Kayak – Guide to Booking Cheap Travel (Flights, Hotels, & Rental Cars) in 2023
Travel search engines make it easy to compare prices between carriers and booking sites. The convenient search tools also help you find the best travel itinerary.
Kayak is different from most third-party travel sites as you can compare prices from carriers and online travel agencies. As a result, you can be more likely to find the best prices and travel times.
This Kayak travel guide will show how this price comparison site can make booking trips more straightforward and cheaper. There are several other valuable travel planning tools to know about too. However, as you will see, this service isn’t always your best way to book travel.
What is Kayak Travel?
Kayak is one of the oldest travel search engines and is owned by Booking Holdings. This parent company describes itself as the world’s largest online travel agency (OTA) and owns well-known platforms like Booking.com, Priceline, Agoda, Cheapflights, and OpenTable.
You will see travel quotes from the above booking sites and OTAs owned by other companies, such as Hotels.com (part of Expedia Group). Depending on the route, you may also be able to reserve flights directly from the airline.
You can use Kayak to compare these travel options:
- Car rentals
- Tours and activities
- Trains and buses
- Vacation packages
The service can also help you explore potential destinations for a future trip and review the latest travel restrictions.
Is Kayak a Travel Agency?
No, Kayak is a metasearch engine that lists open bookings from online travel agencies and airlines. It’s a direct competitor to Google Flights and Skyscanner, for example, which are travel aggregators that let you compare prices between travel providers in a single search.
When you’re ready to make a travel reservation, Kayak transfers you to a booking portal like Priceline or Booking.com to provide your traveler information and payment details. If you need customer support, you will contact the reservation site (and not Kayak).
While Kayak isn’t a travel agency, the platform can earn a small referral fee from the travel provider if you book a trip through the search results.
Kayak displays prices from over 700 travel providers. Many of the listings come from these platforms:
You can also book directly from the legacy airlines (American, Delta, United) and discount carriers (Alaska, Frontier, Spirit).
Like the other travel search engines, you won’t see prices for Southwest Airlines. This airline requires travelers to visit their site to compare rates.
Should You Use Kayak?
Consider using Kayak if you want to save time and only use one travel platform to compare rates for flights, hotels, and car rentals.
It’s convenient to compare flight prices from the airline and travel agencies side-by-side.
However, you must be comfortable booking hotels and rental cars through a third-party service. While you can pay a lower rate, you lose negotiation power if there is a billing issue or you receive a smaller car or room than you reserved.
Additionally, if you need a refund or cancellation, you must contact the travel booking site as Kayak is just a search engine.
Booking Flights with Kayak
You can access several price comparison and travel research tools to book cheap flights or find the most convenient option.
Searching for Flights
You can search for round-trip and one-way flights with customizable filters. Start by submitting these travel details:
- Departure and destination airports
- Travel dates
- Number of adults and children
- One-way or round-trip
- Fare class (economy, first class, business, etc.)
- Number of checked bags
There are additional filters that you can apply such as nearby airports, specific airline or alliance, travel times, and layover lengths.
The platform lets you book tickets for yourself, your immediate family, and on behalf of your friends and relatives.
Your search results display flights that can meet these criteria:
- Cheapest: The most affordable tickets yet are more likely to have inconvenient travel times or layovers.
- Best: Kayak-curated flight picks with the best duration, price, number of stops and carrier duration.
- Quickest: These are the shortest flight durations but they may cost more.
Sponsored flight options may also appear at the top of the results page. This listing may not be your best option but Kayak makes money from advertisements.
Being able to adjust your travel schedule can help you secure a cheaper flight or better schedule. In addition to comparing flight prices by precise date you can add flexible dates.
The interactive price calendar lets you compare prices up to three days before or after your desired arrival and departure dates.
While booking a round-trip instead of two one-way flights is usually cheaper, Kayak will try to pair one-way flights with affordable prices and friendly durations.
When they find a candidate, you will see a “Hacker Fee” listing. Essentially, you use two different platforms to book your departure and return flights.
One example that Kayak found is booking the first flight through American Airlines and the return trip through Alaska Airlines.
If you’re not ready to book yet, you can literally buy time with the Price Freeze feature. Depending on the destination, you can secure today’s prices for the next seven days.
If rates go up, you pay the frozen price as long as it’s within $200 of the higher price. And, if prices go down, you pay the lower rate.
The non-refundable fee costs between $5 and $50, depending on the travel dates and current demand. Unfortunately, this fee doesn’t discount your flight price.
You can also receive free price alerts if you’re patient and waiting for a better price. The service also tracks prices if you don’t want to receive alerts.
