Ice cream headache for Uber in free ice cream promotion

​Uber is facing a backlash over its "free ice cream" promotion after Australian customers complained of being repeatedly hit with hidden fees.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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Claire Reilly
3 min read


Uber's offer to deliver ice cream to its app users has had a frosty reception after some customers have reported being repeatedly hit with hidden fees as part of the promotion.

The promotion is running in 144 cities across 38 countries on July 18, 2014, with one Australia being one of the first countries to get their hands on the frozen goodies. However, Australian Uber customers have complained of being hit with an AU$1 fee for every request made for ice cream on the app, even in cases where the product has not been delivered.

Angry customers took to Uber's Facebook page to complain about the promotion and the hidden charges associated with it. While demand has been high (the Uber app stated that availability of the gelato was "very limited") and some Facebook users have complained about long wait times, there were also plenty of complaints from Australians about the hidden fees.

Facebook user Coreena Duncan shared a screen capture of her bank statement showing 11 charges from Uber Technology, each for AU$1.11, labelled "authorisation only". Duncan's comment accompanying the statement: "SCAM SCAM SCAM!!!"

Coreena Duncan

Another user who shared a similar account statement has been met with a response from Uber claiming that the fees are holds rather than charges.

"We're aware that some people are experiencing multiple $1 verification charges," Uber's response to the user read. "These aren't a charge, it's a $1 verification hold to make sure that your account is real. It'll disappear from your account summary as soon as this has been confirmed."

Uber also loaded an image gallery on its Facebook page to promote ice cream offer, with a short note at the end reading: "We're also aware some people are receiving multiple $1 verification holding charges. The $1 fee is charged to verify your account and is reversed as soon as it is confirmed. Uber on!"

One Uber user told CNET that his attempts to request ice cream through the Uber app were met with a wait screen that then "dumped" him back to the original map home page on the app, without confirming whether his request had gone through. After several attempts, this customer checked his credit card statement to find multiple charges, despite never actually receiving the ice cream.

It appears that the hold charge to verify credit card details has been put through for every request, rather than as a one-off hold.

Uber is replying to individual users on Twitter, including one user who wrote "I had my #ubericecream request accepted with a photo of the driver and his ETA and then it disappeared #notimpressed".

Uber has a short post on its help forum explaining that users may "occasionally" be charged a small fee after signing up for the service to validate the linked credit card.

"When you sign up for Uber or occasionally thereafter, a small pre-authorization charge is made on your credit or debit card for a specific amount used to ensure your card is valid before you ride. We void that charge immediately when it's made so you are never actually charged. Pre-authorization is normally valid for 1-5 days on debit cards, while credit card pre-authorization periods can be longer and vary between issuing banks.

"Note that while a pre-authorization entry may appear on your statement, the value will never actually be deducted from your account. [Uber's emphasis]"