The "what meter?" Bangkok airport taxi scam

Generally speaking, Bangkok’s brightly coloured taxis are abundant, cheap and reliable, but we’ve heard one too many stories from travellers who were “taken for a ride” from Suvarnabhumi airport in more ways than one. Here’s how a common taxi scam plays out, and how to avoid it.

Don't get

Don’t get “taken for a ride”!

After passing immigration and collecting bags, travellers emerge into the arrivals hall on Suvarnabhumi’s second floor. A tout or two might appear to offer “taxi services” like they do in airports all over the world — avoid them.

Follow signs for “Public Taxi” or “Taxi Stand“, which at time of writing will take you down a level to the ground floor and lead outside to one of two official taxi stands run by the airport authority (there are no fake taxi stands). Approach the official or kiosk with a sign that reads “TAXI – METER ONLY”. They’ll ask where you’re going, give you a printed piece of paper and point you in the direction of a taxi. Your friendly driver will then help with your luggage, and away you go.

Here’s when the scam unfolds. The driver perceives travellers to be tired, excited, new to Thailand (or Asia) and probably not too concerned about being scammed after going through such an “official” process to get a taxi. The driver will ask for that piece of paper and neglect to give it back. If the travellers notice that no meter has been switched on in the first place, they assume an acceptable fare has already been determined.

From this point, we’ve heard of a few different scenarios playing out. In one, the driver slowed down after a few kilometres and cheerfully said, “Okay, 200 baht per person so 800 baht for all four of you.” At least, in this case, the driver left some room for negotiation, but he had already broken the law by not using the meter.

More often, drivers will bring travellers to their destination and then nonchalantly request a ridiculous sum as though it’s normal. In one case, the driver meandered through a maze of backstreets for a good 15 minutes, pretending to have serious difficulties finding a hotel on a major road simple to locate. In this case, the driver not only scammed travellers by not using the meter but also took advantage of the fact that they didn’t have the hotel’s phone number. He then cited this “struggle” while arguing that he deserved 1,500 baht for the trip.

The amount requested after a meter-less journey varies widely and seems to depend on how greedy the driver is, how oblivious the driver thinks the travellers are, and what sort of mood the driver is in. We heard from one one woman who forked over 1,200 baht without thinking twice, only to find out later that she’d been scammed. Another paid 800, and we’ve met a few who settled for around 700 after an argument.

Metered fares from Suvarnabhumi airport typically run between 200 and 500 baht, depending on what part of the city you're going to, plus the 50 baht airport surcharge and any tolls, which are extra.

To avoid falling victim to this relatively common scam (we’ve covered some other Bangkok scams here), say two words as soon as you enter the taxi: “Meter please“. If you really want to be safe, keep the door open until you see a glowing red “35” show up on the meter (as in 35 baht, the starting fare for all taxi rides in Bangkok). Unlike in Hanoi or Saigon, meters that have been tampered with aren’t common in Bangkok, though we have heard of a few.

Also, hold onto that piece of paper given to you at the taxi stand. It’s your record of the date, time, requested destination and taxi license number, and the driver has no reason to take it from you. An identical record is kept at the airport; should you have a complaint it’s the only way for the police/airport to identify the specific taxi involved. If the driver is held accountable for taking advantage of travellers, they will face suspension and fines. Some taxi drivers, especially those who use large cars, have complained that fixed fares from the airport are only fair. Until the law says otherwise, we disagree.

You're almost here!

You’re almost here!

One more tip: the ground floor taxi stand is not the only place at the airport to catch a taxi. If you want to avoid the 50 baht surcharge, head up to the fourth (departures) floor and walk outside. You’ll find plenty of taxis that have just dropped off travellers and are waiting for their next fare. Locals regularly catch taxis here as it’s faster and cheaper, and we’d venture a guess that the scamming drivers mainly pick up at the ground floor taxi stand as that’s where the vast majority of susceptible travellers go. You won’t get an official printed record if catching a taxi outside the fourth floor, but there’s probably less chance you’ll end up needing it.

Although the “what meter?” taxi scam happens frequently at Suvarnabhumi, it can happen anywhere in the city. Unless catching a taxi to a far off destination like Pattaya or Ayutthaya, in which case you’ll need to negotiate a fare with the driver, always make sure that meter is switched on.

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Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.

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