How dynamic pricing works
Fundamentally, Uber and Lyft charge roughly the same rates: Riders pay a fare based on the duration and distance of a ride. It’s when the companies raise prices that things get more confusing.
When not enough cars are available in an area with high demand, both companies use a system known as dynamic pricing, which scales up costs in accordance with supply and demand. So if you’re outside a popular museum and dozens of others are trying to summon cars, Uber and Lyft will raise prices to nudge additional drivers to come to the area. Uber calls its practice surge pricing, and Lyft’s version is labeled Prime Time.
In the past, when Uber fares “surged,” the app showed a multiplier — for example, 3X, meaning the fare was triple the normal cost. When prices surge now, Uber does not show a multiplier and instead quotes only the higher price up front. Lyft marks up its Prime Time pricing with a percentage: If the rate is 50 percent, a fare that would normally be $10 costs $15.
The verdict: Lyft wins, in part for greater transparency. Its receipts break out details like the duration of the trip and the distance traveled, which helps riders better understand overall costs. In its receipts, Uber does not show the length and duration of the trip; it shows a fare price. The vagueness can make things more confusing, especially when prices are higher because of unexpected circumstances like heavy traffic.
In addition, because Uber is generally more popular in most cities, in my experience its surge markup is often significantly higher than Lyft’s, meaning riders are typically better off summoning a Lyft when cars are in high demand.
Uber declined to comment, citing a quiet period before its I.P.O.
Rewards and loyalty programs
Like airlines that reward loyal customers, Uber and Lyft offer some goodies to frequent riders.
Uber provides a tiered rewards system. For most rides, you earn two points for every dollar spent, and the points help you climb toward higher statuses with different perks. At 2,500 points, for example, you reach platinum status, which gives you priority access to drivers at airports, among other things.