Priceline’s imprint on KAYAK

By Ed Graper
This item appears on page 48 of the February 2014 issue.

Ever since November 2012, when — the long-used, independent travel search engine — was purchased by, I have no longer been depending on it as an independent source of the best airfares. 

The information given at the time of the purchase said KAYAK would remain an independent unit of Priceline. And, indeed, KAYAK looks and works the same, but now when you “select” a ticket option on KAYAK, you are not always sent to that airline’s website. Kayak sometimes sends you to or other booking sites. 

Fares selected for domestic flights usually still go direct to each airline’s website. However, in early 2013 when I checked my Manila flight, it was more complex. 

For major US airlines (United, Delta, AA), KAYAK allowed me to go directly to each airline’s website, but for a large number of international airlines, especially those in Asia, KAYAK sent me elsewhere. For flights on China Southern, EVA and Air Canada I was transferred to, and for flights on Asiana, Lufthansa, ANA and Cathay I was transferred to the Priceline website.

So I go to the specific airline’s website and reenter the planned itinerary with the hope that the KAYAK fare will come up. Lately, the fare listed on KAYAK did always come up on the airline’s website.

In addition, on Kayak’s site, where the option to compare the fares between major booking sites is offered (“Choose Sites to Compare vs. KAYAK [new windows]”), the Priceline box is automatically checked while the boxes for the other websites are blank. This results in a pop-up window for Priceline ON TOP OF the Kayak search results. 

This is a pain, and I (mostly) remember to uncheck the box for Priceline. I’ve found you can also just close the Priceline window as soon as it pops up without hurting your Kayak search.

Still, this is a HUGE difference, as Priceline is a booking site. They make an added profit on the ticket sales. And, in case of emergency, the airline will tell you to contact your agent for any changes. Priceline’s customer service might be totally useless if you are at the airport ticket counter far from the US.

KAYAK is still a valuable search tool, but there are numerous other fare-comparison sites (Hipmunk, Mobissimo, Cheapair, Farecompare, Bookingbuddy, Itasoftware, Vayama, Travelzoo) waiting to be tried. I’ve had good luck with

Lately, I’ve just been using those travel search engine sites to find the airline and fare, then I book my flights direct on my own. The price is occasionally $20-$40 more than the lowest fare shown on KAYAK, but that’s good value for getting rid of the middleman.


Goleta, CA