The other day, TechCrunch reported that Hopper, a travel app that tracks, predicts, and alerts users to the best airfares, had raised another $16 million.
I’ve used Hopper on a number of occasions to track flights and book tickets at great prices (though on a few occasions I encountered an app glitch that prevented me from booking, although the price-alert feature worked perfectly), and I’m glad to see them expanding. It’s an incredibly simple app (especially considering the complexity of buying airline tickets), and they also have a nifty green-to-red calendar heatmap that lets you quickly determine the cheapest times to fly. I can singularly credit them with saving me hundreds of dollars on flights, thanks to their price alert notifications.
What makes Hopper interesting is that they are definitionally mobile-only: Their website is basically just a landing page that directs you to the app, blog, or customer service. As their founder and CEO, Frederic LaLonde, says in TechCrunch:
We fundamentally believe that the mobile app experience in one shape or form is going to take over all commerce. A hundred percent of what we do is based on mobile. And beyond that, we’re very much a conversational company in the sense that 90 percent of what we sell comes from a push notification.
I have to be honest: Even though I grew up booking flights on the (desktop) internet, it was still a big ceremony: I’d double-check my departure time, confirm the airport, re-read my credit card number, quadruple-check that I was going to the right country, and so on. The flight-booking process would often last upward of an hour, and by that time, the ticket had gone up in price, or my wife had lost patience with re-checking the spelling of our last name.
And so the idea of buying airline tickets while riding a bus or running errands can still feel a little iffy – even though I’ve bought more than an airline ticket’s worth of items from conventional retailers at any given time on my iPhone. There was just something visceral – perhaps the specter of TSA clearance? – that had, until recently, precluded me from fully embracing mobile for high-cost purchases. But that doesn’t mean Hopper is wrong – only that I need to change with the times. (Should I get Snapchat? I dunno. Where are my suspenders?)
And for airline tickets – the perfect example of dynamically priced commodities – Hopper is perfect. As the aphorism goes, mobile is “always-on” (ugh, I can’t stand that phrase), but when it comes to buying something with hourly price variations in the tens or hundreds of dollars, the value proposition of being mobile-centric is significant. You can be on line at the supermarket, or out on a run, and snap up those cheap tickets without needing to wait until you get home.
The centricity of mobile – alerts, notifications, location-tracking, etc – to the travel experience is only just beginning (consider Facebook’s integration with KLM), and it’s exciting to see how these services will evolve. In an industry which basically created dynamic pricing and opaque costs, it’s wonderful to see customers benefit from the results of comprehensive data-crunching and the immediacy of mobile.
Side note: When I plan to travel, I sometimes use a mix of Hopper and Google Flights, because they each provide functionality that the other service lacks. Google Flights is desktop only, and doesn’t provide alerts. But you can track ticket prices using a graph, which is a neat perk. But still, Hopper has become my go-to.