Flight prices are erratic: they can fluctuate hundreds of dollars in literally days. There are all sorts of rules to follow, like booking on a certain day or x days before your flight. Even within the “prime booking window,” prices change like crazy. So what do you do? You let Hopper take care of it.
The Hopper app is a fare predictor featured as one of many useful resources in the Travel Hacker’s Toolkit (a.k.a. The Ultimate Guide To Travel Hacking Cheap Flights). Whenever the price of a flight route you’re watching changes, the app notifies you using AI and tons of data to suggest whether you should buy now or wait for prices to dip.
1) Choose your destination.
Input your destination. Then, use the filters to choose how many layovers you’re willing to put up with and whether you’re willing to include cheaper fares with more restrictions.
2) Choose your dates.
The apps shows you a convenient, color-coded calendar (yay for accidental alliteration!) so you can see the cheapest dates to go flying.
3) Watch your trip.
Once you’re done telling the app what you need, you can read their suggestion on when to buy, scroll to the bottom for their most current price prediction, change your criteria, buy your ticket in app, or watch the trip for notifications on price changes.
If their recommendation is to wait, you should click “Watch This Trip” and relax. Granted, I’ve only tested this once, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I had bought my ticket earlier for ~$330 and when I had found out about Hopper around three weeks before my trip to Seattle, it was around the ~$400 range. I set price alerts out of curiosity, and over the course of a week it told me:
- a cheaper airport to fly out from,
- a price drop to $335 along with a recommendation to “Book ASAP,” and
- a price increase to $418 along with a warning that “prices are expected to climb at least $175” and to book immediately.
Had I waited three weeks before my flight to book, I would’ve saved ~$70 on my ticket, or about 7 chicken Chipotle burritos with guac. Not bad. Actually, pretty impressed. Imagine the savings with an international flight. And it’s really easy to use. Kind of a set-it-and-forget-it thing, which is nice.
Limitations and Extra Info
As with any startup, there are some limitations. As of this post, here are some downsides and features you’ll have to wait for.
Not Always Accurate
Hopper is pretty great, but it’s not perfect. 95% is pretty great, but again, it’s not perfect. Hopper can’t guarantee that predictions will turn out the way they say they will, and their predictions can change based on real-time data. I still recommend them, but be aware of that 5% risk and that they don’t always display the lowest prices. And besides, them being wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Flexible Dates and Destinations
As of this post, you cannot search for flexible dates or destinations. If you want, you can just set alerts for multiple date-ranges and places. According to the FAQ, this is a popular request, so hopefully it won’t be long before it’s implemented.
Some Airlines Not Included
Hopper uses data from more than 250 airlines worldwide. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include Delta, Easyjet, Ryanair, or Southwest Airlines. They do note that they hope to work with Delta again soon, so I’m guessing (hoping) that this is a slight hiccup. That said, I would recommended looking at other sites to supplement the info Hopper gives you.
Not Available on the Web
Which means you need an Apple or Android device. Yeah, those are the two biggest phone operating systems, but it’d be nice to access your information from your computer. Luckily, the site has its own interesting features.
Business or first class tickets are not available on Hopper. Not a big deal (or any deal) for me, but if you like having options, you may have to look elsewhere. But if different types of tickets on the same flight fluctuate similarly, I would set the price alerts anyways and just book them somewhere else.
Hopper takes a commission relative to your ticket price in order to “provide our users with the best prices, store massive amounts of pricing data, and maintain the accuracy of our predictions,” and I’m guessing that it’s a main source of their money. I don’t know what’s to stop someone from using the alerts to find the same flight elsewhere to avoid paying for the commission, but you should book through the app to thank them for their help and to support the company. And especially if they helped you save money.
That said, it’s generally cheaper and better to book directly through the airline anyways, whether you’re using Hopper, Kayak, Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, or whatever other site or app you use to find your information.
Artificial intelligence is smart. I trust Hopper, and while there are other price alert systems out there, Hopper is the only one I know of that can suggest whether you should wait or buy and back up their predictions with data. However, you shouldn’t depend on Hopper as your only source of information since it’s missing some key airlines and doesn’t always show you the best fares.
You can’t use the site to see airline fares going down in a specific time range, but it does contain
- Reports on a flight paths that tells you the cheapest time to go, a price range, the cheapest days to fly out and return, airlines with the lowest fares, and alternate airports,
- Deals to find the cheapest flights from your destination,
- (Same thing, but with options to mess with filters. I like this link better.)
- (A messy but cool map of flight deals.)
- A fee calculator that shows you what it might cost for extra in-flight amenities, like checking your bags or getting on-board WiFi.
- More information about the app and company, and
- A nice FAQ for your questions about the app, accounts and billing, data and predictions, and flying in general.
I generally don’t worry about fees, but I will likely use their reports to choose my departure and arrival dates and their deals page to find the cheapest flights from my area. I don’t have many complaints about the site, but it is pretty annoying that you can’t access the links above from their homepage, which is just a page with download links for the app. If you like the resources listed above, I would bookmark the individual pages you’re interested in.
Like I said earlier, I like Hopper and will be sure to use them for future bookings. However, because of all the current limitations, here are two other ways to get cheap flight tickets.
- The Travel Hacker’s Toolkit, or The Ultimate Guide To Travel Hacking Cheap Flights, is the guide that introduced me to Hopper along with over a dozen different sites. Their page is kinda cheesy, but the author divides the guide into two main parts (domestic vs. international flights) and then breaks it down even further so you know what to do how far before your trip. It also includes a pre-booking checklist and a tracking worksheet.
- Skiplagged simplifies hidden-city ticketing. You can use their app or site to find flights that include your destination as a layover stop so you can “throw away” the rest of your ticket. It has its own risks and limitations that you can read about here, but the savings can be HUGE (up to 80%).