These 9 Uber Hacks Will Make You a Smarter (and Richer) Driver
With the high cost of gasoline and the skyrocketing cost of cars, making money as an Uber driver isn’t necessarily simple. You need to think strategically.
Your earnings are based on how much you can work and how you manage your time. It’s also easier to make bank in a big city than in the suburbs or a small town.
We wrote about one driver who made a quarter-million dollars one year, largely by selling jewelry to his passengers. But the fact is that the average salary for Uber drivers in the U.S. is about $63,913 a year as of October 22, 2023, which is 15% above the national average, according to Indeed. (Keep in mind that Uber is just a side gig for some drivers.)
What’s it really like to drive with Uber, and how can you make the most money possible?
Journalist Emily Guendelsberger delved deep into the life of a ride-share driver when she went undercover as an Uber driver in Philadelphia. She wrote about her experiences in Philadelphia’s (now defunct) City Paper.
In Guendelsberger’s month on the job, she picked up a few tips and tricks that can help you make more money as an Uber driver-partner.
What the Company Tells You About Being a Successful Uber Driver
Guendelsberger’s training for UberX consisted of a 13-minute video that went over how to offer good service and receive five-star ratings from passengers.
The tips included opening the rear door for people, providing cold bottled water and having extra phone chargers on hand for passengers to use. The video also emphasized the importance of looking professional and even showed the star of the video selecting expensive ties to wear while driving people around town.
However, Guendelsberger found even more ways to cash in on the app. Here are the strategies she recommends from her time on the job. We also added a couple of tips of our own at the end.
9 Ways to Boost Your Uber Earnings
1. Keep Snacks and Water Handy
When you’re going to be on the road for hours, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need to be comfortable.
Guendelsberger advises making sure you have snacks and water in your car — but not for passengers. She suggests keeping yourself well fed and hydrated while you’re working, so you don’t have to waste time and money on takeout.
2. Know the Local Bathrooms
Scope out available restroom facilities in the areas where you usually drive. Guendelsberger emphasizes the need to find public bathrooms with free parking, which can be difficult to find in downtown areas. She found Whole Foods and suburban Starbucks to be some of her best bets around Philly, with free parking and unlocked restrooms.
Of course, every area will have different options, but make sure you know what’s around before you desperately need to use a restroom.
3. Don’t Follow the Herd
Guendelsberger found she made more money by ignoring the recommended times and locations where demand for rides was likely to be high — like popular morning commute routes, busy Saturday night bars and the local arena when a professional hockey game had just finished.
She found she actually made more money by ignoring these hot spots. When drivers flocked to a recommended area, Uber’s surge pricing — premium prices based on a lack of drivers in an area — would decrease, meaning those drivers would earn less for each ride.
4. Drive Up the Surge Fares
To take full advantage of surge fares, Guendelsberger recommends gaming the system a bit.
She suggests logging out of the driver app before times you can anticipate surge fares, such as when the bars close. In Philly, she found 2 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. was a huge time for surge pricing as drinkers found their way home for the night.
She recommends logging out of the driver app around 1:50 a.m. or so, waiting 15 minutes and logging back in to take advantage of surge fares.
Logging out reduces the number of drivers in the area and drives up the fares. It also prevents you from getting a fare at, say, 1:55 a.m. and missing out on surge pricing.
5. Don’t Drive Around Endlessly
Driving around in circles in an attempt to get to an area where Uber will ping you to pick up a fare isn’t going to do much more than add wear and tear to your vehicle, Guendelsberger found.
She recommends sticking to a central area and avoiding the suburbs if possible.
If you’re driving miles and miles to reach someone, there’s a good chance you’ll drive much farther to meet them than you’ll wind up taking them. You can’t tell where a rider wants to go until you pick them up. This usually means drivers end up losing money on a faraway fare.
She also found that if you’re driving a long way to pick someone up, they may get bored and cancel the ride or find another way to get to their destination.
Here’s what you need to know about driving for Uber or Lyft, including a comparison of the two.
6. Don’t Chase Surge Fares (But If You Do, Try This Hack)
Every article about being an Uber driver tells you to take advantage of surge pricing, but Guendelsberger found that racing to a surge fare area never panned out for her. Other drivers would also head to that area, and the surge pricing period would be over by the time she reached it.
But she has a tip for those looking to capitalize on surge pricing: Log out of the driver app and log into the passenger app until you reach the surge area, then log out of the passenger app and back into the driver one.
Why does it work? Uber calculates surge fares based on the ratio of people with the passenger app open to the driver app in an area at any given time. This hack sways the system a bit, letting the app think you’re a passenger looking for a ride instead of a driver ready to offer one.
7. Use the Uber Passenger App
The passenger app helps you take advantage of some features not available on the driver app. For one, you can see where other drivers are, which helps you select areas without a lot of competition.
For example, Guendelsberger was once at a stadium after a game and had a hard time getting any ride requests from the app.
She logged into the passenger app and found herself surrounded by other drivers. So she simply drove to the other side of the stadium and quickly got a notification for a ride.
She also found the passenger app had more up-to-date information on surge fares than the driver app, which seemed to have a delay of a few minutes.
If it’s available in your city, Uber Eats gives you a way to earn money when you don’t have (or don’t want) passengers. Check out this advice from an Uber Eats driver who made $8,000 in one month.
Here are a couple of other general tips:
8. Keep Your Ratings Up
Passengers rate Uber drivers on a scale of 1 to 5. Drivers who continually score too low run the risk of being deactivated.
Take the obvious steps: Be friendly and professional, drive safely, and keep your vehicle clean.
Like other freelancers and independent contractors, Uber drivers should set aside about 30% of their paycheck for 1099 taxes.
9. Track Your Mileage for Tax Purposes
If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, you should track your mileage for tax purposes. While we’re on the subject, here are our favorite mileage tracker apps.
You can take a tax deduction called the standard mileage rate. To do that properly, you need to keep track of how many miles you drive for Uber all year long.
For the 2023 tax year, the standard mileage rate for business use is 65.5 cents per mile. You can deduct that from your income when you file your taxes.
Ready to get started with Uber? Here’s the link to sign up.
Mike Brassfield is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Freelancer Adam Palasciano contributed to this report.