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Kayak, like many other third-party travel search websites, scours dozens of airlines, hotel companies and rental car brands to list as many travel options as possible. What sets it apart from the likes of Orbitz and Expedia, however, is that you can’t actually book travel on Kayak. Instead, it serves as a search engine for you to find the deals you want, then provides a link to the other website to book it. That can include actual airline and hotel websites or third-party online travel agencies.
As a search engine, it can provide more options than you know what to do with, but understanding how to filter and sort through them can prove extra helpful. Here's a look at how to book travel on Kayak.
How to book flights on Kayak
Many people use search engines to book flights, and Kayak makes it easy to find exactly what you want. Like most other sites, you enter the details of your itinerary, like departure and arrival cities, dates of travel, and class of service. You can also select the number of bags you are traveling with to help sort through special fares like basic economy that may not include baggage.
Once the search engine pulls up the long list of results, you’ll have the option to further filter them based on criteria such as nonstop versus connected flights or whether you will have a carry-on or checked bag (a service that Kayak dubs “fee assistant” to help you manage extra fees for bags).
Other filters include the ability to select certain airlines and alliances (important if you are chasing elite status or interested in upgrades). Narrowing down the departure and arrival times can help you find the best itinerary without having to sort through all the options.
An important thing to note is that Kayak sorts options by best results first, but this doesn’t always mean the cheapest. It’s giving the easiest trips (like shortest or most convenient connections), but this may leave cheaper flights toward the bottom. Toggle between the tabs at the top (cheapest, best, quickest, etc.) to choose the filter that best meets your needs.
One downside about Kayak is that it clutters up the search engine with sponsored deals that may look like real flight options, such as the Priceline ad in the image above. Ignore these and carry on to the actual flight details.
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Kayak comes with several features to make your flight search easier and more comprehensive. One such feature is the price tracker that lets you know whether flight prices change between your search time and departure date. Kayak even gives you advice whether you should wait or buy now. If you choose to wait and track the prices, you’ll need to add your email address to get alerts.
Kayak even lets you compare prices with Priceline, which sometimes might offer a cheaper combination of flights. Just remember, when booking flights via online travel agencies, or OTAs, like Priceline rather than booking directly with the airline, you will have to deal with the OTA in the event of a flight disruption or change. The airline may not be able to help you and refer you to the travel agency instead, which can add an extra layer of unneeded complexity. This is why it is often easier to book with the airline directly if the fares are the same.
If you’re wondering how to book travel on Priceline directly, it’s a similar interface to Kayak with the ability to filter results. It’s easy to use, but all flights are booked via Priceline rather than being sent to another OTA or even the airline directly. That’s why Kayak is advantageous since it gives you the opportunity to book directly with the airline.
With Kayak, you also have the ability to search with flexibility on dates to find a lower price or better itinerary. Kayak is all about widening the net of itineraries that you can find, then filtering down those results to meet exactly what you need. It’s like a bull's-eye for airfare to target the best option.
Kayak does a good job of explaining exactly what comes with each fare type, which is important to set expectations. The last thing you want is to find out after booking is that the fare doesn’t include a seat assignment or allow ticket changes.
Selecting a flight
Once you’ve selected a flight, click on “View Deal” and Kayak takes you directly to the airline or online travel agency website to book the flight. Sometimes, it appears like you are booking a flight directly through Kayak, but it will take you to an OTA instead. Kayak doesn't sell flights directly.
If you’re looking for somewhere to go, but don’t have a particular place in mind, Kayak Explore is a feature where you enter your departure city and search for the cheapest fares to a variety of destinations. You can filter the results by choosing the number of stops, how much you are willing to spend and the type of destination (beach, skiing, city, etc.) among others. The problem with Kayak Explore is that it doesn't let you search one-way or for premium cabin fares. It also doesn't help filter the baggage details like the main section of the site.
Kayak Hacker Fares
Kayak’s Hacker Fares are for advanced travelers, as these don't book as a round-trip itinerary. Instead, you’ll book them as two one-way flights on different airlines. This is a great way to find lower fares, but it may complicate things if you’re looking to travel with just one airline or alliance.
A concern is if you have a problem with the outbound of your trip (like say a mechanical delay) and want to change the return date, it isn't likely since the second airline won’t be responsible for the outbound delay. In addition, international travelers may want to print out their full travel itinerary because you may need to show your return trip details. Consider if this is worth the risk for the savings — and many times, it just might be. Be sure to read through the details since it may include basic economy or a low-cost airline as part of the trip.
How to book hotels on Kayak
Let’s start with some important details. When booking hotels through an OTA, you most often forfeit the elite status perks and opportunity to earn points for the stay. With that out of the way, travelers that may not have elite status or not care about points may find that Kayak is a good resource for hotels. While Kayak may sometimes direct you to a hotel brand website (in that case you would still earn points and elite status perks), it isn't always the case. When it sends you to a third-party website, loyalty program members would lose out on certain hotel benefits.
Like flights, the search engine for hotels is rather straightforward. Once you input the travel information, Kayak returns results for hotels and home rentals that you can sort using a variety of filters.
You can adjust the search functions for price range, hotel star class and other perks that may be important to you, like free breakfast or parking. Above the “View Deal'' button, there are details like whether internet is included or if you can cancel the reservation without penalty. You will also see whether the reservation is offered via a third party (limited elite status benefits and points) or directly with the hotel company (eligible for perks and points).
Be sure to sort through the results, as the hotels that Kayak recommends over others may not be the cheapest options. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are a member of a hotel’s loyalty program, you may find a cheaper rate on its own website. Don’t assume that Kayak has the lowest price, especially given that many hotels have best rate guarantees promising the lowest price on their own website. If you are booking suites on Kayak, the savings by joining a hotel’s loyalty program may be even more valuable when booking directly.
Like with flights, you can set a price alert to track hotel rates and enter your email address to be notified.
Kayak also lets you see the hotels on the price list according to a destination map so you see where your chosen hotel is.
And also like flights, Kayak has “Hacker Stays” for hotels, too. With these, the nights will be booked on separate reservations and sometimes via two different sites. This may require switching rooms during your stay.
How to book a rental car on Kayak
Like with flights and hotels, Kayak searches for rental cars in the same way, but it also compares rates with several other websites (not just Priceline).
The search features allow you to select the dates, type of car, airport or city pickup locations (including if the drop-off spot is different), and car rental company. Remember that when booking rental cars on kayak, the cheapest options aren’t always listed first. Instead, it recommends certain deals over others, so be sure to toggle the categories at the top to find your preferred option.
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Final tips for booking
Keep in mind that Kayak isn't a travel agency, but a search engine. The vast number of results that it returns can be sorted via a variety of categories depending on the type of travel you are looking for. Kayak often recommends certain results over others, so be sure to sort them by price if you are looking for the best deal.
You’ll always want to review the Kayak hotel/flight/car rental cancellation policy, too. If it is flexible, Kayak will usually list that next to the price. Kayak also calls out other important features like whether a hotel offers free breakfast or whether a flight charges for baggage.
Kayak has exceptional search functions like maps for hotel options and various flight destinations from a chosen location. Still, it is wise to compare findings from Kayak with the airline, hotel or car rental company directly to see if it is cheaper. Booking directly is important for loyalty program members hoping to take advantage of member discounts, elite status perks and points earning.
Kayak is an excellent tool for travel planning as long as you are aware of the occasional caveat to make sure you have the best trip possible.
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