She’s Got a Ticket to Ride

by Nancy Bestor

Uber_London_request-screenshotI’m always late to the party. I start watching popular television programs years after they’ve been on the air. I buy “hip” clothing once it’s on the downhill side of fashion. And I typically learn about the “latest” technology after it’s been around for many years.

So when Bob and I first used Uber earlier this year, I was a wide-eyed country mouse, delighted that hiring a ride could be so darn easy, and so darn cheap too. And after using the service several times in both Las Vegas and Austin, TX,  I can tell you that I’m still just as wide-eyed and delighted by this newfangled technology as I was the first time I used it.

Founded in 2009 as an online based transportation company, Uber officially launched in their home city of San Francisco. With just over a million dollars of seed money at start up, Uber now operates in more than 50 countries and is said to be worth more than $50 billion. Now Uber also operates UberRUSH, a courier delivery service, and Uber EATS, a food delivery service, in select U.S cities.

Using the Uber app on a smart phone is easy. You simply submit a trip request, and your request is then routed to a nearby Uber driver who comes to pick you up. Here’s how it worked for us. Before our trip, I downloaded the free Uber app to my iPhone. The first time we used it was upon exiting the Las Vegas airport. I submitted our pickup location and the address of our destination, and in about seven minutes an Uber driver was pulling up to the arrivals curb to pick us up and deliver us to our hotel. The cost was $15, easily $10 less than the cost of a traditional taxi from the airport to the Las Vegas strip.

imgresOne of the beauties of Uber is the ability to track your driver on the GPS map within the Uber app. You see the progress he or she is making as they approach, and if there seems to be a problem, you can call them and find out what’s going on, or even cancel the ride and request another driver.  (There is a $5 fee if you cancel more than five minutes after requesting a ride, but both times we canceled, we submitted a request for the cancel fee to be waived, and in both instances our request was granted.)  Since credit card information is stored in the Uber app, no money changes hands on the ride, and there is no tipping either. This is extraordinarily convenient, to say the least.

In every case in both Las Vegas and Austin, our Uber rides were cheaper than quoted or previously used taxi fares. Sometimes by half the price. And we never waited more than 10 minutes, and in most cases it was 5-6 minutes. This even included a 4am pickup at our AirBnB to the airport in Austin.

IMG_3919It’s easy to recognize your Uber driver, because the app denotes the make and model of the car when your ride is confirmed, and all Uber drivers have a large U sticker, prominently placed in their front window. We met some very interesting drivers too. This included Abeba, who is originally from Eritrea. She had been a Las Vegas taxi driver for 20 years, but much preferred Uber, because she can make her own schedule, giving her time to get her children to school and such. Robert is retired, and drives “when he feels like it,” to make a little extra cash. He says he makes $1000 a week, working 6-7 hours a day, 5-ish days a week. Carlos came to the U.S. on a boat from Cuba 10 years ago. He wants to be a math teacher, and tutors students in the subject when he’s not driving. Every Uber driver we rode with was very pleasant, and every car was as nice or nicer than any taxi I’ve been in.

Although Uber is going through some growing pains (there are some court cases relating to driver employment status and some cities and their taxi companies are calling them unfair competition), all the Uber drivers we spoke to were very happy with their job. And there’s no doubt that we were happy consumers.

Money, Money, Money—Must Be Funny

by Nancy Bestor

While I’m not big on name brand clothes or cars, every once in a while I wonder what it would be like to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The fantasy of walking in to a restaurant where the prices aren’t even on the menu, in my Manolo Blahnik shoes, my Harry Winston diamond necklace and Vera Wang dress does give me a moment of pause (and then I laugh hysterically imagining myself in such an outfit). But when Bob and I were invited to a private party at the Hardwood Suite in Las Vegas last month, I felt like it was our duty to check out how the really rich really live, and if this suite in the Palms was any indication, they live one highfalutin life.

The Hardwood Suite is any wealthy basketball fan’s dream. From the hallway, its door looks like any other hotel room door inside any Las Vegas casino. But walk inside, and holy cow. The Hardwood Suite is a 10,000 square foot hotel “room” on two floors, with a regulation half basketball court, NBA-sized beds that fold out of the walls onto the court (in case you want to shoot hoops from a mattress), a jacuzzi in the middle of the living room, a full bar to boot so you can drink in between, or while, hot tubbing and playing H-O-R-S-E. It also sports a professional locker room, a pool table, and of course, huge high definition televisions all around.

hardwood

We were visiting Las Vegas for the Travel Goods Show, where we get to preview the latest and greatest “innoventions” in luggage and travel gear. Who knew we would also get the chance to check out a hotel suite that costs $25,000 a night to rent? I can’t say that the Hardwood Suite is my style. I do like basketball, but not enough to want to play in my hotel room. Plenty of folks must like it a lot however, as it is apparently booked out most of the year.

The Hardwood Suite was fun to see, but I was happy to go back to my $99 a night room across town, in my canvas Converse tennis shoes, with my ExOfficio wrinkle resistant top on. Because let’s face it, I can’t even pronounce “Manolo Blanhik”, and just the idea of me wearing his high heels is surely an accident waiting to happen.

Cocktails In a Chandelier—And Other Las Vegas Wonders

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I are just back from Las Vegas, and although it is not my favorite place in the world to visit I must admit there are things you can see in Las Vegas that you won’t see anywhere else.

Most years we head to Las Vegas to see the latest and greatest travel products at the Travel Goods Association show. As in years past, we stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton, recently renamed the LVH (I wonder how much they paid for someone to come up with the new name?), right next to the convention center. This is one of Las Vegas’ older hotels with little charm. Truth be told, the LVH has no charm, not one bit.

In years’ past I’ve insisted that Bob and I walk to various destinations in Las Vegas. While walking is good for exercise and for avoiding seemingly outlandish taxi fees, it often puts you up close and personal with the seedier side of Las Vegas. So this year we bit the bullet and cabbed to our night spots.

We were in Las Vegas for two nights, and although we didn’t see a show on this occasion, on a previous visit we took in Cirque de Soleil’s “O” and highly recommend it. We loved it, and in our opinion, it was well worth the steep (most seats are $155) ticket price. With trapeze artists and acrobats launching themselves from land to water and back in the blink of an eye, “O” is like a highly imaginative and top-notch circus event. Continue reading