Millennials mourn days of cheap Seamless, Ubers, Airbnb

In 2015, jet-setting from Manhattan to Miami was a breeze for Samantha Chin, 31. It was only $82 a night to rent a room on Airbnb in a luxury condo she had all to herself. Palm trees provided the backdrop for selfies on her private balcony overlooking the bay, and pool access was an elevator ride away.

“People thought I lived in Miami because I used to go and post about it so much. Little did they know I was only finding these cheap Airbnb rooms that were way cheaper than hotels,” Chin recalled. She paid $113 for a similar apartment in downtown Miami in 2017 — a subtle price hike, but still worth it.

“The view was amazing and I was so close to all the restaurants and bars I wanted to try,” Chin recalls. Today, comparable one-bedroom Airbnb stays in downtown Miami cost more than $184 per night on a weekendand Chin can only afford short vacations once or twice a year.

Samantha Chin in a pool in Miami
Samantha Chin, 31, in Miami.
Courtesy of Samantha Chin
Chin spent $82 on an Airbnb in downtown Miami in 2016.
Chin’s Airbnb receipt from a stay in downtown Miami in 2016.
Samantha Chin
Chin spent $82 on an Airbnb in downtown Miami in 2016.
She spent $82 a night.
Samantha Chin

“I long for the days when I could stay in Miami for the price of a sushi dinner,” she lamented.

For the past decade, millennials like Chin have been living the Kardashian lifestyle on Kmart budgets. Startups like Airbnb, above, ClassPass, and MoviePass had venture capital to bust and were keen to quickly acquire subscribers and eliminate the competition. They kept prices incredibly low, profitability be damned. Silicon Valley was happy to subsidize—until now. The avocado-toast generation, known for complaining about the extra cost of guac, needs to make or break their once-lavish lifestyle. And they’re not happy about it.

“It was so cheap,” said Tegan Nelson, a 29-year-old grieving the death of MoviePass in 2019. “It allowed us to make fun things at a low cost; we didn’t have to worry about not being able to afford the actual expenses otherwise.”

The administrative assistant from Omaha, Nebraska, fondly remembered the good old days when he paid just $9.95 a month to see dozens of movies in theaters on the subscription service. She joined the platform in May 2018 and said she was watching at least four movies a month at the time. It was a refreshing change from her college days in the Bronx, when she spent more than $15 to see movies in Manhattan. She knew it was too good to be true.

Tegan Nelson holds up her old Moviepass card.
Holding up her old Moviepass card, Tegan Nelson missed the days when she paid $9.95 a month for unlimited movies.
Tegan Nelson

“I remember when we got it, we said, ‘There’s no way this is sustainable for them, but we’re going to use it while we can,'” Nelson said.

Nelson realized this was the beginning of the end when, in July 2018, MoviePass implemented a “top price” feature that prompted users to pay additional fees during periods of high demand. Then, a month later, she received an email from MoviePass informing her that she and other users could only watch three movies a month for the same $9.95. After the service shut down in 2019, she began seeing fewer films in theaters.

Peter Boatwright, a professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, said the undervalued services many of these companies offered in their early startup days would only increase over time.

“It’s more expensive to acquire customers than to keep them. These early startups will spend big bucks on customer acquisition in hopes that the cost of retaining customers would be much lower over the long run,” Boatwright said, explaining that the gradual price increases are now even more apparent. “With inflation, those costs have already gone up and people are paying attention because they are sensitive to the strain on their wallets. When we consider how little we paid, this increase is all the more striking.”

Adem Selita, a 31-year-old from Staten Island, must have noticed how much more he pays for the food delivery app Seamless. He fondly recalled receiving a promotional email in December 2016 that advertised in big, bold letters: “$8 off your next Seamless order over $10 when you pay with PayPal.” He ordered two cheesesteaks and fries for around $14 and only paid $6. Such offers allowed him to order food almost five times a week.

Adem Selita near his home in Staten Island.
Adem Selita near his home in Staten Island.
Farouk Hasanaga

“They would bombard you with promotions as soon as you opened the app. When they took new restaurants on board, the restaurants also gave discounts,” Selita recalls.

Now he pays $14 for a single cheesesteak plus taxes, fees and tips.

Selita also reminisced about Uber’s cheap glory days. In 2013, when he was a student at NYU, he rode Ubers — often city cars or huge SUVs — all over town for as little as $5 or $10 thanks to heavy promotions and discounts. He felt like he had a private driver.

“I would take [Ubers] the whole time. Nicer cars were parked more often and I don’t think I’ve ever paid extra for the larger vehicles. I wouldn’t normally do that today unless I was with a large group of people,” Selita said.

Now he has to limit his food delivery to once or twice a week and rarely uses Uber.

Meanwhile, Chin said she needs to work harder and get bigger clients into the hospitality company she works for to keep up with her spending. And even then she’s cut back. Since blowouts are now over $60, not just $29 like they used to be with the defunct subscription Service Glam + Goshe doesn’t do them that regularly.

Samantha Chin, 31, in Manhattan's Meatpacking District.
Samantha Chin, 31, in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Chin spoke about the rising cost of living compared to the early days of the tech boom.
Stephen Yang

“I used to go before dates just because there was so much,” she said. The same goes for the pedicure, which is now a special occasion, not regular grooming.

Referring to various beauty and grooming things, she said, “I’ve learned to either make them myself or a lot less often.”

Although she earns more than she used to, she doesn’t live as big as she used to.

“Obviously everything was right, but I was like, ‘This is such a good deal, I can’t say ‘no,'” she said. “My lifestyle was ambitious in many ways, [but] It looked glamorous from the outside.” Millennials mourn days of cheap Seamless, Ubers, Airbnb


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