Booking Travel with Kayak: The Basics

Kayak is one of the most popular travel search tools. You can use it to find anything from flights and hotels, to car rentals and excursions at your destination. As well, travel packages that include multiple trip parts are listed on Kayak.

Kayak users can go to the website, Kayak.com, or use the mobile app to look for travel and earn rewards in the process.

Here’s what you need to know about searching for travel and booking on Kayak.

Although Kayak is an online search engine where you can find travel, it’s not a website where you can book travel. Kayak pulls prices from other travel websites and points you in the right direction when you’re ready to make a reservation. You’re not actually booking on Kayak.

Let’s say you want to book a night at a hotel, and the same hotel room is available on multiple booking platforms: a hotel’s website for direct booking or an online travel agency such as Expedia. Kayak analyzes information and lets you know where you can reserve the room for your specific dates for less. Then, you decide where to book based on search results.

This search tool doesn’t just cover hotels. It also works for:

It even includes buses and trains. That’s right, you can find transportation operated by Amtrak and Greyhound on Kayak.

The Kayak Explorer Rewards Program

Because you don’t book any travel components through Kayak directly, you don’t need an account. However, if you create one, you’ll be able to participate in the Kayak Explorer Rewards Program and earn rewards when you book.

How to earn Kayak Explorer Points

Kayak Explorer is Kayak’s loyalty program. It’s free to join and you will earn 2,000 Explorer Points when you sign up. Then, you will earn points on select hotels through the Kayak mobile app.

To earn points, look for an “Explorer Points” icon next to a qualifying booking. If earning rewards is important to you, filter your search results by clicking on the Explorer Points tab.

Rewards post six to eight weeks after you complete your stay. If you cancel your booking before you travel, you won’t earn any points.

How to redeem Kayak Explorer Points

You can redeem your rewards for:

  • Prepaid debit or gift cards.

  • Travel discounts and more.

Keep in mind that you need to have a minimum of 10,000 points in your account to make a redemption. Also, redemptions for prepaid debit cards are limited to the first 100,000 points redeemed per calendar year.

Kayak Explorer Points vary in value, depending on what they are redeemed for. In the case of a debit card redemption, Kayak Explorer Points are only worth 0.1 cent apiece. That is, a $10 prepaid credit card can be redeemed for 10,000 points.

Nerdy tip: Points aren’t eligible for a redemption until the following calendar year in which they’re earned. On top of that, the redemption window doesn’t start until March of that following year. So, for example, points posted on Jan. 15, 2022, can’t be redeemed until March 1, 2023.

Do Kayak Explorer Points expire?

Explorer Points expire at the end of the following calendar year in which they’re earned. For example, if you earn rewards on March 15, 2022, they would expire on Dec. 31, 2023. If you haven’t earned enough points to start redeeming them, they expire on March 1 of the following calendar year in which they’re earned.

If you don’t earn any points in a calendar year, then your membership in the rewards program may be terminated.

Who is eligible to enroll in the Kayak Explorer Rewards Program?

The Kayak Explorer Rewards Program is available to U.S. residents only at this time.

Ways to save money by booking through Kayak

Kayak offers users some useful features to help find flights, track prices and figure out when to buy that elusive affordable airfare.

Kayak Explore

Can’t decide where to go? Let fate decide for you.

The Kayak Explore feature allows you to narrow down your next destination based on your budget. If you’re flexible with your destination, this feature is for you.

To start planning your future trip into the unknown, head to the Kayak Explore page. The search tool should pre-populate your departure city based on your location, but it’s possible to change it to any city you want.

You can select exact travel dates or a specific month from the date range box. Filter your trip duration from one day to more than 14 days, select your budget and zoom out or drag the map in the direction you want to go.

If you’d rather have some idea of where Kayak is going to send you, select your trip type from the following options:

Here’s an example of Salt Lake City as the departure city with a budget of $500. We can set the trip type filter to “Anything” and search for trips in the month of November.

Options shown by Kayak Explore include flights to:

  • San Juan, Puerto Rico, for $342.

Click on the destination you’re interested in and find the “Check flight prices” option. You’ll be taken to the regular search page as if you entered your city pairs and travel dates from the home page.

Price forecast

Another nifty feature of Kayak.com is its ability to read a crystal ball and anticipate whether a flight is going to drop or increase in price.

