Before Kayak came around, you either had to search individual airlines or sites like Orbitz and Travelocity, which charged booking fees (around $6 per booking on top of the flight price).
Kayak pioneered the practice of aggregating flight prices without charging booking fees, making their money through advertising instead. They offered advanced search options that were not available anywhere else: you could filter by individual flight legs, narrow down to specific times of day, and see wifi options. I loved Kayak and used their flight search religiously for 90% of my bookings over the years.
A few years later Hipmunk launched, but aside from their cute mascot and an innovative “sort by agony” feature, there wasn’t enough there to warrant a serious switch. Most of their results were actually identical to Kayak’s. There was also FareCast which told you whether flight prices were going to rise or fall in the near future. Farecast was acquired by Microsoft and was rolled into Bing Search in 2008. Kayak has since implemented a similar fare-prediction feature for some of its searches.
Then in 2010 a bombshell dropped, but I think few people failed to notice the implications. Google bought ITA Software, the company that powers all the other websites’ flights searches. Google now owned the source of all flight search data – the trough everyone else was, and still is, feeding from. It was just a matter of time before they started to make serious moves into the flight search space.
#1 Reason Google Flight Search is Better: SpeedThis is the primary reason I have now switched over to almost exclusively using Google Flight Search and away from Kayak. I can flip through consecutive days and new flight prices pop up on the screen instantly – if I am looking for the cheapest day to fly to LAX in the next month I can find flight prices for every day that month in less than a minute.
The search speed blows away Kayak’s by a long shot.
Caveat: it does take a little while to get used to some of the controls. For example, ” the “one-way, roundtrip” selector is not in a very intuitive place, and selecting multiple airports option isn’t as obvious.
Aside from those few caveats, however, Google Flight Search has become my search tool of choice. Not only is it faster, but it has also found airfares that were about $10-20 cheaper than what Kayak has returned on the last few airfare searches that I ran.
Google’s Dominant Marketing PositionEarlier today I ran a normal Google search for “Miami to Chattanooga” and this is what I saw:
Since almost everyone uses Google to look for information, Google can obviously leverage their enormous market position into any vertical they want. And this is exactly what they’re doing with flight search. Now there’s no need to go to an intermediary like Kayak, they can just serve up flight prices right at the point of Google search.
What’s more is if you look at the “next/previous” buttons in the date field, you can very quickly see what days are the cheapest to fly (this is where ITA’s software really helps them out) – all without leaving the search page.
Google’s Flight ExplorerAdioso has been trying to launch a good open ended flight search tool for years – but their execution has been buggy to say the least (though lately they have really improved their website).
Google recently created such a tool – Google Flight Explore. It gives you a pretty effective way to run open ended searches. If you want to get away for the weekend, you can see what cities you can fly to and at what prices – pretty quickly and easily.
The Future of KayakKayak has had years to amass a great brand so I’m not too worried about them. I doubt they will go away anytime soon – just as Orbitz and Travelocity are still around (even though I never use them). But if I was Kayak (or Himpunk for that matter), I would be very worried about my company’s future.
Note: I myself have been wanting to launch a travel startup for years but I just can’t find a unique enough angle or a way to penetrate the market in any effective way so in some ways I feel the pain of being in this space.
graphic inspiration / credit: Nicola Armellini via Dribbble