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Same-day travel apps cater to last-minute travelers

By Natasha Baker

TORONTO (Reuters) - Procrastinating travelers who find it difficult to plan trips in advance could find some spontaneity and even bargains with last-minute travel apps to book flights and hotel rooms.

Whether it’s finding a flight, or a same-day hotel room, apps are catering to consumers seeking more flexibility.

"Most people think that it’s crazy to book a flight at the last minute because it’s expensive and complicated," said Patrick Surrey, chief data scientist at Massachusetts-based travel company Hopper.

"Although prices do tend to go up quite sharply as departure time approaches, there are some cases where prices can go down,” he added.

Hopper's new app, Flight Tonight for iPhones, helps consumers find flights leaving within 24 hours, which could be cheaper than or the same price as flights booked in advance.

After entering the airport of departure, the app displays every destination with flights that day sorted by cheapest price. The company, which analyzes millions of flight purchases each day, said a small number of flights booked on the same day of travel have the same price as those booked 30 to 50 days in advance.

The app is free and available in the United States and Canada.

For last-minute hotel bookings, consumers can turn to popular apps such as Hotel Tonight, for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, and HotelQuickly, for iPhone, Android and Blackberry, which show rooms available at a discount for the same night. The travel website LastMinute Travel also has an app to make same-day hotel reservations.

Last month the Chicago-based deals service Groupon launched a new feature called Getaway Tonight on its app for finding same-day hotel deals in the United States.

"Already, 15 percent of hotel bookings are done at the last minute and it’s growing as more tools emerge that allow consumers to be more spontaneous in their planning,” said Simon Goodall, vice president and general manager of Groupon Getaways.

But Chris McGinnis, editor of the website TravelSkills, said it is unlikely travelers will embrace a same-day flight booking app.

"To drop everything and run out to the airport, that’s not the way people operate. At the last minute, flights are outlandishly expensive. People who book at the last minute like that are often business travelers who need to jump on a plane for a meeting and the company is paying the bill," he added.

McGinnis added that consumers have a better chance of finding deals on last-minute hotel booking apps, but said it could also be risky to wait until the last minute.

"The thing about having reservations is you get peace of mind knowing there’s a room waiting for you," he said.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

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