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Uber Surge Pricing: How It Works and How To Avoid It

July 20, 2020 //

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Even if you memorize the standard Uber rates in the cities you frequent most, your final cost may end up a little higher than you’d expect. More often than not, the culprit behind this price increase is Uber surge pricing.

While Uber users always benefit from upfront pricing, the company’s complex pricing algorithm can make your fare breakdown harder to understand. Unlike taxi rides, which are charged based on a set meter, Uber rides also take real-time conditions into account before providing your guaranteed price.

This article will explain what Uber surge pricing is, how it’s calculated, and how you can avoid high prices as an Uber rider.


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What Is Uber Surge Pricing?

Surge pricing is a variable in the Uber pricing model that multiplies fares when rider demand is higher than driver supply. The more ride requests that occur at once, the higher your final fares will be.

Uber surge pricing exists to create a balance between demand and supply. When surge pricing is activated in specific neighborhoods, more rideshare drivers will drive toward the area to take advantage of higher earnings. This creates the reliable service you’re used to when requesting rides through the Uber app.

How Uber Surge Pricing Works

Uber surge pricing is calculated based on real-time demand, which means the current multiplier can change every few minutes. The exact multiplier of the moment is determined by Uber’s algorithm, which takes into account the number of available drivers on the road as well as how many customers request rides at the same time.

Once the algorithm settles on a multiplier, your fares will increase by that amount. For example, if your local base fare is $10 for an UberX trip and the multiplier is 2.5, your fares will rise to $25.

The surge prices you get are always based on your present location, not your driver’s location.

How Do I Know If Surge Is Active?

Though surge prices are always charged upfront, Uber no longer displays the exact surge multipliers you’ll be charged. However, as long as you know your city’s normal fares — which you can find through an Uber fare estimator tool — you can figure out if you’re being charged Uber surge pricing by following these directions:

  1. Open the Uber app.
  2. Tap the “Where to?” bar to enter your pick-up and drop-off locations.
  3. Tap on your desired ride type.
  4. Before you confirm your request, tap the info icon next to the service description to see your fare breakdown.

If your base fare is higher than they would be under standard rates, you’ll know a surge multiplier has been activated.

How to Avoid Uber Surge Pricing

Though surge pricing is inevitable, there are some strategies you can use to avoid it. We’ll discuss a few of these tactics below:

Avoid Busy Times and Areas

One of the most obvious ways to avoid surge is simply to avoid busy times and areas.

We’ll start by defining when the busiest times usually occur. On the average weekday, Uber surge pricing is at its highest during rush hour — usually from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, if there’s a major event near you, the times of highest demand can shift, typically to the start and end times of the concert, game, or festival.

Holidays can also increase demand. When riders are bar hopping late night on New Year’s Eve, going out for dinner dates on Valentine’s Day, or heading out for fireworks on Independence Day, you can expect surge pricing at odd hours.

The busiest places on most days are downtown areas as well as tourist destinations with huge crowds like Times Square in New York City. Again, areas near event venues can see an extremely high surge when events are due to start or end. When possible, it can be worth walking a few blocks away from the crowds before requesting a ride.

There isn’t a way to visualize where Uber surge boundaries start and end on the rider-facing Uber app. However, if you drive for Uber, you can open your Uber Driver app and use the heat map on the home screen to see where surge multipliers are the highest. Otherwise, use your best judgment and request your ride in less densely populated areas when possible.

Schedule a Ride

If you don’t need an on-demand ride, scheduling your ride at least an hour (and up to 30 days) in advance is definitely the best way to avoid Uber surge pricing. When you do so, the price estimate you receive will be the exact price you pay. Your final cost won’t be impacted by sudden demand increases in your area.

Ride scheduling is usually available for all UberX, UberXL, Select, Black, and Black SUV rides in every market. However, it’s never available for UberPool rides.

Get an Uber Ride Pass

If you’re a frequent UberX or UberPool rider, an Uber Ride Pass may be worth the cost. For a monthly fee of $24.99 (prices may vary by city), you can unlock price protection on eligible routes so your final cost isn’t impacted by surge. Most UberX and UberPool routes qualify for these savings.

Your subscription can also generally get you discounted rides, so even when price protection isn’t available where you’re headed, you can still limit the impact of Uber surge pricing.

Download the Lyft App

If you’re not loyal to Uber, you can always sign up for Lyft and compare prices on your smartphone before requesting a ride. Though Lyft does have its own version of Uber surge pricing called Prime Time, Prime Time multipliers can sometimes be significantly lower than surge multipliers and vice versa.

This won’t eliminate increased fares, but it is a good way to lock in the best deal on ridesharing. Plus, since many Uber drivers double as Lyft drivers, you may just get the same exact experience at a better price.

Frequently Asked Questions

Surge pricing is an essential part of the Uber pricing model. As long as you understand how it works, you won’t be surprised when the prices on your app jump. If you want to learn more about Uber surge pricing, read these frequently asked questions:

Are all Uber ride types subject to surge pricing?

Almost all Uber ride types in all markets are subject to surge pricing when demand is high. Popular economy services like UberX and UberPool tend to see a higher surge than premium services like Uber Black due to the typical level of demand, but there’s never any guarantee that you’ll be free from Uber surge pricing.

The only situation in which you’ll never pay Uber surge prices is when you request an Uber Taxi. Uber Taxis function just like regular taxis, charging based on set city-wide rates regardless of demand. However, Uber Taxis are not common around the world and only exist in a few cities in the United States, like Boston and Chicago.

Is there a cap to the Uber surge multiplier?

There is usually no limit when it comes to Uber surge pricing, which has made the rideshare company notorious for extremely high prices during major events — even reaching a 50x surge in one odd case in Stockholm. Surge multipliers of about three or higher aren’t uncommon when you’re requesting a ride alongside a crowd of other riders.

The only exception is when an emergency such as a natural disaster or active shooting situation occurs. In these scenarios, Uber will cap surge pricing based on typical local prices to ensure they don’t gain extra profits from the emergency demand. The company has also been known to provide partial refunds to riders who are hit with surge pricing before a cap is implemented.

Is Uber surge pricing considered price gouging?

Though the rideshare company has been sued in the past for price gouging, which involves raising prices beyond what is fair, Uber’s surge pricing model has never officially been ruled as unlawful. This is because surge pricing actively serves a purpose — giving drivers an incentive to get on the road. Uber might otherwise struggle with demand.

Understand Your Payments

Surge pricing is an essential part of the Uber pricing model. As long as you understand how it works, you won’t be surprised when the prices on your app jump. If you want to learn more about Uber surge pricing, read these frequently asked questions:

When requesting a ride through the Uber app, surge pricing should be an expected part of the experience. This part of the pricing model keeps drivers on the road when you need them, so you never have to wait for long during times of high demand.

These days, Uber’s real-time pricing model isn’t unique to the app. Many rideshare companies like Lyft have adopted the same pricing concept. If you want to escape surge prices and go back to hailing taxis, you might want to learn how the Curb app works and how it can make traditional taxi rides as convenient as Uber.

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