Hopper is a full service flight booking mobile app. Like many of its web/mobile competitors, Hopper allows you to both search for flights and complete bookings on its platform. The app has also recently added hotel bookings to its service.

Hopper’s main claim to fame is that it allows you to input a flight search and then watch that trip for the best possible price before booking. If you’re flexible on dates, you can watch up to a two-week period. Hopper says that it leverages big data in the form of trillions of recorded flight prices to decide when a flight will likely go up or down in price or looks like being the best possible deal. Using push notifications, the app keeps you updated on your watched flights and tells you when it’s best to lock in a deal.

Hopper finished 2017 claiming to be the No.1 travel booking app in the US, based on November 2017 travel index rankings from app market data company App Annie. Hopper can certainly be counted a roaring success with 17 million downloads since its launch in 2015 but early on it was dogged by complaints that it was far too US-centric and wasn’t able to do much for flight searchers wanting bargains in other markets like Asia and beyond.

When you search for a flight, Hopper color-codes dates to indicate pricing levels.

Living in Melbourne, Australia, Hopper wasn’t likely to be of much use to me unless that situation had changed and while being No.1 in the US is a nice brag for the company, it was actually a red flag to me. Still, you don’t know until you try so I downloaded the iOS version and set it to work finding me cheap flights to and from New Zealand. It was early January when I began my search and I wasn’t travelling until March when I knew shoulder season pricing should be kicking in.

Hopper made short work of throwing up a wide range of sub-$200 deals each way with the added advice that I should ‘book now’ as the platform had not seen prices that low in 8 months. I was glad to see, too, that the search results appeared to cover all the usual suspects in terms of carriers that regularly fly the trans-Tasman route.

Used to ‘book-now-before-the-price-goes-up tactics’, I first did some due diligence by embarking on some comparison shopping on other platforms and directly through the airlines themselves.

On the outbound flight early in the month, Hopper came within $10 of offering the cheapest price. At $179 it was better than I could find on the popular Webjet.com.au search platform but it lost out to a $169 price offered directly on the Air New Zealand site. However, both these prices were for a seat only with checked baggage being extra. The best outcome for me was to pay the $189 fare on Air New Zealand to get an included bag. To get a checked bag through Hopper I would have had to cough up $245 on an Emirates flight, and at a departure time that did not suit. Skyscanner was also able to find the $169 Air NZ deal and push me to the website but I would still have had to upgrade to the $189 price.

When watching a flight, Hopper lets you know what it thinks about current prices and where they may go next.

Returning to Australia mid-month, however, Hopper was definitely in the ballpark with a quoted $193 price that compared to a $186 price for the same Emirates flight on Webjet.com.au. I chose this flight primarily for its departure time and I could have flown for as little as $150 if I was prepared to jump on the 6:30am red-eye. Once again, however, the $150 price did not include a checked bag.

This is not the most scientific of analysis but it shows that Hopper is competitive in the market and I really like the added element of being advised when prices are likely at their optimum.

Sometimes, of course, you’ll be searching last-minute and while this is not the best use of Hopper, it was still able to find me a cheaper flight across the Tasman on a next-day departure than Webjet.com.au could muster up. Skyscanner, however, was able to undercut that price by $200 so it’s very much horses for courses.

There is one important caveat to be aware of with Hopper. Flight prices will be quoted to you in your local currency but the transaction is actually charged in US dollars so there is an element of currency fluctuation risk attached.

Hopper notifications keep you updated on prices for your watched flights

On the other hand, Hopper charged me just a flat $5 commission on the one flight I did book through the platform and this compares well with the $24.95 service fee plus additional payment fee that webjet.com.au would have charged.

By comparison, Skyscanner charges no fees as it is linking you directly to airline websites and takes its commissions from the airlines. Similarly, Kayak makes its money from advertising and referral fees, not from the customer, and Expedia is essentially a reseller that takes a commission from the vendor on whatever it is selling, be it a flight or a hotel room.

Finally, while Hopper is perfectly happy to cater for one-way flight searches, it is not geared up to offer multi-city itineraries. You can, of course, make up your own series of one-way segments but this lack does seem take some of the bounce out of the Hopper name.