Living in New York as a young person, frugality is born out of necessity.
For Jericho, Long Island resident Blake Jareds, thriftiness took the form of an entrepreneurial enterprise.
After noticing an offer from Uber that awarded users a $20 credit for each person they referred to the service, the 23-year-old employee of a New York-based real estate startup sought to capitalize on the opportunity to cut down on his transportation costs.
On a mission to turn the on-demand taxi service into his own all-expense-paid, round-the-clock personal chauffeur, Jareds began signing up as many “friends” as possible in a bid to bolster his earned credits quota.
And he did so to the tune of $50,000.
Allowed to customize his personalized Uber referral code, Jareds changed his to “uber$20FreeRide,” emailed it to more than 700 of his email contacts and posted the link on a Reddit page for cut-price deals.
Consequently, roughly 2,500 people signed up for the service using his link, enticed by the opportunity to earn $45 of their own Uber credits for enrolling as a new member.
For eight weeks, Jareds was riding high and for free. Then he encountered a driver who took an egregiously indirect route, adding 30 minutes to the ride. Frustrated, Jared gave the driver a one star rating on the Uber app, which he believes cost him nearly all of his earned credits.
Jareds suggests that the poor rating was likely flagged in the system, prompting a community manager to review the ride experience and subsequently Jareds' account. The day after he posted the rating, Jareds realized that his account had been frozen and he was unable to login.
When he emailed the company to report the issue, he received a response that his account and credits were suspended for taking “advantage of the Uber referral program to earn Uber credit inappropriately.”
Uber informed Jareds that he had violated the company's guidelines by sharing his referral code with people outside of his personal network.
In an email from Uber Community Manager Larren Gibbons that Jareds shared with Elite Daily, Gibbons writes:
“I understand a portion of your credits may have been earned legitimately by referring individuals you know personally… searching for the code itself is where we located the promo code being shared in ways that are against our policy, specifically on Reddit & a deal website.”
The referral policy on Uber's website states:
“Personal invite links should only be used for personal and non-commercial purposes. This means that you can share your invite link with your personal connections via email, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, personal blogs, etc. where you are the primary content owner. However, public distribution on sites where you are a contributor but not the primary content owner (e.g., Wikipedia, coupon websites) is not allowed.
Uber reserves the right to suspend your account and/or revoke any and all referral credits at any time if we feel they were earned inappropriately.”
While Jareds acknowledges that the private company should have the ultimate say when determining whether or not a user violates its referral terms, he maintains that his “intentions were never to game the system” and that he did not violate the service's rules.
“I'm not sure where I broke their guidelines, where I sort of stepped over the line” said Jareds, arguing that the content users upload to Reddit is no different from items shared on Facebook or Twitter.
Even still, Jareds says that more than 90 percent of the referrals he earned came from Google, where his referral code on the Uber website appeared at the top of search engine results, not from Reddit.
In an email, Jareds told Gibbons that “the only right thing to do is to reinstate my credit as it was earned within your guidelines. I would understand if Uber was to suspend the uber$20freeride promo code in order to reassess how Google crawlers index their pages and fix the problem. But the credit was earned in a just and ethically correct way.”
He concludes, “Uber should stand behind their promotions and praise people who preach Uber to their peers. Not penalize those who outperform and shine above the rest of the community.”
Since Jareds' story surfaced, Uber has credited his account with $500, well-short of the total that he believes he legitimately earned. Still, in reflecting on the ordeal, Jareds believes that he could have taken steps to avoid the suspension of his account.
“Looking back, once I reached a good enough level, maybe I should have stayed under the radar. Changed my promo code, not rated the guy one star and sort have tried to avoid any suspicion,” said Jareds.
Despite his frustration, Jareds would still appreciate Uber's services.
“I think it's a great company. I think they do a good job. I've never had any sort of problems with them other than with the referral code,” he said. “Would I go out and market and try to sign up my friends and send emails out again? No”
Fortunately, he likely won't have to.
Shortly after our conversation, Jareds emailed Elite Daily saying that he had been contacted by an Uber competitor who gave him a “generous credit to try their service and said 'we can create a similar referral program with you' to refer business their way.”
Perhaps Jareds' days of riding high and for free are only just beginning.
Photo courtesy Blake Jareds