Kayak: A Boatload of Delicious Simplicity

Continuing the E-Commerce Times’ exploration oftravel-planning Web sites, I paddled over toKayak this week,and after a few minutes of playing around with the site, I wasinexplicably struck with the desire for ice cream. Specifically,Haagen Dazs’ five simple ingredients ice cream. No doubt, you’ve seen the ads: Thefive simple ingredients are sugar, cream, milk, eggs and chocolate –or passion fruit or mint or brown sugar.

On second thought, perhaps it’s not so inexplicable after all.

Kayak’s site is a joy to behold and navigate. To the left are sixingredients — I mean, options — for hotels, flights, cars, deals,vacations and cruises. To the right is a stark field asking fordeparture and arrival dates.

If you hold with the school of thought that the use of white space ingraphic design is a good thing — that is, an element used todeliberate advantage in composition — then you will love Kayak.

Kayak’s embrace of simplicity does not stop with the front page.

The Web site only differs slightly from its more establishedaggregators, such as Travelocity or Expedia. It searches for the bestdeal for a particular flight or hotel or car, and then it sends youdirectly to that company to complete the transaction. Yet somehow itmanages to carry out this task in a very straightforward, streamlinedmanner.

418 Options

I typed in a request for a flight from Baltimore’s WashingtonInternational Airport to San Francisco for Halloween. In response, Ireceived 418 possible roundtrips, ranging from US$339 on AirTran to$664 on United. At this point in my survey of travel Web sites, if Istill had any expectation that prices would vary significantly fromone to the next, Kayak would have eliminated it once and for all. The$339 option, for instance, led me to four possibilities: a $339 ticketon Orbitz, a $339 ticket on Cheaptickets.com, a $339 ticket fromAirTran and a link to Expedia to check rates myself. There I found thesame ticket for $325.60.

Other fields — the deals section, for example — were equallystraightforward. I spotted California in the destination section. Oneclick later I saw a $272 ticket for the first week in 2010. Not quitethe time frame I had in mind, but never mind: The point is, it waseasy to find.

Not that the site is devoid of any sophistication. It has nice touchessuch as your most recent searches; late breaking fares departing fromyour home airport, and in the Buzz section, the ability to see the topdeals according to recent searches (1.9 million recent searches, to beexact).

Privacy Policy

Like all sites in this genre, Kayak tries to get an email address fromits visitors — offering little explanation up front of how it willuse it, other than the promise of customized results, email farealerts and saved results. It did ask for my home airport, though,suggesting that I wouldn’t be bombarded with fare alerts fromBaltimore to Bangladesh.

What won me over was its refreshingly upfront privacy policy. “What’syours is yours. The [personal information] that you chose to sharewith us is not going anywhere off of our site,” is the blunt promise.

It takes the time to explain — albeit somewhat glibly — thatrequests from law enforcement personnel will be honored. Not that I amexpecting this to be an issue for me, but after years of writing aboutprivacy policies, omissions and sugar-coating tend to irk me. I signup for the notices and use an email address I actually check on aregular basis. I have officially become member number 11,319,144.

Less Clutter, More Treats

It’s a club that looks very interesting, if you like travel trivia,for which I’ve developed a taste after reviewing the industry’s onlineofferings. Kayak slices up its travel demographics for variousdestinations. Washington, D.C., for example, is the sixth-most-populardestination this week for Kayak visitors. Interest in Sofia, Bulgaria,surged by 52.3 percent this year, and in Santiago, Chile, by 33percent this week.

There are the usual Web 2.0-ish features most travelers have come toexpect, such as fare and flight alerts, along with nice touches suchas mobile apps for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. There is even alabs feature for the truly travel-obsessed, where users can downloadsearch widgets and watch live as other visitors search the site.

I’m sold: Kayak has managed to eliminate the unnecessary clutter thatis endemic on travel Web sites and still give me what I need — alongwith a few options I didn’t realize I needed until I saw them. Yum.

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