Last week, Point Princess and I spent two days driving all around Ann Arbor with the primary goal of using up Lyft credits and the secondary goal of manufacturing spend. Point Princess happens to be a Lyft driver and I happened to be a slightly disgruntled Lyft customer in possession of lots of rapid expiring Lyft credits. Here’s the story…
In February I received an interesting email from Lyft. It read, in part:
You’re popular. We can tell. Now’s your chance to use that to your advantage. From now until February 22, anyone who signs up for Lyft using your unique referral code will get their first 11 rides free, while you can earn up to $300 in ride credits.*
The intent of the email was to woo me with a promise of up to $300 in ride credits. What really caught my eye, though, was the statement that anyone who signs up for Lyft using my referral code would get their first 11 rides free. Wow. 11 free rides is fantastic. I checked the fine print, of course, because there must be a catch…
* To receive referral and bonus credits, your invitees must be new to Lyft and must enter your code before taking their first ride. By signing up, invitees receive $20 off each of their first 10 rides, and your code grants them an additional free ride. A referral credit grants you $20 off a single Lyft ride. A bonus credit grants you $5 off a single Lyft ride. This promotion ends at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2015. Referral and bonus credits are valid for 30 days.
Aha. As I read the fine print, there were a couple of catches: one was that the referral and bonus credits expire within 30 days. OK, fair enough. A second was that the bonus credits would each only be good for $5 off a single Lyft ride. The latter was a pretty big catch, but it didn’t matter to me since the big deal was the offer for 11 free rides for people I referred.
I asked Shawn to read over the email too, in case I was missing anything. I was concerned because 11 free rides just seemed too good to be true. He interpreted the email the same way I did, and so we decided to publish a Quick Deal (found here).
Soon after publishing the Quick Deal, we learned from our readers that things weren’t going as expected. Here are some of the comments that readers posted:
Jimmy: it shows “this code is not valid in your city”
Eric: Hmmm, it says this code is not valid in your city. It’s strange because I live in Ann Arbor too.
Al: Wow this post is very misleading. Valid only in certain cities. If your city not part of this list, you only get 1 free ride: http://therewardboss.com/2015/02/07/10-free-rides-cities-lyft-miami-brooklyn-atlanta/
Phil: signed up from Jersey, only got 1 free ride, booooo. should have taken the path over.
Susan: Just an FYI that I used the Chicago link in the post from Reward Boss and the 10 free rides up to $20 is only valid for 8 days. The one time $20 credit is valid for 30 days …
That wasn’t good. Some readers were unable to apply the code at all. Others only received one free ride. And those who did receive 11 free rides found that the first 10 rides were valid for only 8 days. What the…?
I described the situation to Lyft and asked for an explanation of what was going on. The first reply was completely unhelpful:
I’m happy to provide some explanation on the Give a Ride, Get a Ride program.
I checked and found that your referral code is valid in any of Lyft’s cities. You can find a list of active cities by going to www.lyft.com/cities. You’re welcome to refer as many people as you’d like! Please reach out to us if you have any further questions. You can also visit our Help Center for more information on how the program works here: https://www.lyft.com/help/article/1455280
I tried again. This time my questions were at least acknowledged if not answered (I’ve bolded an important part):
Thank you for your reply. I do apologize we did not address your question in better detail.
Your code is available for use in any city that Lyft is in. With that being said, I do not know why some of the people you referred got that error message. Due to strict privacy policies we are not able to discuss the actual details of their accounts but I would be happy to check and see if your promotional code did apply and is actually available for their use. I would just need to the names and phone numbers associated with their Lyft accounts.
Now for the additional rides. If they downloaded the app and activated their account during the promotional period they should have received the the additional rides. Some of our regions are not currently running that promotion and would not be entitled to the additional rides.
You can have your friends contact our Support team heroes, to check into the matter for them. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Simply go to www.lyft.com/help/contact. There you will be able to fill out a form that will let us know how to best assist you. The more information you provide, the faster we will be able to get back to you.
Thanks so much for your patience and understanding. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns, and I would be happy to address them.
