I guess you want to know who Erica Ho is.

Erica Ho is a former reporter for TIME in Hong Kong and former geek at Gizmodo and Lifehacker. Her work has appeared in CNN, Yahoo!, MSN, Mashable, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Quartz to name a few places.

Erica Ho

Review: How Zipcar Fares For Getting Around Town

  Erica Ho   6 minute read

Before there was Uber and Lyft… there was Zipcar. This is so old school, that not only it dates before pre-pandemic times, it dates before Travis Kalanick. Freakin’ ancient.1

In the past few years, there have been multiple upstarts like car2go and Maven on the scene. In the end, though, almost all of them have been the sad casualty of the market, with the pandemic closing the final chapter on these companies. Nothing like Zipcar has survived in its place, and that’s most likely because the company sold to Avis in 2013.

Given that most of ridesharing’s most popular products, carpooling through either UberPool and Lyft Line, are no longer viable, safe options, private car rides have quite quickly become an unaffordable option as the companies seek to protect what’s left. Seems like a good time to revisit the OG of carsharing.

Could it be possibly, that in the year 2020 and in the age of a global health crisis, Zipcar might be the most viable option for getting around town?

For specific uses, it does seem like the best option for getting around, and maybe even selectively for short road trips.

Signing up isn’t instantaneous

In a day and age where it’s pretty easy to get instant gratification through 9,000 apps and Amazon Prime (though that seems like it is happening less and less), Zipcar pretty much seems like a relic of the past.

Zipcar relies on a physical card to gain access to most cars, which comes in the mail, so even though approval can come swiftly, mostly folks are limited by the ability to get up and running by old-fashioned post. Getting set up does require some advance planning to get the card in your hands, even though reservations can be made at any point in time. Make sure to give it a week.

In our experience, we signed up for a Zipcar membership on July 7 (and were more or less approved with a day or so). The official Zipcar email came on July 14, saying the card was in the mail. Two days later, we received it. In total, it took about nine calendar days to receive the card.

Breaking down costs, including gas and insurance

The Zipcar annual and monthly fees vary across state and country, so for the sake of efficacy, we’ll tackle costs in New York City.

In New York, the cost for a monthly membership is $7 per month, and the cost for an annual membership is $70 per year. None of this includes a one-time $25 application fee.

Basically, the first-month upfront costs are $32 for a monthly membership, and $95 for an annual membership. Including the application fee, it still takes about 10 months on the monthly plan to break even with the cost of the annual plan. In short: If you’re choosing to use Zipcar for at least 10 months, the annual plan is the best bet.

In New York City, IDNYC holders get a free annual membership (though the $25 application fee is not excluded from this), making this a great deal. This is the plan we qualified for.

There is a relatively unknown 30-day money back guarantee for new members,  where Zipcar will refund the membership fee. (The application fee isn’t refunded. so it is wise to consider the $25 a sunk cost, regardless.)

There are lots where Zipcars live. (Christopher Schmidt / Flickr)

Zipcar’s main point of differentiation against traditional rental cars is that it includes gas and [secondary] insurance, though this can be slightly deceiving at first glance. For traditional car rentals, we always assume an extra $30-50 on top of the cost, though this can be wildly less or more depending on the cost of gas and how far the car is driven.

In terms of insurance, most travel credit cards offer primary insurance, so this can be a negligible cost. It is definitely worth pointing out Zipcar only offers secondary protection, meaning the driver is still liable out-of-pocket for damage costs. The company does offer additional protection: Limited coverage starts at an additional $5 per month, or $50 per year; full coverage starts at $9 per month, or $79 per year. There is no point in getting limited coverage, in our opinion.

However, it is still possible to utilize a credit card’s primary rental car insurance provided the Zipcar charge is made on the card, and the card issuer is willing to cover it. It is highly advisable to check with the credit card in advance.

Mostly, Zipcar is geared toward short-distance rentals since it is limited to 180 miles daily, and most car rentals have an unlimited amount of miles.2 For an idea of how far this will actually take you, San Francisco to Los Angeles is some 380 miles, so a Zipcar would not suffice. Ultimately, the best way to think about it is that Zipcar ultimately offers 2 to 3 hours of solid highway driving per day.

Booking and modifying reservations is pretty seamless

Booking a Zipcar is pretty much what you’d expect. Quite frankly, we didn’t want to bother with Uber or Lyft since it might require more than one trip. A quick search confirmed our suspicion: for a one-way Uber to the same destination, the cost estimate was $14.43 without tip.

By comparison, the hour-long rental ran $16.32 total including tax;. For two 15-minute trips, it took us from 9:54am to 10:38am in the car to complete. (It is always best to estimate things will take 25-50% longer on the road then they actually will. That’s how I’ve stayed on time for my whole entire life.)

Zipcar does have a relatively forgiving refund, change and cancellation policy for those that might need some flexibility in case plans change.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Rental DurationCancellation Period
less than 8 hours3 hours in advance
more than 8 hours24 hours (or one full day) in advance

It’s pretty easy to change a reservation on the app, though different time slots have different prices. The final price will be adjusted to reflect this. Basically, pricing is determined by how demand, and is subject to peak timing.

