Talking travel with the CEO of

Kayak is one of our favorite companies to write about. The leading airfare metacrawler processes some 40 million travel requests per month, making it one of the most popular travel sites out there. TIME Magazine has called it one of the “50 Coolest Websites” and the “Best Search Aid” by Travel + Leisure Magazine.

Instead of random musings this time, we’ve got Steve Hafner on the line. He’s the co-founder and CEO, a guy who’s more than qualified in his position–he helped found Orbitz in 1999.

How is a metacrawler better than a regular search engine?

Studies show consumers search four to five Web sites before making a purchase. saves the consumer time by searching all of these Web sites in seconds and displaying rates and availability for more than 440 travel brands. We provide the user with powerful filtering and sorting tools, so they can find exactly what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Then, then lets the user decide where to purchase-direct from a supplier such as the airline’s own website, or from on online travel agency like Orbitz. Unlike the online travel agencies, is free to use.

Do you plan on getting into the package market or will you continue to metacrawl? launched a beta version of a package product on Thursday, June 26. We hope to add several more providers over the next two weeks and formally launch the vacations product soon. is the first travel site to offer a true meta-search product for vacation packages.

Will you ever implement a feature to pick a destination by “region” instead of city? As in Europe instead of Paris?

Excellent idea. We launched such a product in 2005 (see announcement). Kayak Buzz displays the lowest fares to the 25 most popular destinations within a region from a consumer’s hometown. To get the Buzz, input a departure airport or city in the Buzz section of the homepage, along with desired month of travel and region of interest. Within seconds, Kayak Buzz displays a list of 25 cities organized by popularity with an interactive Google Map that plots destinations. Regions include world, U.S., Europe, Caribbean, South America, Asia, Africa and Australia/Oceania. Consumers can also register to receive customized Kayak Buzz Alerts by email. Consumers and media really love it, so we’ve enhanced Kayak Buzz several times.

Does your software have the ability to do that? keeps all search data for one year. Kayak Buzz prices are actual fares found by other Kayakers over the past two days. Our data warehouse of fares is used for several tools including Best Fare Trend Chart, Fare History and Fare Alerts.

What is the advantage of your metacrawler over other engines such as Mobissimo or Sidestep? is the leader in the space for a reason. is the only travel search site that offers a complete package-comprehensive search, powerful filtering tools, variety of useful search tools such as Flexible Search or Weekend Search, personalization and ease of use (Note:’s search engine has powered since the December 2007 acquisition). As a technology company, is able to enhance and innovate the site at a rapid pace-which keeps us ahead of other travel search sites and the OTAs. Many new features come directly from consumer requests, as every employee reads every piece of user feedback every day and we respond to new feature requests in order of popularity.

What are some features we should expect to see in the near future?

On Thursday, June 26, launched Flight Quality functionality which allows the user to filter red-eyes, departure/return from same airport, aircraft type, etc. A warning message is also displayed to flights that meet a criteria deemed undesirable by some travelers including flights with terrible on-time records, layovers longer than four hours, red-eyes, last flight of the day, etc. also launched an Airline Fee Chart which summarizes the five most popular fees tacked on by airlines including those for baggage, meals, pets, unaccompanied minors and seat assignment/legroom. is working on integrating these fees into the search results and we hope to launch this capability by the end of July.

When acquired, a hotel review site called came with the package. Our plan is to turn into a true competitor to TripAdvisor. Although TripAdvisor is the hotel review leader, we think it’s a terrible user experience and we know we can do it better. Our engineering team is in the process of adding the UI to and then we’ll start enhancing the site with better functionality. You’ll start hearing about around the watercooler soon.

Do you have any stats on Kayak’s usage / popularity to wow us?

More than 35 million people visited last month, and we processed more than 40 million requests for travel information. That makes us a top 10 travel site in the U.S., bigger than just about every airline and hotel website. Plus, we recently launched websites in the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy and India. The amazing part is how little we spend on marketing compared to our competitors.

As someone who helped found Orbitz, why did you end up leaving? In your opinion, what’s wrong about their service right now?

Orbitz is a great company. But many consumers use it to search for travel information and then book at the airline or hotel website directly. So, it is really a search engine-but not a very good one. Not every airline or hotel is available on Orbitz, the sorting and filtering tools are rudimentary and there is no real personalization. So I left to start a Web site that tried to be a travel search engine and not a seller of travel services.

What can Kayak do better? What is the search engine’s biggest weakness?

We’re still not very good at what we do. We don’t search every airline and hotel, we take too long to conduct a search and the result set is not as personalized as it should be. The bright side is that we still do it better than everyone else. And, we’re making progress on each of those weaknesses.

What are your top three favorite travel destinations?

It’s hard to beat the French Riviera (especially Antibes), St. Barts in the Caribbean and my local favorite: New York City.

What are some bizarre travel trends you’ve picked up from Kayak users?

When launched a redesign of the hotel search, we asked users about hotel stays. You wouldn’t believe what people have found in their hotel rooms! The results still make me laugh every time I read them.

For travelers in other countries, is there any way to avoid booking a ticket through a travel agency? Are there solid search engines for particular geographic regions (like Southeast Asia or South America)?

The rest of the world is beyond the U.S. in terms of sophistication in online travel. has improved the online travel experience in some countries by launching local sites in the U.K., France, Ger
many, Italy, Spain and India.