Have you ever just shown up at an airport without a clear travel plan? If your lifestyle allows for that sort of a lack of planning, but you’d rather ease into such a spontaneous adventure, there are several phone apps that can make unplanned travel feel less risky and more affordable.
While travelers have long been able to set up airfare alerts using Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak and a host of other web-based tools, the following apps go a step further in helping budget-conscious people who want to go somewhere but don’t know (or care) where.
Hopper and Get the Flight Out
Within the Hopper app there is a feature — once referred to as Flex Watch but now integrated into the Hopper app’s main functionality — which, as the original name suggests, aims to help those with flexible travel dates or destinations as well as spontaneous travelers.
You have the option to search for airfare of a specific destination, or you can tap on the box that asks “Flexible?” From there, simply choose your time frame (either “anytime” or any range up to 10 months in advance) and a length range (somewhere between a weekend and two weeks). You then set your home city; your destination can be either a specific city or “Anywhere.”
I first tried the former option using a theoretical long-weekend trip from New York to Chicago. After setting the appropriate parameters, Hopper gave me the most affordable options. In this case, round-trip airfare from New York to Chicago for March 1 to 5 was available for $112. Scrolling further down led me to a chart showing which months of the year are the least and most expensive for this route. (It turned out that March is the second cheapest month to travel from New York to Chicago.)
I also tried the “Flexible?” option to see what it could offer me from my home base of New York. It provided a range of trips of varying length available over the next several months, from nine days in Denver for a round-trip price of $145 to seven days in Reykjavik for $205. These are great deals if you’re free to go on the specified dates that accompany the airfare.
Once you settle on a trip, you have the option to book directly on the app (note that the cheapest fares are often nonrefundable, as my Chicago one was). But if I wasn’t ready to commit, I could have selected “Watch this trip for updates,” which basically bookmarks my trip by putting it on a “Watch” list.
Also from Hopper is a separate app with one function: to show you the best flight deals for the current day from your location. Unlike the main app, Get the Flight Out (GTFO) is for spontaneous travelers only.
After setting your home city, you’ll see a simple list with destination cities and round-trip airfare. A recent test yielded a nonstop flight leaving for Buffalo that night and returning a few days later (a Sunday) for $336. If I had continued, the app would have sent me to book the flight, whether it be directly with the airline or to a third-party seller like Travelocity.
Let’s say you got your last minute flight — you’ll need a place to stay.
HotelTonight is an app that offers travelers last-minute, same-day hotel deals and in-app ratings from users. The makers of the app say that hotels with unsold rooms share this information with them, hence the great bargains.
Searching for a room in Buffalo for my fake trip, I saw there was one room left at the Curtiss Hotel for $99, a room that the app says would normally cost $161. It looked quite nice, and 91 percent of the 34 people who have booked there using the app liked it.
The only problem is this deal was just for one night, and I was (theoretically) planning on eating chicken wings through Sunday. After going back to reset my dates, the Curtiss was unfortunately no longer an option. But there was a Days Inn near Niagara Falls for $45 a night, and many other options.
Initially, the app only allowed for same-day bookings, but it now offers the ability to book up to seven days in advance and stays for up to five nights.
If you prefer to do all of your spontaneous bargain hunting in one app, consider Hipmunk, which studies itineraries and other data to find affordable travel deals.
You can search for specific destinations and dates, but those seeking inspiration will like the “Discover” tab, which shows a wide variety of deals based on categories ranging from basics like “Beach” and “Europe” to “Roman Empire” and “World’s Best Nightlife.”
Tapping on “Beach” reveals round-trip flights to Cancun from $254, and then a calendar showing current prices for each day through the end of April. But, because I’m all about living in the moment, I decide I want to leave today, which is going to cost me roughly twice as much ($510).