How to search Kayak

by Roger Wade

November 12th, 2007


This how-to guide will show you the best way to search for cheap flights on Kayak so you can find the best fares with the least amount of trouble. Kayak takes a revolutionary approach to searching for airfares, and they include many powerful tools that can help the user narrow down their best flights very quickly.

The site checks other flight discount sites such as Cheaptickets, Airfare.com, and Orbitz, and it also compiles the lowest prices from all the individual airline sites, which usually offer the lowest possible prices.

But what Kayak doesn’t do well is explain how these tools work to new users. Anyone who is technically oriented could eventually figure out how the site works after playing around with it, but this guide will explain the unique tools simply so you can use this amazing site without having to spend several hours figuring it all out yourself.

Step 1: Click this link to open up Kayak in a new window so you can follow along while reading our guide.

Step 2: Type in your starting city and your destination city.

Kayak has a great tool built right into the city entry box. Just type the first three letters of the city name (or the three-letter airport code) and Kayak will display a list of choices so you can find the best match quickly.

Tip: Many large cities that have more than one local airport have a code that is used to search all the airports at once. Unless you are absolutely certain you want to use one particular airport, the all airports option will show you the lowest fares possible.

Step 3: Enter your desired departure and return dates in the fields below.

Click anywhere in the date field and a calendar will appear so you can be certain you are choosing the correct days of the week.

Leave the time of day field set at anytime.€ You can sort by time of day more effectively on the results page.

Tip: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are usually the cheapest days to fly. If you begin your search by using a combination of these days you can quickly find the absolute lowest price first, then change to your ideal dates so you can compare that price to the lowest possible price.

Step 4: If your dates are flexible click on the My dates are flexible  link just above the departure date.

This is a great feature, but Kayak does make you register with your e-mail address on the next page in order to search this way. It’s a little annoying, but it seriously only takes a few seconds and they seem to have a strict e-mail address privacy policy, and there are other interesting benefits once you do sign up. Drag the dropdown selector to 3 days before and after€ and you’ll be searching an entire week’s worth of flights on both ends of your trip, which will give you the best chance to see the lowest overall price.

Step 5: Drag the Travelers dropdown to the number of passengers for this trip, then click on the orange Search€ button.

Step 6: Kayak begins to display a your search results as its compiling them.

The site shows you which airline sites it has searched and within 20 seconds or so you’ll be looking at the results screen. This page resembles results pages on other ticket search sites, but Kayak has filled the left column with powerful tools that help you sort through this mountain of data quickly so you can confidently purchase the best ticket for you.

If you choose flexible dates you’ll see the list of all possible departure and return dates at the top with the lowest price of each just below. You can quickly compare the available prices and unclick the boxes for each of the dates you aren’t interested in.

Kayak automatically displays your results in a list form with the lowest priced round-trip on top. If you want a breakdown of which airline is offering the best prices and how many stops those flights entail, you can click on the Matrix€ tab in the center of the top of the page. This will move the exact same list down a bit and show the airline grid at the top.

Step 7: Examining the tools:

Okay, this is where Kayak really gets good. The site gathers together every possible flight that meets your search request, and sorts them from cheapest to most expensive. Now you can decide which things are most important to you about your flight, and instantly see how that affects the price.

Check the lowest fare and the number of flights available before you begin using the tools. As you choose each preference you’ll see the number of flights that meet your criteria go down with each new preference, and the lowest fare will change if you are eliminating the cheapest flights. It may sound confusing, but when you start using it you’ll see that it’s quite simple.

¢ Stops You can decide the maximum number of stops you want (either nonstop if available, 1 stop, or 2+ stops). If you unclick the 2+ stops button, some of the available flights will be gone, but it may not affect the lowest price. If it does, and the new lowest price is too high, you can click that box again and continue down the page.

¢ Airlines Kayak displays a list of all airlines and their lowest prices. If you want to narrow your search down to just one, or a smaller group of airlines, you can uncheck the buttons next to the ones you don’t want to see, or click the clear€ button at the top and then check the one(s) you want. With this feature you can see what limiting airlines will do to your price before you even touch this section.

If there are airlines (such as Southwest or Jet Blue) flying this route that don’t allow their fares to be searched by sites other than their own, Kayak will provide links to their sites below the airlines they do search. Click on those links to reach those sites, but you’ll have to enter your data in from the beginning to search them.

If you are a member of one of the three major frequent flyer alliances (Star Alliance, Sky Team, oneworld), you can click on that appropriate button below the airline list and it will only show airlines that are members of that partnership.

¢ Flight Times You can limit your search by restricting the times your flights will either take off, land, or restrict both. The button starts in a position to limit your takeoff time, but you can click on the landing€ button if you are more concerned about your arrival time.

For each journey you’ll see sliders on each end of a bar with the corresponding times of the day always displayed above in green. Slide the bars together and you’ll eliminate flights from your search that are outside of those times. Again, this will reduce the number of available flights, but it also gets rid of flights you aren’t interested in anyway. If the lowest fare left available goes up you can decide to move the sliders back out if the lower price is worth it to you.

¢ Airports If you originally searched more than one airport on either end you’ll see the lowest prices available through each airport in this section. You can unclick the box next to any airport you don’t want to use, which will further narrow your search to what you want.

¢ Layover duration (only if flights with layovers are displayed) This tool is important, but not as important as the Flight Duration  one below. These sliders limit the length of a layover, but for most people the total length of the journey is more important than how long you’d spend in a layover airport. Adjusting that one will automatically limit long layovers.

You may need to click on the following links on the Kayak page in order to use these important features.

¢ Flight Duration This one is key as this sliders adjust the total time from your original departure time to the schedule landing time in your destination city. Let’s say you are flying from New York City to San Francisco. Would you rather have a short layover in Atlanta, which is in the wrong direction, or a longer layover in Chicago, which is right on the way? You can skip the Layover€ sliders above because this is the more important criteria.

¢ Price This, of course, limits the available tickets by price. You can quickly eliminate most of the expensive flights using this right away if you like, but using all the other tools will automatically leave you with the lowest prices anyway.

¢ Sites Searched This doesn’t affect your prices, but it’s interesting to see which sites were searched to find these flights.

There is one last tool found in near the top right of the screen. Look for the blue box that says Compare Kayak to:€ and you can compare your final price to three other sites that Kayak doesn’t search. To use this tool you can either click on the Compare  button at the bottom of the box to compare all three, or you can check each one individually by clicking the only€ link next to each site’s name. This will open new browser windows and search those sites automatically, but you may have to turn your pop-up blocker off in order to use this feature.

Chances are extremely high that those other sites will show slightly higher prices for your flight, or at best they’ll show the identical price that Kayak is displaying. But feel free to check the other sites if you want because you never know and it’s kind of fun. It also lets you make absolute certain that you are getting the lowest fare by using Kayak, so you can confidently book your ticket with no more doubts.

Step 8: After you’ve used the tools to narrow your search, carefully look at the flights left on the list.

If you used the tools you were interested in you should now be looking at a list of flights that meet your criteria, with the lowest prices on top. Kayak even lists the source of the price alongside other sources that had higher prices if more than one found the same flight.

Step 9: Click on the price to the left of the flight you choose and you’ll be taken to that site for final booking.

When you see the new page it’s important to look carefully to make sure the details match what you’ve chosen.

Occasionally a higher price will display, or the new site will say that flight isn’t available. If this happens you can just click back in the Kayak window and try another choice. If more than one site found that flight you can click on the other sites to see if they can book it, or choose another flight altogether. This is new technology and it doesn’t always work perfectly.

Step 10: Complete your purchase on the new site once you’ve checked the details!

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