The airfare price forecast is determined based on the millions of previous searches Kayak users have performed, so it’s not 100% accurate at predicting the future, but at least math and trends have been involved in the recommendation.

In the previous example of a flight from Salt Lake City to San Juan for $342, Kayak recommends booking the flight as it was unlikely to become less expensive.

Price alerts

If you’re not happy with the amount you see, you have the option to monitor airfare prices on a given route. Sign up for price alerts with your email to track prices and receive a notification when the cost changes on your desired route.

Price freeze

If you’re happy with the price but aren’t ready to enter your credit card information just yet, you have the option to freeze the prices you see for a fee. This is done in partnership with Hopper.

If the flight cost goes up in price, you pay what’s shown when you freeze the price. If it drops, you pay the lower cost.

For example, freezing the flight to San Juan from the earlier example costs $16, and you have 12 days to complete the purchase. When you’re ready to book a frozen price, follow the instructions sent to your email.

Hacker Fares

This sounds worse than it is. We guarantee that this is completely legit and you’re not going to aviation jail.

Gone are the days of having to book round-trip flights to save money, at least on domestic itineraries. Hacker Fares are one-way flight combinations that save you money on a round-trip itinerary. You have to book two separate flights, but the savings can be worth the extra step.

Here’s an example of a Hacker Fare from Salt Lake City to New York City. Rather than booking a single round-trip fare, this Hacker Fare offered a flight to New York on JetBlue, with a return flight on Delta. All for $257.

Both flights use different New York airports: New York-JFK and New York-La Guardia, so pay attention when you book your tickets one at a time.

Keep in mind that making two separate reservations might mean having to cancel two reservations, so familiarize yourself with the cancellation policies of each carrier, especially if you’re booking basic economy tickets. We also recommend checking baggage rules for each airline as those fees might eat into your savings.

Trips

With Trips, you can organize separate travel components, such as flights, hotel stays and rental cars into one itinerary by forwarding your confirmation emails to [email protected] Access your itinerary in one place any time through the Kayak app or on a computer.

You will receive trip alerts for check-in times, flight delays and gate changes for the flights added to Trips. It’s also possible to share your itinerary with someone else to collaborate on plans or let family members know your location if traveling solo.

COVID-19 travel restrictions map

You can also select your travel origin and view COVID-19 testing, vaccination and quarantine requirements for your destination country. Keep in mind that entry requirements change rapidly, and you should double-check the information for your destination.

The best credit cards to use for Kayak

Because you’re not actually booking anything on Kayak and going directly to the travel provider or an online travel agency, we recommend credit cards that earn rewards on general travel.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
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This credit card is one of the best among travel rewards cards on the market.

It earns 10 points per dollar on hotels and car rentals and 5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®. It also earns 3 points per dollar on all travel booked elsewhere, as well as 3 points per dollar spent on dining.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has an annual fee of $550, but it gives you a $300 annual credit toward any travel purchase to help offset that fee. Additionally, you have access to Priority Pass airport lounges and a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit.

Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

American Express Platinum Credit Card
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You’ll earn 5 points per dollar with this card when booking airfare directly from airlines and on prepaid hotels when booking with American Express Travel. Other perks include:

  • $200 airline fee credit. Enrollment required.

  • $200 in hotel credit (Fine Resorts & Hotels and The Hotel Collection properties).

  • $200 in annual Uber Cash credits.

  • TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit.

The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with a $695 annual fee, but it also includes access to the Centurion Lounges, the Delta Sky Clubs (with a same-day Delta Air Lines ticket) and Priority Pass lounges. Enrollment required. Terms apply.

Welcome offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
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With this card, you’ll earn:

  • 10 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel portal.

  • 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through the portal.

  • 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases, including travel purchased through any other platform.

The card charges a $395 annual fee, but you can offset it with its:

  • $300 annual travel credit for bookings made through Capital One Travel.

  • $100 TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit.

  • 10,000 anniversary bonus miles (equal to $100 toward travel).

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is also your ticket to Priority Pass lounges as well as Capital One Lounges (available in Dallas).

Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Yes, Kayak is a reliable travel search engine. It provides quick access to rental cars, airfare and hotels, and updates deals in real time. Kayak spares you the search across the depths of the internet and saves you time finding travel by suggesting the best price.

Additionally, Kayak is full of friendly features to help you find the best deals even if you haven’t decided where to go yet, freeze a price for later, track a fare and organize your travel plans in one place.

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

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