Travel app Hopper is introducing a new time-saving feature today on iOS for those of us who are planning a vacation and just don’t care where the actual destination is. With Flex Watch, you can search for a whole continent at once, and view cities sorted from lowest price to highest instead of having to go by individual airports. If you’re like me and you haven’t been to many places, this is useful for nabbing a cheap ticket to Toronto, sightseeing in Paris, or swimming in Cancun.
To get started, you tap Flex Watch on the homepage, and then you’re brought to a screen that asks for your preferred trip date range (in months) and your preferred trip duration. Then you just set your departure destination and your general arrival area that you’re interested in. This can be as broad as naming all of Asia or Europe. You can also add multiple destinations at once. When your results come out, it’s a selection of cities sorted by price. Hopper’s design, with illustrations of travel locations, and user experience make everything really nice to look at, and are on brand with the bunny illustrations that populate the rest of Hopper.
Flex Watch isn’t a feature for those who know exactly when and where they want to go or for those who want to travel more than two weeks at a time. The normal search function in Hopper still works better for that, as you have to name a specific location.
How many coats would I have to pack?
The downside to Flex Watch is that since it’s sorted by lowest price first, the trips that show up first on the list are usually less than ideal. For example, it recommended that I fly to Norway, Iceland, and other wintry countries in December and January to save money. I don’t know how many coats I would have to pack on a trip like that, but I’d rather not find out. Flex Watch also points out flying to Fuzhou, China, in January is the cheapest flight in all of Asia, at $383 currently. That’s great and all, but I can barely muster up a list of tourist attractions I’m interested in seeing there.
In some ways, the rest of Hopper is more intuitive to use. When you search for flights with the regular search bar, it pulls up a calendar that’s color-coded with red, yellow, and green to note expensive dates and affordable ones best for traveling on. The visualization helps you automatically pinpoint when it might be the right time to fly.
The splayed-out list of months in Flex Watch isn’t sorted chronologically, so sometimes it says January, October, January at once, which can get confusing. Another Hopper feature that’s missing from Flex Watch for now, but will come in the next patch, is the ability to save a flight price and easily share it on social media or send as a text right from that same screen. You can always screenshot it yourself, though.
The “watch this trip” feature, which bookmarks the trip for you and helps you keep tabs on its price, is also hidden more deeply in Flex Watch than in the rest of Hopper. You’ll unfortunately need to allow push notifications from Hopper to accurately monitor a trip, so be prepared for the occasional spam. Notifications often recommend flights to irrelevant cities and with higher price tags than what I’d asked for.
Flex Watch seems more trigger-happy than the rest of Hopper, which at least warns you not to book a trip when you can save $50 or so by waiting. Flex Watch emphasizes the money you’re saving by listing the percentage the current flight price has dropped from the regular price, and expects you to make the judgment call yourself.
But the downsides are that it often prioritizes price over quality, and displays no ratings that would hint at the quality of the airlines or the food they’re serving on deck. I might be a very price-conscious consumer, but I still weigh niceties, too. Hopper’s narrow focus on measuring prices keeps it from being a one-stop shop for all your flight-determining needs. For students and people on a budget, though, it’s great. The update rolls out to Android in coming weeks, but a specific date has not been set yet.