Fistbumps? OK, whatever. Mr. Lyft (I think you’re a “Mr.” because of your mustache), don’t you think it would have been nice to let people know from the beginning that “some of our regions are not currently running that promotion”? Maybe a little footnote? Something? Anything? No?
I tried again: “One more question: you said that the 11 ride promo is not available in some regions, but the email Lyft sent about the promotion didn’t say anything about that. Based on the details in the email, I had referred lots of people and told them that they would get 11 free rides. Is it possible to go through the list of people who applied with my referral code and make sure that they got the 11 rides?”
And, the answer:
Thank you for your patience while waiting to get a reply. I would be happy to help you.
To make this easier, here is a list of cities that are currently running the promotion for the additional 10 rides:
New York City, NY
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
Santa Barbara, CA
Silicon Valley, CA
These cities have 5 rides available for new users:
I hope this helps you out. If you need any further help just let us know.
Um, no, it doesn’t help at all.
Two days of revenge rides
While continuing to pester Lyft into hopefully honoring the terms of the deal, I realized that I had earned around twenty free rides from readers who had used my referral code and had taken their first ride. Since most of those free rides were earned in February, their expiration dates were fast approaching. I had no particular plans to use Lyft, but I hated the idea of letting them expire. Lyft should at least incur some cost for their botched promotion, right?
I knew that my friend and fellow Ann Arborite, Point Princess, was a Lyft driver so I asked her if she’d like to drive around town to help me use up those credits. We spent two days zigzagging around town and managed to fit in a bit of manufactured spend:
- We went to Lowe’s armed with stacks of Amex cards that were each registered with the Spend $50, Get $10 Amex Offer. I picked up a $500 gift card to this mystery store and a $50 Amazon gift card. I asked the cashier to split tender $50 at a time and I proceeded to pay for the total with 11 separate Amex cards. For each one, I soon received an email from Amex congratulating me for fulfilling the promotion. Thanks to the Amex promo, I bought $550 worth of gift cards for a total cost of $440.
- We drove to the mystery store and made good use of our gift cards.
- We found a gas station with a huge gift card rack and tried to buy Visa gift cards and/or Paypal cards with credit cards. No luck there.
- We stopped by Staples to buy $200 Visa cards in order to get the rebate that was available at that time.
- We visited grocery stores to maximize our Freedom cards’ first quarter 5X bonus.
- We visited Walmart, Meijer, and CVS.
- We visited a few Target stores to feed my REDbird cards, and I even bought a few things too.
In between those two days of manufacturing spend, Point Princess gave my wife a “Lyft” to the airport (but strategically took three separate rides to get there).
We tried to plan all of the rides to be as close to $20 as possible (the free ride limit) without going over. It was a bit tricky since Lyft prices rides through a combination of miles driven, time spent, and a few standard fees. While we accidentally went over the $20 free ride limit a couple of times, we mostly did well. Out of 18 rides, six were between $19 and $20, two went slightly over, and the remaining eight ranged from $10.59 to $17.39.
While writing this post, I realized that I had forgotten to follow-up with Lyft regarding their latest email to me, so I shot off yet another request: “You never did answer my request. You told me which cities offered the promotion, but that wasn’t my question. I asked if you could give 11 free rides to people who used my referral code during the promotion period. There was nothing in the fine print limiting the promotion to certain cities so it is only fair that all people who signed up during that time be given the extra 10 rides. Right?” We’ll see if anything comes of this. I’m not holding my breath.
UPDATE 3/26/2015 10:45 am EST: Lyft responded to my latest request as follows:
I apologize for any confusion, but it is based on the market. At this time, we do not have any way to go through the referrals and apply extra rides.
Overall I’m annoyed with Lyft for not making the terms of their promotion clear, but I realize that was a marketing mistake and shouldn’t negatively influence my opinion of Lyft’s ride service. That said, I’ve had mostly very positive experiences with Uber, so they’ll continue to be my go-to on-demand car service. Plus, I like that Uber’s free rides are good for three months vs. Lyft’s one month. That’s much more customer friendly in my opinion.
And, for anyone who would like to see for themselves what the original email promo looked like, here it is in full glory: