Skift Take

'Deception' may be too strong of a word in this case, but the media attention goes to show that customers do not like to feel that they've been swindled. A quarter of customers pay the tip, but how many of them know it?

There are a number of innovative features that set Hopper apart from other online travel agencies. 

The fintech add-ons, like the option to cancel for any reason, is one of them — and how Hopper makes much of its money

And, another unique feature is one that asks the customer to pay a “tip” to Hopper as part of a booking. 

While that particular feature is not new, according to the company, it attracted some press this week for being “deceptive.” Whether or not a tip is included is indicated by the position of a toggle button on the final payment page before completing a booking. The default for that toggle is the on position, meaning a tip is included in the final price automatically. The customer has to switch the toggle to the off position in order to not pay a tip.

Plus, calling it a tip when it’s really not, in the traditional sense, provoked some negative reactions as well. 

For a $798 roundtrip flight from Sevilla to Glasgow on April 21-23 — including a base fare of $670 and a taxes and fees line of $128, normal for online travel agencies —  the tip shown on the final booking page was $3.29. Next to it was the message, “Lend a paw! This optional tip helps power our predictions.” The “more information” link below that message leads to a page that reads, “Hopper’s got lots of data to chew on. All those numbers help us make accurate predictions — and your support keeps these bunnies running.” Hopper also has a web page that explains the tip

The tip is not the only cost that’s automatically added before making the booking. There are two options for customer service support, including a free basic basic plan or a VIP plan for $42. The VIP plan is the default, so the user has to manually choose the free option in order to not pay the extra fee. The VIP service includes a five-minute response time and in-app chat, versus the free option that includes a 24-hour response time and email only.

The amount of the tip is either a flat fee or a percentage of the reservation, depending on the type of booking, according to the website. 

A Hopper spokesperson sent an email to Skift explaining some of the background behind the tip option. 

“The fee has been part of the Hopper app since we launched the Hopper flight price prediction and flight watch/notification tools alongside flight booking back in 2015. When it initially launched in 2015 it was a mandatory fee, but in 2018 we made it an optional fee (and started calling it a ‘tip’ since it isn’t mandatory),” according to an email from a Hopper spokesperson. 

The price prediction and flight watch/notification tools allow the user to track a flight as it increases or decreases in cost. Hopper sends the user a notification as that happens, along with a prediction about whether the cost is likely to increase or decrease again. 

“Hopper has always offered its proprietary price prediction features and travel watch/notification tools free of charge, which have helped millions of users save money, whether they booked with Hopper or not. The optional tip has always been a way for users to acknowledge that value,” Hopper said in the email.

When Hopper was a small startup, the fee was a way to monetize that tool, since the company only generated revenue from flight bookings, the email said.  Airlines tend to pay the lowest commissions, if any at all.

“Over the years, we’ve had many customers express to us that they’re happy to pay a small fee to thank Hopper for finding them an exceptional deal, so we’ve kept the feature,” the company said, pointing to a few app reviews that mention the tip option. 

One in four customers pay the tip when booking with Hopper, the company said. 

The company did not respond to a question about why the default option is to pay a tip, but it did add that the customer can get a refund. 

“If a customer reaches out to support through our in-app support live chat stating that they misunderstood the added fee or did not intend to add a tip, Hopper refunds the customer with no questions asked,” the spokesperson said.  

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: bookings, fees, fintech, hopper, mobile apps, online travel agencies, online travel newsletter, social media, tourism

Photo credit: Hopper turned the booking fee into an optional "tip" in 2018. Source: Flickr Jeanine Schaik / Flickr

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