Travel Tips,  USA

Uber vs Car Rental in LA – Which Costs Less?

As I prepared for a recent trip to Los Angeles, I reflexively looked to reserve a rental car.  I’ve never not rented a car when flying into the LA area.  All the various attractions and activities that take me there are usually spread out. Having my own rental car always seemed necessary.  But car rental prices have been going through the roof lately – and sure enough, I found it was going to cost $420 to rent a standard car for 3 days.  Once I added in hotel parking and venue parking costs, I was looking at $520.  I wasn’t happy.  

During a trip to Seattle last summer,  we used Uber and Lyft exclusively for our transportation needs.  But most of Seattle’s best sites are within walking distance of a downtown hotel, so we didn’t need to use rideshare very often while there.  LA is much different.  Sites are scattered around the area and most aren’t downtown. 

Would I save money if I exclusively used Uber and Lyft rather than a car rental in LA? Would it be enough savings to warrant the lack of own-car freedom? I decided to find out.  Here’s what happened…

Our LA Itinerary

We visited the Los Angeles area for the Rose Bowl.  My team – the University of Utah – punched its ticket to the Grandaddy of Them All against Ohio State. Attending the game was a must for us!  

We flew into the Burbank airport and stayed at a North Hollywood hotel – 15 miles from Rose Bowl Stadium.

After an early evening arrival, the next day was consumed with the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  

On day 2, we checked out a couple Los Angeles area attractions I’d somehow never before visited – The Warner Brothers Studio and the Griffith Observatory.  

We returned to the airport later the following morning after eating breakfast at one of my favorite LA eateries – the famed Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles in Hollywood.

Airport Transportation

Using Uber rather than a rental car for our airport transportation in LA was simple.  All airports now seem to have a designated and well-marked ride share pickup area – even small airports like Burbank.  We’ve used ride share many times for airport transportation, so this felt completely natural.   Our hotel was 4 miles from the airport.  Round trip cost (including tips): $33.

Uber pickup zone at Burbank airport in the LA area - cheaper than car rental
Signs guide passengers to the Ride Share pickup area at the Burbank airport

The Rose Bowl

Getting back and forth to the Rose Bowl using ride share was much trickier. But that wasn’t a surprise. 

The Rose Bowl does have a designated ride share drop off area, though it’s a few miles south of the stadium.  From there, we could grab a shuttle to the game.

But, the afternoon Rose Bowl football game follows the morning Rose Bowl parade, and all of Pasadena is crawling with hoards of people and cars. Would any ride share driver really want to go to Pasadena on New Years Day?  

When it was our time to go to Pasadena, I ordered our ride.   And sighed with relief as a driver immediately accepted.  And then watched with frustration as the ride was canceled about 5 minutes later.  This was followed by a second driver doing the same.  And then a third, and a fourth.  My decision to use Uber rather than car rental in LA looked like it may implode. 

But then the 5th driver confirmed our trip.  Luckily for us, he was new in LA and had forgotten about the Rose Bowl.  It turned out that there was minimal traffic getting to Pasadena anyway. Cost: $24

Rose Bowl Stadium - Utah vs Ohio State
Utah vs Ohio State at Sunset in Pasadena

After the Loss

Yes, Utah lost. But it was a great game and attending the Rose Bowl was a great experience.  

As I did before the game, I worried that it could be difficult to find a ride back to our hotel.  However, this trip went much smoother.  After the game, we walked back to the ride share pick up area (one of the streets in Old Town Pasadena), where I ordered a ride on the Uber app to North Hollywood.  Our driver pulled up within a few minutes. We had no trouble getting out of Pasadena thanks to the pick up zone’s location away from the stadium. 

This ride cost was the most expensive of the trip at $54. It more than doubled compared to our morning ride.  Regular ride share users know that prices can vary according to times of day and events.  Still, our Uber rides this day cost about the same as a Rose Bowl parking pass. 

Tourist Day

On our second day in LA, we did touristy things.  And used ride share exclusively for our transportation. 

Uber pick up zone at LA Griffith Observatory - more convenient than car rental
Ride share pickup zone at Griffith Observatory. Note the Hollywood sign in the distance

Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory is certainly LA’s most well-known building and I’d never been.  It sits in the foothills overlooking downtown LA to the south.  And it’s very popular.  I didn’t anticipate crowds of people on a mid Sunday morning, but there were lots.  Consequently, I was even more grateful that we used ride share.  Parking would have been a huge hassle.  Instead we were dropped off and picked up right in front of the building.    Cost for the 10 mile ride was $20.