Two different price prediction tools can help you decide if airfare is most likely to increase, decrease, or stay about the same. These price predictions are not always accurate but they can provide a general sense of how soon to buy plane tickets.
The first tool appears in the top left corner of the search results and predicts price action for the next seven days.
The second tool is a price graph showing the flight route’s historical price by travel date.
Learn more: The best time to book flights
The Kayak Explore feature is an open-ended price comparison feature that shows prices between your home airport and various destinations.
The interactive price map can show numerous domestic and international destinations that may not be on your radar.
You can also add these filters to winnow down your options:
- Number of stops
- Spending budget
- Travel duration
- Type of trip (adventure, beach, city, family, romantic, etc.)
Booking Hotels with Kayak
Kayak also helps you find a place to stay at your destination. It’s possible to book hotels and vacation rentals. Before booking your hotel, see our guide on how to find and book cheap hotels for tips.
Many of the search capabilities are similar to finding flights but are hotel-focused.
You can find these property types through Kayak:
- Rentals (i.e., vacation homes, condos, and apartments)
- Unique stays (i.e., holiday park, boat, agritourism)
It’s possible to see listings that also display on Vrbo which can be vital if you crave privacy and spacious amenities.
Hotel Search Filters
The default hotel search results are the Recommended setting. They display listings with the best balance of star ratings, price, and amenities.
Each listing shows the best price by booking site so you can see how much the same room costs at each place.
If you wish to ignore Kayak’s recommendations, you can switch to these sorting options:
- Highest price
- Lowest price
- Hotel rating
- Distance to destination
When you have more selective requirements, these advanced filters are also available:
- Free amenities (breakfast, parking, airport shuttle, and more)
- Hotel chain
- Hotel star class
- Guest ratings
- Nightly price
- Enhanced health and safety measures
Kayak can deliver exclusive discounts that you may not find on other hotel booking sites.
Creating a free Kayak account lets you save up to 30% at participating properties. You will see a “Private Deal” listing when signing in is necessary to view the lower price.
A second search filter lets you find properties offering up to 50% discounts on the nightly rate.
There is also the Kayak Explorer loyalty program that awards loyalty points when you book hotel stays by mobile app.
Just like Kayak looks for ways to save on round-trip flights, the platform will try to find discounts on multi-night stays.
Instead of booking your entire reservation through one online travel agency, you might use two. A quick example is spending the first three nights through Hotels.com and the last two using Booking.com.
The savings can be worth the hassle of booking two separate stays. Be sure to mention you have two different reservations at check-in to potentially avoid changing rooms during your stay.
Booking Rental Cars with Kayak
Kayak can also make it easy to find cheap car rentals by comparing the prices of multiple online travel agencies. You might also be able to rent from car sharing platforms like Turo. Click here to get started with Kayak’s rental car search feature.
Participating Car Rental Agencies
The participating rental agencies can include:
Local agencies may also participate. A perfect example in Reliant Car Rental in Orlando.
Rental Car Search Features
Some of the customizable car rental search filters include:
- Vehicle size
- Passenger capacity
- Number of suitcases
- Total price
- Rental agency
- Pickup location
- Drop-off location
- Free cancellation
- Unlimited mileage
- Fair fuel policy
Logging into your Kayak account to browse listings lets you find exclusive savings of up to 35%. These extra savings can be worth it if you’re comfortable booking through a third-party.
Additionally, you can use one of the best credit cards for rental cars to enjoy additional benefits like complimentary insurance and earning bonus points.
Booking Vacation Packages and Experiences
If you like booking vacation packages for potential savings or the convenience, Kayak compares flight and hotel bundles from multiple OTAs.
You can select which amenities you desire, such as meals included or pet-friendly, to receive personalized results.
Whether or not you book a flight and hotel package, you can also book experiences. You can browse the opportunities in the “Things to do” tab.
The site can help you find tours and day activities, such as:
- Amusement parks
- Boat excursions
- Fishing trips
- Museum visits
You will secure your excursion through one of the best ticket websites for tours.
Booking Trains and Buses
You can also book a train or bus ticket as well if you prefer ground transportation. The search engine can help you find Amtrak and Greyhound fares.
The customizable filters let you compare fares between different stations within the same city. Most of these fares are bookable through Kiwi.com and Wanderu.
Does Kayak Give Refunds?
Kayak doesn’t have a refund or cancellation policy as they don’t sell travel bookings. Remember, they are a travel price comparison site that redirects you to the airline website or online travel agency to make a reservation.
If you need to cancel or alter your travel itinerary, you must contact the booking service. This is also the case with the Kayak Instant Book options which don’t redirect you to the third-party site.
