Hopper travel app helps you decipher — or avoid — basic economy airfares

Most business travelers want to avoid basic economy fares at all costs (literally). The Hopper travel search app offers a new feature designed to help you identify the hidden costs of basic economy, or avoid that airfare class altogether.

fair bear
Hopper

The Hopper flight search app just gained a new feature. It’s called the Fair Bear, and though the name is corny, the big fuzzy animal might save you some money — or at least some aggravation.

The Fair Bear’s goal in life is to point out all the add-on costs a flight itinerary may present you. As more airlines get into ‘basic economy’ fares, it’s a welcome if, at least for now, limited new feature.

The basics on basic economy fares

Delta started introducing basic economy fares in 2012. More recently, American and United are in various stages of rolling out basic economy fares. The idea: Squash upstart, no-frills carriers like Spirit and Frontier Airlines. The airlines position the fares a bit differently, of course, as a way to give price-sensitive travelers more options.

Basic economy fares mean you forgo advance seat assignment, refunds, changes, any hope of early boarding, and eligibility for upgrades, and you can only carry on a small personal item, like a laptop bag. You’ll also be charged extra to recline your seat, turn on the little air blower above your head, or bring aboard your own food. (I kid.)

Basic economy may not even make economic sense. The “new basic economy class seats are expected to be in many cases the same price as the standard economy fare, meaning travelers will get less for the same price,” The New York Times recently reported.

Also, when using some travel search tools like Google Flights or Kayak, it’s not especially easy to spot a no-frills flight. And in a quick spot check, neither of these tools allows you to filter out basic economy fares.

The Fair Bear cares

The Hopper app’s Fair Bear alerts you when you’ve landed on a no-frills itinerary. In a Minneapolis to Denver flight on Spirit, for instance, I could easily see that carry-on bags are allowed with purchase; how much the first and second checked bags cost; and that seat selection was ‘available for purchase.’

I was also given links to Spirit.com’s pages about its cancellation and change policies. And when you start researching a trip, you can tap the ‘Filters’ button and deselect the ‘Basic Fares’ option, so you won’t see basic economy fares at all.

What Fair Bear didn’t do, at least in my tests, was to let me choose, say, the carry-on bag and seat selection options and then roll the additional costs into the fare, so I could really see what I’d be spending. Still, if you’re looking to avoid basic economy, or at least want to have some idea up front what the hidden fees may be, add Hopper to your travel search apps.

Heads up: As of this writing, the Fair Bear has shown up only in the Hopper Android app, though it’s expected on iOS any day now. 

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