In fact, our reservation ended up being changed twice, mostly because it seems we have no idea how to look at multiple Google Calendars at once. It was a pretty easy process to find another slot on another day, without making another charge on the credit card. Do take note: Once a reservation is made, the card is instantly charged.

Unlocking the Zipcar with the card thing

I mean, talk about rolling out of bed to avoid NYC traffic in the morning.

It wasn’t until halfway that we were to the parking garage that we remembered to call the attendant an hour beforehand as instructed. So 22 minutes before pickup, we phoned to let them know we were on the way. No problem.

(The attendant asked us for the name of the car we were picking up; each Zipcar has its own name. In this case, we let him know that Bahama was the name of our 2015 Honda Civic.)

Getting to the car is when things got weird, though honestly, everything in life has a small learning curve the first time.

Despite some initial hiccups, and after some YouTubing how to unlock the car (but not before causing the car alarm to go off very unpleasantly for five to ten minutes in the parking garage), the car was finally ready to go.

Here is the actual video you need to see, and not a 17 year-old Instagrammer explaining the thing:

This was after some initial attempts to unlock the car with the app; honestly, we defaulted to the old-fashioned way when things became apparent, but for the life of us, couldn’t figure out the actual thing to scan.

(It wasn’t especially obvious on our car. The common consensus seems to be that the card reader is in the upper-right hand corner, so if you see a rectangular box thing in that location, try that first.)

It was also nice to see a box of Lysol wipes had been left in the car, though we chose to keep our mask on while driving. Talk about a nice pandemic touch, though do consider bringing supplies from home just in case.

Upon returning the vehicle, the parking attendant showed us how to lock the car: swipe the card, listen for the beep, and then check the door handle to see if the car is locked. Then he sent me, a princess, on her way back home.3

Initial impressions were pretty decent, actually

Besides the pure glee of getting to operate a motor vehicle for the first time this year, Zipcar was perfect for the task, which was a car to run some errands around town for an hour or so.

It does take more mental load than simply calling an Uber or Lyft (because, again, you are required to drive), but for quick jaunts that may require hauling around multiple, cumbersome things, Zipcar may be the best option.

I think where Zipcar really stood out to us was the numerous options around the immediate neighborhood, especially in a town like New York. It didn’t require us to go down to Columbus Circle to pick up a Silvercar, nor to go to a rental location that tended to be a clustered around tourist hot spots inside the city. (NO ONE enjoys driving around Times Square.)

It also didn’t require us to fill up gas, so the only thing to focus on was to accomplish the task at hand (avoiding the insane heat while picking up a suitcase).

Really, the sweet spot for Zipcar seems to be short, hour-long trips or going across town to somewhere difficult, like the beach, for a couple hours. For instance, a four-hour trek to IKEA seem like it’d be worth it.

For large distances, such as UES to the Rockaways, Zipcar would also be a great option, since an Uber there would cost $100.64 one-way (at the time of this writing). By comparison, it’d be possible to find a daily Zipcar rental for around the same price for almost an entire 24-hour period.

Uber and Lyft is not very cost-effective at the end of the day, and a daily car rental is still more cost-efficient. It’s only really great for one-offs.

Remember to return the keys. (Jeff Easter / Flickr)

Oh, and please make sure the key is in the car, and not in your bag, when you return it lest you have to walk back to the parking garage after you get home. Just saying.

Review: How Zipcar Fares For Getting Around Town via @maphappy

The Transformative Role Travel Plays In Grief’s Wake

  Erica Ho   4 minute read
Editor’s NoteIn our minds, traveling has always been about looking at the world differently. Sometimes, there is so much fixation on getting there that we forget there are many ways to learn, do, and be; and this, we believe, is one of travel’s greatest lessons. Check out other great perspectives we have showcased in the past.

Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.

Exactly a year ago, I was on a Boeing 787, en route from Dublin to New York. This was the final leg of my journey home, a trip originally supposed to last two weeks and had somehow morphed into two months.

I spent the majority of that trip laying on a beach in the U.K., watching the tide wash in, wash out. Sleeping, eating fish and chips. I had never seen sands stripped so bare at low tide; in California, there was little discernible difference as the tide came in and came out. It was a metaphor for my grief, the friend I was visiting and I had decided.

I never planned to be there. I had waited until my stepfather—really, my father of 20 years—died, and the day after he passed, I flew home to New York. I called my boyfriend at the time when I got back: he, a doctor, texted he would call back. In our relationship, where patients died left and right, that had become normal.1 Stressed, I messaged a friend in London, and asked, what if I came? Four days later, I was on a plane to Heathrow.

Tide out in Margate, England.

In movies and books, these trips get eulogized, memorialized, almost like the dead ones we seek to grieve. Perhaps, there is something about contextualizing it in a physical way that makes it concrete, real, easier to see, so we can ultimately let go.