When comparing trip options, you can review the cancellation policy before paying.
Kayak for Business
Booking business travel can also be convenient with Kayak for Business. This platform is free and has the same research and booking features as leisure travelers.
Of course, there are several business-related filters that can help employees find travel policy-friendly bookings. The travel manager can also keep tabs on recent and upcoming trips.
You may also get corporate travel discounts on flights and hotels.
Kayak Explorer Loyalty Program
Did you know that Kayak has a loyalty program? It’s true, the Kayak Explorer program is a free loyalty club that can help you earn rewards points for future travel discounts and gift cards.
However, several limitations may not make this the most appealing travel rewards program.
First, you must wait until March of the following calendar year to access the points you earn in the current year. Second, points expire at the end of the year so you have less than a year to redeem them.
For example, all points earned in 2022 are pending until March 2023 and must be redeemed by December 31, 2023.
Earning Kayak Explorer Points
You can earn points on qualifying hotel bookings made through the Kayak mobile app. However, booking hotel rooms through the website won’t earn rewards points.
Unfortunately, non-hotel bookings such as flights and car rentals won’t earn points.
Qualifying bookings can earn approximately 5,000 points ($5 reward value) for a $100 booking and 9,000 points ($9 value) for a $200 stay.
The app also gives you 2,000 bonus points when joining the loyalty club.
Redeeming Kayak Points
You must have at least 10,000 points to start claiming these redemption options:
- Travel discounts
- Dining discounts
- Gift cards
A 10,000-point redemption is worth $10 in discounts or gift cards.
Other Kayak Research Tools
These research features can help plan your trip and make it easier to compare your booking options.
International Travel Restrictions
The interactive travel restrictions map displays the current entry guidelines by destination. You can quickly find out if you need to obtain a pre-arrival test, quarantine, or purchase Covid-19 travel insurance, for example.
You can click on your destination country to view the details. The in-depth look can also cover local travel guidelines and masking requirements.
There is a single page to view the current airline fees for these incidental expenses:
- Checked baggage
- Unaccompanied minor service
- Seat assignments
The search engine can estimate these fees as you search for flights. However, comparing the expenses in one place can also be useful.
The Kayak mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices to compare fares and track upcoming trips. In addition to being easier to navigate than a mobile browser, you can also enjoy these special perks:
- Earn Kayak Explorer bonus points
- Mobile-only fares
These benefits let you enjoy rewards that web visitors don’t get to enjoy.
You can track flights with the Kayak Flight Tracker in real-time and share the tracking link with friends and family. This tool can be helpful if you’re waiting to pick somebody up at the airport or making sure you don’t experience travel delays.
It’s also possible to view the history of previous flights which can help you determine its on-time performance.
The tracker also displays the departure and arrival terminal and gate. This can be valuable if you have a tight layover window and don’t have time to find the airport’s information kiosk.
Despite the possibility of booking your flight, hotel, car rental, and experiences through different platforms, you can track the details in one place through Trips.
This tool can help you plan your trip and record your reservation confirmations. Then, if travel uncertainty occurs, you can receive real-time alerts about delays, cancellations, and gate changes.
Additionally, you can share your trip itinerary with your companions putting everyone is on the same page.
Kayak Pros and Cons
Kayak is feature-packed and it can help you book your next trip. Here are the best reasons to use this service and why you might try another platform instead.
- Quickly compare prices: You can easily find the best prices for flights, hotels, and car rentals. While Kayak is part of Booking Holdings, they also display rates from competing agencies for price transparency.
- Can book flights directly from airlines: It’s possible to buy plane tickets from the airline after comparing prices with online travel agencies. This practice gives you more flexibility with canceling or rescheduling your flight.
- Mobile app perks: Booking through the Kayak app instead of their website can help you qualify for special discounts and earn rewards points.
- Cancellation policies vary: As Kayak is only a search engine, the cancellation policies depend on which travel booking site you book with. You can buy directly from airlines but not for flights and car rentals.
- Limited rewards program: Being able to earn rewards points on hotel stays is nice. However, it can be frustrating to access your points and you must use the mobile app.
- No price match guarantee: Kayak won’t match a competitor’s lower price as they don’t sell travel bookings.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
Kayak is a timesaver whether you’re still deciding where to travel or are ready to book a trip. Comparing rates from multiple travel providers in the same screen can help ensure you’re paying the best price and you can earn travel rewards from your travel credit card.
However, you must be comfortable booking through a third-party site in most situations. You must decide if the savings are worth sacrificing negotiation power if you need a refund or itinerary modification from the airline, hotel, or car rental agency.
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