You've just landed. How not to be taken for a ride

July 13, 2011
Fares from Washington DC:

    Congrats. You've found a great fare to a distant city or land (perhaps on Airfarewatchdog.com) and it cost you next to nothing, we hope. But could your taxi ride from the airport end up costing you more than you planned?  While many airports offer excellent public transportation between the airport and downtown, such options can be time-consuming and hard to navigate. A taxi is typically the easiest (although often priciest way to go). So how do you know if you have been "taken for a ride?"

    Many foreign countries do not have stringent regulations for taxi companies, and if they do, this unsupervised group of employees can still take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Here are six tips Airfarewatchdog uncovered while interviewing taxi drivers and travelers in cities across the globe, such as Paris, Amsterdam, Athens, Amman, and Istanbul.

    ALWAYS discuss price before getting in the taxi and determine if the meter will be used (sometimes it is a flat fee, such as the $45 charge to and from New York's JFK). As soon as the door is closed and you are speeding away, you are at the mercy of the driver. It is never wise to haggle over a price on the way to your destination. Either agree on a price before leaving or once at your destination. Keep in mind your safety and that of your luggage. If you make a driver mad, he could drive off with your suitcase in the trunk the second you step out of the car (which is why you might want to have your bags in the back seat with you).

    NEVER be honest with the driver. Sounds strange? Here's why. If a driver asks if this is your first time to the city and you say yes, you have given him liberty to take you on the most circuitous route to rack up the meter. If you say you have been there many times (even if you have never set foot there), he or she is more likely to take you on the most direct routing in case you question where you are. Some drivers will ask if you are meeting someone at your destination to see if you have local contacts or friends. People who know few people in a destination are easier targets for jacked-up prices.

    ALWAYS do your homework. Before landing in a foreign destination, try to find out the average price of a taxi from the airport. Many cities have a flat rate that is charged between the airport and the city. In other cities, however, airport taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging customers (we're thinking Athens here, for example). Upon landing, look for a tourist information desk and ask the approximate price of a taxi to your hotel. It is best to get two to three quotes so you know what the price should be before hiring a taxi. A common trick of taxi drivers is to tell you that public transportation is on strike or no longer operating for the day, which is why they have a higher price. By asking an information desk in advance, you would know this before agreeing on a price with a driver.

    NEVER accept a ride from a taxi driver who approaches you. These are often unlicensed drivers who will charge twice the rate or even have limited licenses, insurance, or certification to operate a taxi. It is best to go to a taxi stand on the curb instead of these drivers who circle the arrivals hall of airports like sharks waiting for someone unknowingly willing to pay twice the price. If there is not a curb or official taxi stand, keep walking past the drivers trying to push their services on you and hail a taxi on your own. Walking into an arrivals hall after a long flight can be disorienting. Take a few minutes to figure out where you are before accepting the first taxi offer you see. Officially registered taxi drivers in most cities will be the first to warn you against these unlicensed drivers.

    ALWAYS have small currency bills ready. It is never a good idea to hand a taxi driver a large bill if the meter price is not that high or to pay in foreign currency. Drivers will sometimes say that they have no change in an effort to squeeze a higher tip or fare from you. It is best to carry small bills, which will also come in handy for tips to the bellboy or restaurant server later anyway.

    NEVER go meterless unless the price is already agreed. If the driver does not use his meter and you have not already agreed upon a set price, get ready to be overcharged. It is okay to politely request to use the meter while pulling away from the airport if it is not on, but once you are on your way, it is safer to agree on a price once at the destination, especially at night. Remember, some taxi companies have surcharges for nighttime or pre-sunrise taxi trips and may even charge per suitcase. Drivers know that many tourists will fail to ask about the meter, and they can get away with a higher price by not using it.

    Most taxi drivers are not bad guys. In fact, they are trying to make an honest living to support their families. But, over the years, they have developed certain habits that can take advantage of unsuspecting tourists in a foreign city. This advice should help you to save money and protect yourself from greedy drivers on your next overseas trip. Be sure to share with us your own taxicab experiences. Have you been ripped off by a taxi driver? Any tips you'd like to share? Fire away in the comments!

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