Ajay Goel

@AjayGoel

UberEVENTS is anything but über: a detailed review

Little has been written about this special Uber service, until now.

My bride and me, looking anxiously at a sea of Ubers

At my recent 500-person Indian wedding in Chicago, I wished to provide hassle-free and complimentary transportation to my guests, and hence I stumbled upon UberEVENTS. UberEVENTS allows you to create a unique code for your event, provide that code to your guests who then enter it into the Promotions section of the Uber app, which then allows them to charge their rides to you.

My wedding was held at the Sheraton Grand in downtown Chicago, so I also restricted my event code so that it could only be used to and from rides to the Sheraton, as I didn’t want Uncle Aboob venturing off to to the casinos in northwest Indiana on my dime in between wedding events.

Outrageous Service Fee

The very notion behind UberEVENTS is that your guests can Uber to and from the event at no cost to them. Instead, the event host is billed for any rides used. However, for me to provide my wedding guests the mere option to use the wedding event code cost a hefty $1,000 service fee.

However, for me to provide my wedding guests the mere option to use the wedding event code cost a hefty $1,000 service fee.

That didn’t include any rides. Just a flat, non-refundable $1,000 service fee for the privilege of allowing my guests to charge their rides to me. The fee is calculated based on 2.5% of the maximum amount of your event, capped at $1,000. In my case, I opted to create my event for 300 guests, set a limit of $50/ride, and allow four rides per guest. Doing the math, that means my maximum Uber cost would be $60,000 if all 300 guests use it and take all four rides, since each ride is $50 or more each. I was hoping, praying in fact, that the total cost would come in under $5,000, since that’s what I had budgeted for this particular line item in my wedding expenses spreadsheet. Just thinking about the notion that I might be sacked with a $60,000 Uber bill, and dealing with the anticipation each day I was enjoying my honeymoon while awaiting my final bill was enough to make me gag on the delicious fresh squeezed guava juice we woke up to every day in the Maldives.

Just thinking about the notion that I might be sacked with a $60,000 Uber bill, and dealing with the anticipation each day I was enjoying my honeymoon while awaiting my final bill was enough to make me gag on the delicious fresh squeezed guava juice we woke up to every day in the Maldives.

Therefore I secretly hoped that not all guests would use it and those that did wouldn’t dare approach the maximum of four rides at $50 per ride. We even made the event code, “MEREJAYEVENT”, somewhat difficult to type, hoping auto-correct would screw it up. Still, for the service fee to be based on the maximum is aggressive at a minimum.

Still, for the service fee to be based on the maximum is aggressive at a minimum.

I considered aborting this mission, but I was in too deep — I had been sending emails to my guests for weeks prepping them for the arrival of the shiny Uber Event code that would magically transport them gratis to and fro, and guests were excited. Plus, I was curious to test UberEVENTS, even if it did cost me an arm, a leg, and my sanity for a week.

Additionally:

a. In my particular case, I was introducing Uber to an older generation of Indian Americans that had surely never used a ride-sharing service before. It seems punitive to be charged a hefty service fee when I have just brought a slew of new business to Uber. Instead, Uber ought to share with me 10% of each new user’s ride-sharing revenue for the first year, as any legitimate affiliate marketing program would.

b. There is no “service” that comes with the “service fee”. Assuming that UberEVENTS is a fully automated system, given that there was no human interaction required to sign up and create my code, it’s a mystery as to why there is a service fee in the first place. I’m reminded of gift cards before the consumer protection laws enacted in 2010, where the back of a card would infuriatingly say, “For your convenience, a $2.95 per month fee will be deducted from this card’s balance.” Such convenience.

Inflexible Ride Parameters

When setting up your event code, you’re forced to choose between these maximum ride costs for your guests: $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, $200

While I appreciate the convenience of a point-and-click drop-down menu, and the fact that these sequentially doubling values look to be chosen by a computer scientist, the inability to enter the exact max amount I desired, $35, was frustrating. You see, $35 is what it costs to ride from Ohare Airport to downtown Chicago, in an UberX. The additional inability to restrict my guests to the type of vehicle selected was also infuriating, since a savvy and sneaky guest might think “Hmm, the first $50 of my ride is covered, so I’ll choose Uber Black this time, so even if the ride is $80, I’ve only paid $30.

A savvy and sneaky guest might think “Hmm, the first $50 of my ride is covered, so I’ll choose Uber Black this time, so even if the ride is $80, I’ve only paid $30.

And finally, it so happened that my wedding took place on the same day as World Series Game 4, and so just like on New Year’s Eve, surge pricing was rampant. A prudent safeguard would be to allow me to further restrict the code’s use during surge intervals.

Transparency as opaque as the tinted glass on black cars

As a regular Uber user, after every ride you can see the cost of your ride, rate your driver, and reflect on the route taken to determine if it was optimal or whether your driver “took you for a ride.” With UberEVENTS, the event host has no ability to monitor usage of the event code during the event. I had some guests arrive a few days prior and leave a few days after the wedding, so I set the event start time to a Wednesday and the event end time to the following Wednesday. During the week-long period that the Uber code was active, I had no ability to monitor usage, assess costs, or predict my final bill. I thought about approaching each guest during the wedding to ask if and how they used the code and then tallying the data in a spreadsheet to predict the final bill, but my now-wife shut “Operation Did You Use My Event Code” down fast.

I thought about approaching each guest during the wedding to ask if and how they used the code and then tallying the data in a spreadsheet to predict the final bill, but my now-wife shut “Operation Did You Use My Event Code” down fast.

In fact, other than a couple of email confirmations, there is no evidence in your Uber account at all that the event was ever created, that the code is being used, or is even working. Logging into my Uber account during the event or after shows no trace of the event code.

Seven days after the wedding, I finally got an email with the final bill: $3,741.37.

Thank God. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Next time, rather than setting up an event code, I’ll opt to give guests my credit card number to plug into Uber directly for the duration of the event. Or better yet, hand out pre-paid gift cards to use for rides, since their convenience no longer comes with a convenience fee.

I hope you liked my article and will “recommend” it. You should also follow me on Twitter and check out my two Gmail extensions, Wordzen and GMass.

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