable as possible and strives to perfect it through customer feedback. With the founder’s cell phone number and email address posted throughout the car, sharing suggestions is easy and encouraged. Tesloop is full of visions for its future and I am eager to see where it goes in the coming months.
All photos by the author unless otherwise specified.
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