A NEW WAY TO PADDLE...
Everyone once in a while you see someone try something new on the old tried and true on the web. I'd noticed a new travel site called Kayak a few weeks ago, but hadn't had occasion to try it out until this weekend for some family coming into town. (Disclosure: I don't have any personal or professional association with the company).
According to the website, the company was started by some folks from the existing major travel companies Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz et al. Their focus was to create an independent travel site that culls flight and hotel nformation from multiple sources, but doesn't actually sell you the transaction. Auto rental is not offered currently, but the site does offer links to the direct sites of the major providers. The business model seems to be ad driven for now, Google style.
The site also shares the frugality of the Google home page, making it clear what the user needs to do. Once you've entered you've entered, say a flight query, you noticed some differences, both aesthetic and substantive from the way other sites do things.
First, there is an animated display showing the airlines being scanned through the database search, in a visually and viscerally attractive airline flight board format...nice cosmetic touch.
Next, when you have some results, you notice a control bar on the left that seems to give you far more control of the results than most of the existing travel sites. There are sliders to widen or narrow the price range you'd like to see, as well as departure and arrival times on your flights.
You can do some of this on other sites, but Kayak's approach seems a lot faster, without lots of slow refreshes of the entire page of search results. In this area, the company seems to be using advanced web programming techniques similar to what Google uses for its Google Mail and Google Map services, although that is speculation on my part at this time. I'd be curious if anyone has additional information on the programming approaches used.
The experience is similar when one searches for hotels, with sliders allowing quick widening or narrowing of the results based on the proximity needs to various places within the given city. Again, the way the information is provided, and the feeling of control that is conveyed made me feel more comfortable that the whole range of options available are being presented than on other sites.
Even this modestly enhanced level of control makes me want more options. For instance, I'd like to see buttons and/or sliders that would allow me to generate an "on the fly" comparison table of economy, business and first class fares by airline. Today, all sites, including Kayak, to my knowledge make the user start the search fresh to generate pricing information on different classes of service, and there is no easy way to compare options.
In addition, it would be helpful if the service could make suggestions explaining in plain English how your fare for a flight or hotel could change in your favor if you made slight modifications on arrival/departure dates or stayed over a weekend or did not stay over a weekend. Again, one can do this on current sites, but takes a fair amount of effort running a series of searches, and then flipping back and forth across various browser pages of results to get a sense of the sensitivities.
I wouldn't be surprised if Kayak has some of these changes in mind given the fresh approach they seem to be taking in providing information with greater speed and clarity already. The service is new, so I expect additional features will be added as time goes by. I'll certainly keep paddling back.