Griffith Park Observatory in LA - we used Uber to get there rather than a car rental
View of downtown LA from the Griffith Observatory

Warner Bros Studio Tour

The Warner Bros Studio Tour is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of the LA area.  I love TV, and when I discovered that we could tour an actual working television and movie studio, I jumped at the chance.  We headed there directly from Griffith Park (Cost $19).

The tour was great!  We learned a lot about film & TV production, and had much better studio access than I imagined. We were guided through the studio’s Front and Back Lots, and spent time walking through the tour’s impressive interactive displays.  You can read all about it in my Thorough Review of Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood.

Uber back to our hotel cost $9.

An empty city street on the Warner Bros Studio Back Lot
A city street on the Warner Bros Studio Back Lot
The Thorough Tripper taking part a Harry Potter Wizarding World display at Warner Bros Studio Tour
Recreating a Harry Potter moment at the Studio’s Wizarding World

Chicken & Waffles

On departure day, we had an early afternoon flight, so I wanted to be sure to find someplace great for breakfast before our return home.   I love Chicken & Waffles, and one of the most famed places to get Chicken & Waffles is Roscoe’s.  Mrs. TT also loves Chicken & Waffles, and she’d never been to Roscoe’s.

Roscoe’s original location is in Hollywood.  We were in North Hollywood, 9 miles away.  I really hadn’t planned on trying to go, figuring LA’s morning weekday commute would make southbound traffic unattractive. But, I was happy to see all green on Google maps when I decided to at least look.  We ordered up a ride and within 20 minutes, I was sitting inside Roscoe’s,  my mouth watering while awaiting this plate. Roundtrip Ride Cost: $31

Chicken and Waffles at Roscoe's in Hollywood
A plate of deliciousness!

Final Tally

Once at the airport, waiting to board, I tallied up our total rideshare costs for the trip.

$190

Remember that car rental and associated costs would have been $520.  I saved $330 using Uber & Lyft rather than a car rental in LA!

Substantial!!

Final Thoughts and Tips

Caveats

1. Different Cities, Different Rates

This degree of savings won’t happen everywhere.  Different cities have different car rental rates and different ride share costs. 

But you can do a pre-trip cost analysis to help you decide. Both apps allow you to enter anticipated routes ahead of your trip, giving you a general cost estimate. 

Keep in mind however, it’s just an estimate. Both companies change the rates depending on time of day and current demand.  I suspected the ride home from the Rose Bowl would cost more, but had no idea how much more until the moment I entered it into the Uber app.

2. Eating Local

I was also able to keep our transportation costs down on this trip by eating several meals locally in North Hollywood….walking distance local.  

I wasn’t at all familiar with North Hollywood when I booked our stay at the Lexen Hotel.   My goal was to book a highly-rated, reasonably-priced hotel within a decent distance to the Rose Bowl, while competing with thousands of other fans from two universities also looking for lodging. 

Fortunately, the Lexen turned out to be conveniently located in the NoHo Arts District – within a few blocks of the area’s best local eateries.

3. Saving with Uber One

My American Express card gives me free membership in the Uber One program.  During this trip, I used two different $10 Uber credits, a $5 reward, and was given an additional 10% discount on my first three rides.  With these perks, I saved around $40. 

The program’s benefits (and name) changed shortly after, but if you use Uber or Uber Eats even semi-frequently, it may be worth signing up for.   It’s even better when you get a free membership with your credit card. 

4. Fifteen or less

And obviously, if you are traveling frequently outside a wider radius during your trip, car rental will probably cost less than ride share in the end. Our farthest ride was 15 miles to Pasadena. All of our other rides were less than 10 miles. Still though, I had a $330 cushion if we’d wanted to travel further away.

Lyft or Uber?

I use both.  I put my destination in each app and check the rates, choosing the cheaper ride (unless there is a significant waiting-time disadvantage between the two).  I ended up using Uber more in LA – mostly because of my credits and discounts.  There wasn’t a huge price difference between the two this trip.   But, I’ve found that’s not always the case in other cities. 

Rideshare Love

I was slow to adopt ride sharing during my travels mostly because I have traditionally been a slow adopter of new technology. (Mostly from a middle-aged man’s lack of awareness. I’m getting better though.)  I now love everything about ride sharing – the ease of scheduling a ride, the ability to track your driver, and the simple payment options. I’ve yet to have a bad experience with a driver. 

So next time you are headed out on a trip, definitely consider your Lyft and Uber options before falling on old habits and renting a car. I saved a lot of money by using Uber rather than a car rental in LA.

And if you are looking for another example of helpful travel technology, then be sure to check out my post about the Timeshifter App – a great way to help reduce jet lag.

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