Taxi Driver Upsell Scam in Costa Rica and Thailand
This scam cost me about twenty dollars.
I was on the tica bus coming into San Jose about four years ago. It arrived in the evening. I was tired, and I couldn't remember exactly how to get to my destination (I wanted to stay at Casa Ridgway). I think it was my first time in San Jose alone. One of the taxi drivers with the unofficial taxis was waiting for the whole tica bus to unload.
He asked me where I was going. Casa Ridgway, I said. Oh, by the way, this whole interaction was in Spanish.
"It's full," he said. "Too much rain on the Caribbean Coast. So many people have come to San Jose this week. Don't worry, I'll take you to another place, and it's fine, taxi ride is one dollar."
I thought, "One dollar? This place is usually more expensive than that. Is he trying to earn a commission?"
I said, "No."
He said, "Look, if you don't believe me, just call Casa Ridgway. Use my cell phone, here you go, I've got the number stored, here I've dialed it. Just ask them."
I talked to the man who answered the phone who confirmed the taxi driver's story and that there were no rooms at Casa Ridgway.
How about the big hotel by the market?
"I know a good place, it has internet, just twenty dollars, they take credit cards, very close, don't worry."
So I went, and I checked into the San Jose Hotel or Hotel San Jose. He clearly took the long way to get there. I now know this because I know exactly where that hotel is and it's very close to both tica bus and to Casa Ridgway.
I went into the office and the taxi driver followed me a few steps behind - to wait for me to see if I found the room acceptable he said.
"Just take a quick look at the room," the hotel staff assured me.
I did. When I came back, it seemed there was something awkward in the lobby, but I simply could not put my finger on it.
The room turned out to be 30 dollars or 35, I can't remember. I put it on the credit card.
Then the taxi driver started telling me that I would need to get a taxi ride all the way to the airport the next day, because there was no bus at 6am.
"No le creo, primo."
"Llame, entonces," he said, handing me his phone.
The operator confirmed that, indeed, there was no bus to Alajuela at that time.
I gave the taxi driver back the phone and then I realized it was the same voice that had said there was no bus, as the voice that had said there was no room available at Casa Ridgway.
I suddenly had a flashback to being in Bangkok, Thailand, hearing some tricycle driver telling me a story about hotels being full, or streets being blocked off by traffic.
The next morning I took the 6am bus to Alajuela. No more upsell for me.
Two years and again three years later in Bangkok, Thailand, I heard the same kinds of stories - "that area is completely blocked off due to the government protests" - "those hotels are completely full because you can only get a room there very early in the morning." Every time my first reaction is to want to trust the transportista. And then I remember, "It was the same voice who answered the phone for both Casa Ridgway and for the bus company". I need a second opinion.