Of all the travel apps in the App Store, Kayak PRO (99 cents) should be your go-to resource for searching and booking. Kayak, which also offers a free version of its app, lets you search flights, hotels, and car rentals with the greatest of ease. It pulls in information from partners, such as Booking.com, any time it can’t fill in all the details alone, or when another site will quite frankly offer you a better deal than Kayak can. For all these reasons, plus excellent usability, Kayak PRO is a five-star iPhone app for travel, and a PCMag Editors’ Choice.
For searching and booking flights, Kayak has long been my first stop any time I need to book a complicated journey. Both the Kayak website and mobile app give me the right kind of control over the filters I include in my flight searches.
For example, both the mobile app and website have tools for including and excluding specific airports within a geographic area, so I can look for options departing from both LaGuardia and JFK airports, while keeping Newark out of the mix. On an iPhone, it’s a tough juggling act to include all the necessary tools for advanced searches and also make them accessible to the user, easy to find, and easy to use. But Kayak does it.
Creating multicity itineraries is just as simple thanks to an extremely well-designed interface. This is a feat even Orbitz doesn’t yet attempt on the iPhone. An option for multi-city journeys does exist in Orbitz’s iPhone app, but when you tap it, the app says it will now whisk you away to the mobile-optimized website where you can carry out your search, because the app itself cannot support it.
If Kayak cannot sell you the seat on the flight directly, it will loop in a partner that can. Sometimes the partner is the airline itself, as in a search I completely recently that connected me directly to Delta, without ever leaving the Kayak app. Occasionally, the app bumps you out to another website entirely, which disrupts the experience. But overall, I like that Kayak knows when to rely on partners to provide services it can’t.
With Kayak, searching and booking hotels is equally simple and straightforward. You can look for last-minute deals, or book in advance, and the app now includes results from some alternative accommodations as well, like apartment rentals and hostels. That was formerly a sweet spot I had only seen tackled in an iPhone app by Hipmunk. I thought it was a great feature, so I’m thrilled to now see Kayak doing it, too.
Just as with flight search, hotel searches in the Kayak mobile app offer the right balance of features and simplicity. A dynamic map displays hotel results by location, and with prices prominently shown, too. You can also view results in a list with a quick summary of the most important information: a thumbnail image, name of the hotel, price for one night, and star rating. Tap on any result, and Kayak pulls up even more relevant information, including more photos, a summary, and snippets of user reviews (including date written so you know how recent the complaints and praises are), which are always important to me in making a final decision about a hotel.
The user reviews often come from outside sites, such as Booking.com, and I appreciate that. The sentiment, as I see it, is: If Kayak doesn’t have the capacity to provide something the user needs, it finds another partner that can, and offers it anyway. It’s that attitude that gives me confidence in Kayak.
Reserving or pre-paying for a rental car in Kayak is similar to finding a hotel in that the app gives you a great balance of filters that are simple to use. You can filter by the class of car you need, services offered in the rental deal (such as unlimited miles) and even include or exclude car rental companies. You can also filter the results by distance or price.
I love some of the extra services that Kayak rolls into its iPhone app, such as maps of airport terminals and a list of the services in them, all powered by GateGuru, another travel app I love and personally use any time I have a long layover.
Another neat inclusion is a packing list, although it’s probably not a feature I would personally use. In this section of the Kayak app, you can pull up some pre-made lists of items you might need to pack for a business trip, a romantic getaway, or a family vacation. If the lists don’t contain things you actually want, you can of course edit them or completely overhaul them. Some people may find it helpful to have a packing list at the ready in their app while they’re searching and booking travel, but I would want it much later in my travel planning process, like when I’m actually putting together a daily itinerary of things to do while on the road.
A currency converter is another nice touch in the Kayak app, although it’s hard to tell how often the information is updated. For monetary calculations, I use an app called Converter Plus+, which updates its exchange rates whenever it connects to the Internet, and it shows the most recent time and date of the update at the bottom of the screen.
If you sign into your Kayak account, you’ll find even more useful travel information in the Kayak PRO app, including your past trips booked through Kayak, price alerts you have saved, a flight tracker that helps you keep an eye on whether your next flight will be on time, and more. There’s a lot to explore, and most of it is actually useful.
One annoying feature of Kayak’s iPhone app is that although the 99-cent PRO version claims not to have advertisements, it does. They’re not the lower screen pop-up variety, but rather they’re mixed into the search results. For example, a search for a hotel in New York turns up a number of great deals, plus a Hotwire deal and Priceline deal that are both clearly labeled “ad.” They are the same size and shape as the regular search results, so they don’t stand out as much, but instead of having a thumbnail image of the hotel, there’s a logo for the service at hand. Sneaky. And annoying.
You could save the 99 cents and download the free version of Kayak’s iPhone app, which has more advertisements cluttering the screen. In all other ways, the apps are the same.
And as much as I appreciate the lengths Kayak goes to in integrating information from its partners, there are times when the app pushes you out to another website or app, and that’s too much for me. I like having partner information and deals come to me so long as I can stay inside the Kayak app, but I don’t like having to go elsewhere.
Kayak To Go
If there’s only one travel app you need on your iPhone, it’s Kayak. Kayak gets right all the nuances of searching for and booking travel plans, from advanced filters for flights to interactive maps for hotels and other accommodations. You might still want a few other travel apps for exploring things to do in new areas, but for searching and booking, Kayak’s the best.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc