Kayak is a much-loved search engine that helps users find the best deals on flights, hotels, and more. The company processes over two billion searches a year and has helped millions of travelers around the world find travel deals.
Instead of acting as a traditional third-party booking site, Kayak searches hundreds of other travel websites to help you compare available prices for hotels, flights, rental cars, and vacation packages. You can view and select the best prices, then Kayak sends you to another booking website to finalize your itinerary.
It can sound a bit overwhelming — that’s why we created this guide to help with your Kayak booking efforts.
How to use Kayak for flights
Kayak is a travel search engine that searches hundreds of other websites to find many flights for you to choose from.
To look for flights, head to Kayak’s home page. Enter your departing city and destination, whether it’s a one-way or round-trip flight, and the dates you want to depart (you can also search flexible dates to find the cheapest days to fly). Once you do so, Kayak will populate the results and show you available flights.
Typically, the flights are sorted according to the “Best” category, which usually means they’re the most direct flights to your destination for the lowest price. Otherwise, you can adjust the results by the cheapest, most expensive, quickest, earliest takeoff or landing, and latest takeoff or landing. You’ll be able to see these selections near the top of the screen, right above the flight results.
Customize your results
Before clicking on a flight you want, there are a few nifty features to be aware of — one of which is the Baggage Fee Assistant on the left-hand side of the screen. This tool helps you calculate any baggage fees in addition to the flight costs you see. Since airlines have different baggage policies (basic economy, we’re looking at you!), it's pretty neat to get an accurate estimate of the total amount you’ll pay for a flight.
Also in the left-hand menu, you can tailor the criteria for your flights based on what you want. Adjust factors such as the maximum price you want to pay, the times of the day you’d like to fly, specific airlines, and more to find the ideal flight at a fair price.
Near the top of the screen is a section called “Our Advice,” where Kayak gives you its estimates of how prices for flights could change within the next week. It will let you know if the prices you see are good — and if buying tickets now is wise — or if Kayak thinks you should hold off and wait for prices to drop.
Granted, this is only the company’s estimates and may not always be accurate. If you do decide to wait before buying tickets, you can track prices to monitor things. After providing your email address, Kayak will send you price alerts based on your itinerary.
A Hacker Fare is one way Kayak can help you save on round-trip flights. When Kayak’s search engines finds what it thinks is a good deal on two one-way flights (typically from two different airlines), it lumps them together. You’ll have different reservations on both airlines, but these deals could save you money.
On Kayak’s homepage, you’ll be able to see a list of recommendations — basically, flights to what it considers popular destinations. If you’re flexible about your dates and destination, you can look around the map to see prices and dates for these flights, which can save you some big bucks.
Completing your Kayak booking
Once you find the flight you want, click the “view deal” button beside the itinerary of your choice. You’ll be directed to the website where you’ll do your booking — the site will either be the airline itself or an online travel agency like Travelocity. If you’re booking a Hacker Fare, a pop-up will show you how to book your flights on the different airlines before proceeding.
Remember that Kayak isn’t a booking service; it’s a search engine. So if you later encounter problems or need to change your flight, you’ll need to contact the place you booked directly — except on the rare occasion that the booking was done through Kayak.
How to use Kayak for hotels
Searching for hotels is a similar process to how you search for flights. On the homepage, head to the hotels section, then select the city, date, number of rooms, and guests who will stay with you.
The search results page is pretty much the same as the one for flights. You can choose from different options to filter your search, including amenities, stars, neighborhood, ambience, freebies, price, review score, property type, and location. There’s also the option to track prices after entering your email address.
Additionally, you can look at the search results on a map — hover over the dot to see the hotel name, price, and rating. If you want to book with the hotel, click on the dot on the map or on “view deal” beside each hotel listing.
The price you see with each listing may not be the cheapest — underneath the listing, you can see prices from the hotel website or online travel agencies which may be less expensive. Remember, these prices don’t include taxes.
Hacker Stays are a way to save money on hotel bookings. Kayak will steer you to different websites — either directly with the hotel or through other booking websites — to cobble together a cheaper itinerary at one hotel.
Say your hotel of choice is $100 a night on Tuesday when booked through Priceline, but the price jumps to $150 on Wednesday. Orbitz has the same hotel priced at $125 for Wednesday. Kayak’s Hacker Stay would require you to book the stay with Priceline on Tuesday and Orbitz on Wednesday, saving you $25.
Note that you’ll have two different reservations at the same hotel if you use this method. That means you may be required to switch rooms if the hotel can’t accommodate you in one room for both reservations.
Pros and cons of Kayak
- Find cheap flights, hotels, and vacation packages: Kayak can help you find almost any travel deal on flights, hotels, cruises, and vacation packages. Since it’s a search engine, it can track down the cheapest prices and the best deals all in one go, saving you time.
- Ability to track prices: If you don’t want to book right away, Kayak can track prices for a period of time. It will send you alerts without you needing to constantly check.
- Suite of tools: Kayak’s app offers more simplicity because you can import your entire travel itinerary into it. You can organize everything in one place and view your itinerary even when you’re offline.
- User-friendly website: Kayak’s website is simple to use and well marked. It also offers plenty of options to filter and customize your search results.
- Limited customer service: Kayak is upfront about the fact that it’s not a booking service (though it does say there is the occasional time when you can book through Kayak directly), so there’s not much you can do by contacting Kayak about your booking. Though not a downfall, this means you need to track who you really booked your trip with.
- Can’t book directly on website: Although Kayak’s website is pretty easy to navigate, it can get a bit overwhelming when you’re redirected to another site. It can be even more confusing if you’re booking a Hacker Flight or Hacker Stay and need to make reservations on multiple websites.
How to use a credit card to maximize your Kayak booking
While Kayak can help you find cheap flights and rooms, you can use credit cards to maximize your booking even more.
Look for the best deals with Kayak, then book with a card that can help you earn rewards. For example, if you want to book a Delta flight, you can use a Delta SkyMiles credit card to pay for it. Not only did you find the best price with Kayak, but you earned valuable miles, too. Score!
If you’re ready to spend your accrued airline miles, use Kayak to look for the best deals and maximize your rewards redemption. In most cases, your miles will go further with a cheaper ticket.
For example, you can find a cheap ticket with Kayak then go to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book it using your points. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve your points will be be worth 1.25x or 1.5x respectively, making the flight even more affordable. Nab a great deal on Kayak and squirrel away the rest of your miles for something else.
Will you use Kayak?
Kayak may have its limitations, but as a travel search engine, it’s easy to use, provides tools to assist you with travel planning, and helps you find the best prices. Since you can compare prices from online travel agencies, airlines, and hotels, you’ll be able to save valuable time by viewing all the top deals in one place.