Predicting when you should buy your airfare is always tricky business—and it’s something everyone seems to obsess over. We certainly do. But there’s a new game in town to help you figure it all out, courtesy of flight intelligence site Hopper, which determined last fall that searching for a flight deal—or holding out for one, anyway—usually costs consumers 4.5% extra. Their eponymous app is now available (albeit for iOS only), and we recommend you download it, stat. Here’s why we love it.
Context: Any search you carry out on Hopper builds in tons of contextual information, so you know you have the best odds at getting a good price. First, you pick your destination—no dates. A calendar pops up showing you the cheapest days to fly over the course of the next six months. (Better yet, it’s color coded, so you can easily spot “good deal” days from “expensive” days.) Then, your prediction pops up, telling you how much fares may fluctuate before they start steadily rising, and when that rise period may begin. For extra context, a “tips” section offers advice on how changing your airports or dates might save extra money.
Smart Predictions: Most sites rely on historical data to deliver their predictions; Hopper adds another layer. The site aggregates the results of current fare searches being carried across many search engines, and uses that crowdsourced information to pinpoint the best deals being booked right now. By combining the best values historically available and the best values available now, Hopper’s predications among the most well-informed we’ve seen.
Real-time Notifications: Select the “watch flight” option, and you’ll get notifications whenever the app thinks it’s a good time to book. If prices are already rising, it’ll urge you to book, or if a sudden drop yields a great deal, you’ll be able to take advantage immediately. The language is simple and straightforward, with nuggets of advice that are clear and actionable (i.e.: “Prices for your Miami trip are at $248. Book now: prices are unlikely to drop lower.”)
Competitive prices: Compared to exact searches on Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz, we regularly found that the best deal quoted on Hopper was the best deal quoted anywhere else we’d normally look.
Seamless booking: You don’t book within the Hopper app, but the app does a nice job of seamlessly taking you to the source of your deal, for quick and easy booking.
That said, all new apps have their kinks to work out, and we found a few for Hopper (having tested the app for two weeks while it was in Beta). Sometimes we got notifications telling us to “book now,” only to click through and find that in-app messaging asked us to wait for a better deal. Predictions require a certain amount of trust, and inconsistency in recommendations can be unsettling in that sense. What’s more, these notifications can be constant, amounting to as many as six in a few hours on days when prices were particularly erratic. Information overload gets tiring.
An additional consideration that bears noting: Hopper is better for domestic fares than international ones, since the historical data only goes six months out. That’s a shame, since we agonize more about the big-ticket fares than smaller, regional ones. Even still, we found $600 round-trip tickets to Stockholm and Copenhagen for September departures that would have quickly disappeared, if not for the real-time alerts.
Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.