A few weeks ago, Kayak rolled out a new featured, dubbed “Explore.” (It’s a feature right below “Deals” on the left sidebar.) The site maps fares from a given airport and promises to show you everywhere you can afford to fly.
“Explore” set some business media hearts a-twitter (for example…) upon release, with stories of how innovative this site is, but I’m sorry, it’s not good enough. “Explore” is neither a new idea nor the best possible execution of that idea.
Travelocity had “Dream Maps” years ago, which mapped fares from a given city. You clicked on the fare on the map, and you got a detailed list of the fares, the airlines, the fare codes (!), and the rules/dates applicable. You could click on a fare and a calendar with eligible dates popped up. You could choose dates and search for availability on the spot. I miss this.
One major reason I miss Travelocity’s Dream Maps is because they listed all the publicly available fares that were loaded into Sabre. Sure, you had to click through a number of fares before finding something that met your dates, but they were bookable. That’s not what Kayak is providing. You’re not seeing all possible fares. Instead, Kayak’s “Explore” pulls fares from a much more limited pool. From the site itself (emphasis added):
Fares displayed are for round-trip economy class travel found by Kayak users in the last 48 hours. Fares include all taxes and fees but may not include baggage fees charged by carriers. Seats are limited and may not be available on all flights or days. Fares are subject to change and may not be available on all flights or dates.
A rolling 48 hour window of search results is problematic in a number of ways. Not only are fares rapidly outdated, and thus useless in a search, but by limiting your results only to those cities where someone else has found a fare in the past 48 hours, you’re only getting a small number of actual fares. You’re essentially relying on others doing the searches for you. And those fares are pulled for specific dates, not a range of dates. Not necessarily your dates.
The fact that the range of results — based on other people’s searches in the last two days — is likely to be limited is especially problematic if you’re searching from small airports. New York fares might be pretty reliable, but how about Walla Walla, Washington fares?
Other sites have taken a stab at this, too. FareCompare currently comes closest. But I’ve had trouble actually booking some of the fares that come up. Mobissimo lets you search by regional destinations, too. And again, some of those fares aren’t bookable.
Bottom line: I like the idea of Kayak Explore. It’s a great concept. But someone (else?) can and should make it better. I know it’s a moving target, and a big set of data to sift through, but it was done once. Let’s map the complete range of bookable fares — again — to truly empower the consumer.