After a year of lockdown and limited travel, Americans want flexibility and freedom when planning trips.
They got used to it during the coronavirus pandemic, as travel suppliers scrambled to adjust to both market and medical realities in spring and summer of last year by introducing not only new health and safety protocols but looser rebooking and cancellation policies, as well.
Many of the changes are here to stay.
“Airlines and hotels, so many of them are still offering flexible booking options,” said travel advisor Mike Rubinstein, owner and director of UprouteMe in Los Angeles. “And while airfares aren’t as insanely inexpensive as they were a few months ago, there are really still some great flight deals out there — and fantastic hotel rates to be had, too.”
To capitalize on that zeitgeist while helping travelers lock in some of those great hotel prices, travel app Hopper rolled out its new “Price Freeze for Hotels” feature on Wednesday. The feature lets users lock in the best rate at a specific hotel for up to 60 days.
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If the nightly rate increases during the freeze window, Hopper will cover up to $100 of total stay cost to help keep the rate lower. If prices drop, users pay the new lower rate.
“Hotels don’t actually take on the risk; Hopper underwrites it,” said Anwesha Bhattacharjee, head of hotel fintech at Hopper. “When you’re coming onto Hopper, we’ll guarantee the price point for you.”
Users place a deposit that’s determined by an algorithm that factors in trip length and the likelihood of price changes in a given market, said Bhattacharjee.
When they’re ready to book their room at the rate they froze, their deposit is credited to the booking price. (An actual room is not reserved until they do so, despite the rate freeze.) If they want to change hotels, the freeze and deposit are transferrable to a new booking.
Hopper estimates that for the average two- to three-night stay, Price Freeze users save an average $17 per night and $43 per stay. “But we’ve seen customers save $100, or in the high $80s,” she noted.
Accommodation rates look like they’ll only keep rising, according to Boston- and Montreal-based Hopper, which has tracked a 130% jump in hotel searches since the beginning of 2021, increasing by 7% weekly.
Thanks to leaps in seasonal and domestic travel demand, nightly rates will likely rise 17%, to $165 on average nationwide, by early July, Hopper said. “Users will always end up saving money by using Price Freeze,” said Bhattacharjee.
Price-locks for online airfares have been around for a number of years.
“As we entered the pandemic, we realized that a lot of our customers were feeling a lot of anxiety around not being able to commit to travel because they didn’t know which locations would close down or open up, or what the quarantine rules would be,” Bhattacharjee noted.
“A 14- or 21-day freeze wasn’t what they were looking for so we started out offering a longer price freeze duration precisely for that,” she added. “We knew our customers were feeling they wanted to travel but couldn’t make up their minds just yet and need some more time.”
Price Freeze is particularly helpful for large groups and families planning travel together, when multiple OKs are required on rates before committing to a hotel stay, Bhattacharjee said.
“That need is not going to go away,” pandemic or no pandemic, she noted. “A lot of our customers also like the option to defer payment,” a side benefit of Price Freeze functionality.
Hopper says it’s the largest North American travel app, with more than 15 million downloads and $1.2 billion in travel and travel-related products in the past year, including 2 million hotels, 300 airlines and a selection of car rental partners.
Hopper is next developing functionality that will allow users to select the bed configurations they want (e.g., doubles, queen, king) when freezing rates, said Bhattacharjee. Price Freeze for Hotels is available on both iOS and Android versions of Hopper and anywhere the app operates.