For many, it isn’t the trip itself that matters, it is the journey of grief. These trips are singularly unique in their experience, set among a backdrop of many, even for the most experienced of travelers. At best, travel can be healing, and at the very least, it can function as a temporary shelter until it’s time to go back, to start the real work of healing.

The rationale was simple: I needed my happy place. My happy place was traveling. My stepfather loved traveling; we shared that (and food!) in common. It was the best way to honor his memory, I told myself: To continue living life as he had never died.

Even in his final months, he had asked that of me, not to shorten or cancel my trips for him, as it was becoming clear the end was approaching. (Ultimately, a decision still mired in mixed feelings.)

From the balcony in the place I mostly slept in abroad.

On a peripheral level, I can recount my time in the U.K. in intricate detail. I can name the places and towns visited (Kent, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Yorkshire, ultimately, passing through Wales to Dublin; and packing more tea in my suitcase than what should be suitable), the people I dined with, including a friend I had met in Portugal months prior, the spots where my rental broke down twice on the road, and the ensuing credit card disputes with Enterprise.

Mostly, I had no destination or end in mind. All I wanted to do was get in a car and go where I felt like going.

The ‘work sabbatical’ still serves as a tool in selective deflection for the times I choose in abstaining from explanation. The anonymity was a gift I embraced on the road; other times, I babbled to almost anyone—really, anyone—that would listen.

Looking for my happy place, it turns out, wasn’t even in the the question: On one plane, the world continued to operate, and I continued to operate. In reality, there was an impenetrable, invisible veil where nothing broke through.

Imperceptibly, there is an immediate acknowledgment that the person you were is gone. The door has closed shut. It may not even be the person you were that you mourn; it is the choice to return to that person you mourn.

At some point I decided that I would give myself the permission to be, well, depressed, unhappy, and an overall terrible dinner guest, if that was what was necessary.2 Maybe, intuitively, I knew that space was not available in my life back home. It would have to be a space, I created figuratively, and literally, for myself. To even, in the most basic terms, to exist.

There is a particular grief that happens when someone dies, another one when a parent dies, and another, final one when both parents die. I thought, because I had known he was dying, because I held his hand while his body started giving up, that somehow the process would be easier.

That turned out not to be true.

On one of the final legs of the journey in Whitby, England.

Months later, I ran across the concept of Buddhist sand mandalas and it became fixated in my mind for what seemed an indeterminate amount of time. For weeks, Buddhist monks painstakingly create an intricate, diagrammed layer of paintings, individually dying and coloring the sand granules. Its sole purpose for creation is so that it can be destroyed, in ritualized fashion. It’s a celebration of its beauty, its ephemera.

All of us spend weeks, months, years doing that with our lives, constructing and building our identities in that fashion. Maybe, I was already on my way, “trending,” if you will, to completely letting go of the deeper worries and fears that crippled me in daily life, to realizing none of it mattered. The death was a final release.

Eventually, later, I realized, there comes a point where you learn to release the grief too.

In my current life, everything has changed: Relationships, apartments, my self. Life is made up of turning points; none is quite so definitive as death. Travel can hold a separate, empty space in between all of that, when the only focus is being alive, when feeling alive can be even too much to ask for.

This is my favorite version of myself thus yet, most likely because it is constructed with compassion and love. Passing on the love to yourself that we were so privy to is sometimes the best eulogy that can ever be written.

The Transformative Role Travel Plays In Grief’s Wake via @maphappy

These Airlines and Hotels Are Extending Elite Status Through 2021

  Erica Ho   Less than a minute to read

Turn on the white noise machine, and that’s what the year of 2020 is for travel.

There’s probably never been a more fascinating time for travel. After reaching what may be peak globalization, it seems now like we have all reset to our factory default settings (alone at home, in our kitchens, eating). The industry also realizes this, so if you hold elite status, most airlines and some hotels are generously extending status by at least 12 months.

Though some will be lowering the threshold for elite qualification for the next year or beyond, not everyone won’t. That varies by company, and more information on companion status, upgrade certificates and others can also be obtained directly on the carrier or hotel website.

JetBlue, like always, is going above and beyond, by not only extending status, but allowing Mosaic members to gift that status to a friend or family member by June 1 .1 That person would receive status between June 15, 2020, and June 15, 2021.

Check it out.

AirlineStatus Extension
Air CanadaDecember 31, 2021
Air France-KLMextended by 12 months2
Alaska AirlinesDecember 31, 2021
American AirlinesJanuary 31, 2022
Delta Air LinesDecember 31, 2021
JetBlueDecember 31, 2021
Hawaiian AirlinesFebruary 2022
United AirlinesJanuary 31, 2022
HotelStatus Extension
HiltonMarch 31, 2021
HyattFebruary 28, 2022
Intercontinental (IHG)January 2022
MarriottFebruary 28, 2022
These Airlines and Hotels Are Extending Elite Status Through 2021 via @maphappy