Travel startup Hopper was announced nearly 3 years ago with $8 million in funding to fuel a stealth-mode build of a full-text search tool for travel. Three years, in addition to the time since being founded in 2007, is a long time. After spending nearly all of it developing the product - and raising an additional $12 million - the company's recent product reveal didn't catch on with consumers.
So here's the pivot: the startup now helps consumers find the best time to book a flight, offering up a "When to Fly and Buy" promise. Initially launched this spring, the flight research tools now feature prominently as the call to action on the homepage.
By using historical data and forward-looking filings from airlines, the startup's algorithm attempts to accurately predict the best time to buy a flight between two destinations.
Hopper calls these searches "reports," as the resulting information is a cohesive piece of research on a particular route. It's the detailed nature of these reports that set the service apart from other fare comparison tools such as Bing Travel.
The report clearly lays out what a good deal for the route is, and what the general spread for fares on the route have been for the next 6 month period - including the the cheapest fare on the calendar.
The company has also included an airport report to see all of the various flights coming in and out of an airport, and a flight deals map - both of which are useful tools for people searching for deals from a local airport.
Hopper has also quietly rolled out an alpha iteration of a flight metasearch product, using Orbitz data to offer a direct booking tool on-site. Once a user chooses to shop the fare, a new screen loads with a "Hoppertunity Score," which is a basic ranking of how much of a deal the fare is: Great Deal, Good Deal, Average and Show All. This is a quick way to determine when the best available deal is, and will be a boon to flexible travelers simply seeking the lowest airfares.
The other search filters are still basic, including selecting how many stops for the flight and a date selection tool that allows for a flexible search on either side of the departure dates.
Overall, this full-featured flight search product drops Hopper right into Hipmunk's review mirror, while still establishing its own unique use case and standalone interface approach.
The destinations product is still in existence - after all, it was the result of a long period of aggregating travel content throughout the depths of the internet - and sits alongside the "Flights" button on the homepage.
The destinations product also lives at the top of the fare search page, where users can click on the searched destination to see more about the place.
Spending three years developing a product is a long time, especially targeted to consumers who have rapidly evolving tastes and expectations. By quickly iterating new features within months of launching publicly, the startup is attempting to leverage its core data set into a viable, sticky product.
Disclosure: Frederic Lalonde is chairman, co-founder and an investor in Tnooz.