Experience File: Kayak.com

With all my business, wedding and family-visiting travel, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time searching for airline tickets lately. Even with modern search tools, the process can be laborious -- especially when coordinating people from different areas of the country. That's why, when I discovered Kayak.com, I decided to spread the word. My sentiments, in summary, are "hot dang, and hallelujia!"

Kayak.com is a great study, which illustrates the real power of customer centricity in usability. My hope is that a tour of the site will remind all of you well intentioned business and marketing executives how important it is to "press the envelope" on usability in a proactive manner. It’s important to pay ongoing attention to user tasks and intentions to structure intuitive, usable and ergonomic tools that drive usage - and profitability.

The online travel booking arena has come a long way. However, it’s still rather easy to become dissatisfied with the search tools offered popular travel sites. While Orbitz.com, Travelocity and others offer rather robust search capabilities, they often place the impetus on users to do acrobatics to find what they really want. For instance, users must often start over, in order to "tweak" search listings to better "fit" with individual need. This often wastes time and energy, and can also produce frustration.

For example, say that I've posted a search on Orbitz.com. After doing so, I desire to "tweak" that search to filter for specific departure times. I’m forced to either scroll to view specific times, or start my search over to enter my departure criteria. This is cumbersome. From a task-based perspective it’s fairly common for a user not to be "ready" to "tweak" a search before viewing an initial “blanket” result. This challenge applies to a number of scenarios. For example, if I want to compare prices or flight times across the three airports out of which I often travel, I may have to conduct multiple searches.

While some of the sites offer helpful comparison grids illustrating fares out of several airports, or "fare alerts" that show lower fares into different airports, these aren't helpful, if you're comparing multiple search dimensions, such as price, departure time and airport. If I want to filter out certain airlines from my search, most of the time I will be forced to manually scroll (and scroll, and scroll) to obtain the information! If, in the context of these acrobatics, fare information is presented to me on several screens, the impetus is placed on me to remember the fares. This becomes more confusing as I age…

There's a reason that Kayak.com, was voted Travel & Leisure Magazine's top Travel Site in the category of "Search Aids". Boy, do they deserve it! The site is an ergonomic, robust, responsive mega search engine that is made for people like me and people like you.

Like the other travel sites, Kayak searches thousands airlines for low fares. However, it also searches low fares across travel sites, including CheapTickets.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, HotWire and others. That's rather convenient for those of us who have noted fare differences between those sites.

Beyond the scope of search, the real gem of Kayak.com, is the site's incredible attention to usability. The search tools, which serve as left-hand navigation, are entirely dynamic, allowing the user to customize every search with the simple use of slider bars and check boxes. Users can filter by number of stops, airline, airports, and adjust listings by price and flight departure times. Fabulous!


Using the side navigation, adding other airports to your search is a one-click process- the list will dynamically update based on your action. The default setting will always list the fares from lowest to highest. Want to narrow the search results by price or departure time? Just bump the slider bars to tailor the listing. Interested in showing only the flights after 7pm, do slide the departure time bar over and viola! The interface is simple, no-nonsense, and they'll link you to sites (including Orbitz) for fare purchase.

For those of us into "geek speak" you can find out how the braniacs at Kayak built the site just by visiting. They're very "open kimono" about things. For the quick version, they're using AJAX (no surprise), Java, Perl and Ruby, running on Linux. The site was developed on Mac. Click here for more information on technical construction. It doesn't end with the Kayak.com web site, either...Click here for other cool stuff they're experimenting with to enable you to use Kayak on your mobile phone, instant messenger desktop and other devices. They even have an app that ties Kayak to myspace.

Imagine what happens when Kayak functionality covers full-scale travel services, including hotels, car rental, packages, etc. It may not be long…

What does Kayak mean to the major travel sites? Well, for now, the relationship is symbiotic one. Kayak is actually augmenting the lack of search usability on other sites. In the future, however, who knows? Someone smart may purchase Kayak... or Kayak may get a huge round of VC and take over the world. Who knows...stay tuned.

In short, KUDOS to Kayak! These guys know the travel industry and they know technology. Most importantly, they know the customer and are providing the robust kind of search tool that can save consumers and small businesses time, money and effort. Wishing you every success, guys.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like Kayak and use it often now. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've used Kayak too. It's a nice site, but I find Dohop.com often provides better results. They include a lot of the budget airlines not included in kayak.

Rich Barrett said...

Seriously, you were writing about Kayak in 2006? Wow, that's impressive!

A great tool that is just getting better.

Rich Barrett said...

Seriously, you were writing about Kayak in 2006? Wow, that's impressive!

A great tool that is just getting better.

Rich Barrett said...

Seriously, you were writing about Kayak in 2006? Wow, that's impressive!

A great tool that is just getting better.

Leigh Durst said...

LOL, Rich! I try. :-) They've always pushed the envelope in feature richness and driving a good user experience. ;)

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LEIGH DURST

LEIGH DURST
I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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