By Nikki Ekstein
February 27, 2015
Credit: Photo via Hitlist App

What started as the Tinder of travel—swipe left to put a destination on your “bucket list”; swipe right to discard it—has suddenly emerged as a booking platform with incredibly affordable fares. For recent flights from New York, we're talking $372 to Moscow, $451 to Beijing, and $341 to Copenhagen—round trip. So what’s the catch? And how do they go so low? Read on to find out.

Hitlist’s fares are powered by Skyscanner, one of our favorite tools for finding affordable flights (they aggregate fares from discount sites, consolidators, and regional search engines). More data comes from crowdsourced search results—if someone browsing for flights on Expedia or Orbitz finds a great deal, that information becomes available for Hitlist users as well. But Hitlist’s secret sauce isn’t all about the data: it also adds a proprietary algorithm that identifies “good,” “great,” or “spectacular” deals, and only shows you fares that make the cut. Find the one you like, and Hitlist takes you straight to Skyscanner for booking.

All of this is, without a doubt, innovative and scrappy. But if the “spectacular” deals advertised on Hitlist’s home screen look too good to be true, that’s because in some ways, they are.

In my tests, the prices I saw listed were often marked “unverified,” which means that they were accurate at some point in the last week but may no longer be available. One search, for instance, revealed a $436 fare to Milan that turned out to be $646 when I clicked through to Skyscanner—that’s a markup of 148 percent. Another flight to Lyon was promised at $549, but ended up costing $768. But some great deals did pan out: one $505 fare to Beijing only fluctuated slightly, to $509, by the time it appeared on Hitlist.

There’s one more catch: because Hitlist only provides flights from a pre-selected pool of deals, some flexibility is required. Scratch that: a LOT of flexibility is required. Some of my searches yielded no results at all, and you’re really only guaranteed to find a flight if you click through the grid of featured deals on Hitlist’s homepage. Even then, the featured deals may not be available when you’re looking to travel. Inspired by the $341 Copenhagen flight I’d seen during testing, I decided to try my luck a week later—but when I searched for fares departing in September or October, not a single “good deal” was available. The site gave me a frown-faced error message, which summed it up perfectly.

Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.