KAYAK is a travel search engine on which users can browse and book flights as well as accommodations, activities, cars, trains, buses, and more.
The company, which is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, was founded in 2003 by Paul English, Steve Hafner, and Terrell Jones.
The results displayed on KAYAK are scrapped from a variety of sources including airline APIs, global distribution systems (GDS), and directly from the websites of their partners. KAYAK, in fact, has contractual relationships with over 700 partners.
In 2019, KAYAK also launched a dedicated business travel product, which it unrolled across the globe two years later. Companies and employees can now handle all of their travel within KAYAK. Superiors can even approve trips via email and Slack on top of being able to see what their employees spend on travel.
KAYAK’s founders have previously started a variety of businesses in both travel and tech. For example, CEO Hafner previously co-founded Orbitz in 1999. However, many cite Paul English, who suffers from Bipolar, as one of the driving forces behind the firm’s success.
KAYAK revolutionized the flight booking industry by offering an easily comprehendible interface and features such as direct bookings within the website.
The company, furthermore, scooped up many of its competitors along the way such as Swoodoo, Cheapflights.com, HotelsCombined, and more.
KAYAK itself went public in July 2012 after raising $229 million in venture funding. The company was delisted a year later because it was purchased by Booking Holdings (Priceline back then) for $1.8 billion.
Booking, unfortunately, doesn’t break down revenue figures for KAYAK, which employs over 1,000 people across multiple worldwide offices. KAYAK itself mostly makes money via click-based advertising and search ads.
The methodology with which competitors of KAYAK are ranked is based on publicly available information. Data points such as revenue, number of bookings, funding and valuation, the number of employees, and anything else that might be relevant will be considered.
Most of the competitors on this list are primarily known as flight booking sites. However, the analysis is not limited to pure-play flight booking sites since KAYAK and many other travel sites now include activities or stays as well.
It has to be noted that this analysis should not be seen as an endorsement of either service. It is merely a summary of the competition that KAYAK faces as of today.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 12 competitors of KAYAK.
Headquarters: Edinburgh, Scotland Founder(s): Barry Smith, Bonamy Grimes, Gareth Williams Year Founded: 2003
Skyscanner is likely KAYAK’s biggest competitor when it comes to sheer brand awareness as well as reach. Its platform is accessed by over 100 million people every month and is made available in more than 30 languages.
The site was launched as a result of Gareth Williams’ frustrations over antiquated airline booking systems. Back then, he even created dedicated Excel spreadsheets to track prices across a variety of sites.
Furthermore, the founders built Skyscanner next to their day jobs without raising any funding due to the ramifications of the tech bubble burst and 9/11. In 2005, two years after launching, they still only generated around $100 a day.
However, deals with various airlines and rebounding interest in the tech and travel sector eventually allowed them to go full-time. They raised close to $200 million in venture funding since then. In 2014, Skyscanner was acquired by Chinese travel giant Ctrip for £1.4 billion.
In 2019, before the Covid pandemic rattled global travel, Skyscanner generated over £330 million in revenue. The platform, which employs over 1,200 people, also enables travelers to book cars and hotels.
Headquarters: Amsterdam, The Netherlands Founder(s): Geert-Jan Bruinsma Year Founded: 1996
Booking.com is one, if not the world’s largest travel-related site. It is available in 43 languages and offers and boasts 28 million accommodations. Additionally, customers can book cars, flights, and activities via the platform.
Booking.com was launched by university graduate Geert-Jan Bruinsma who derived the inspiration for launching the platform after visiting Hilton.com for the first time. His home country of Holland, at the time, simply didn’t offer any local options to book hotels online. His site, Bookings.nl, therefore became the first in the country to offer such options.
In 2000, he agreed to merge with another site called Bookings Online. The dot-com crash had wiped out many of the funding opportunities previously available to startups like his.
They then acquired the Booking.com domain name soon after. Priceline, after failed acquisition talks with Expedia, acquired Booking for $133 million in 2005 – a huge bargain in hindsight. Booking Holdings is now worth over $70 billion.
For most of its existence, Booking.com had been part of Priceline. However, in 2018, it rebranded into Booking Holdings, which now owns sites such as Kayak, OpenTable, RentalCars.com, Agoda, and many more.
In 2021, Booking Holdings, which unfortunately doesn’t break down income figures for its namesake site, generated $11 billion in revenue. Gross bookings were equal to $76.6 billion over that timespan. Booking.com itself employs over 15,000 people across the globe.
3. Google Travel
Headquarters: Mountain View, California Founder(s): Google Year Founded: 2011
Google Travel is the search giant’s dedicated travel booking platform on which users can search and compare prices across flights, stays, and more.
In 2010, Google acquired flight information software company ITA for $700 million. The purchase enabled them to launch Hotel Finder and Flights just a year after. In 2016, Google launched its Trips mobile app, which it rebranded into what we now know as Google Travel back in 2019.
Many were also worried that flight comparison sites such as KAYAK or Skyscanner would be severely affected by Google’s acquisition of ITA. In fact, KAYAK CEO Hafner has even publicly criticized Google and said that KAYAK would stop using ITA data to surface its results.
And he certainly had good reason to do so: a search of ‘flights’ on Google now prominently features the search engine’s own Flights product above any other metasearch engine. Google, as a result, can leverage all of its existing traffic to promote its own product, which may not even be better than existing options out there.
This has also sparked antitrust concerns for which Google is now being investigated. As a result, Google has opted against disclosing any performance data for its Travel product to avoid adding fuel to the fire.
Headquarters: Bellevue, Washington Founder(s): Rich Barton, Richard Bangs Year Founded: 1996
Expedia is the second holding company on this list that’s dominating travel. Apart from the namesake Expedia.com platform, it also owns and operates Hotels.com, Vrbo, Hotwire, Travelocity, and many other brands.
In fact, the combined group now runs 200+ websites in 70 countries across the globe. Over 500 airlines, cruises, and car rental companies now work together with Expedia’s various properties.
The firm was created as a sub-division of Microsoft and was launched as an online travel agency with the purpose of being promoted on the firm’s MSN portal. Rich Barton, at the time, worked at Microsoft’s CD-ROM division and was responsible for creating travel guides. Three years after it launched, Expedia was spun out of Microsoft and went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
In 2003, Barry Diller’s IAC acquired a controlling stake in Expedia. Two years later, it spun off its travel division to create Expedia Group.
Today, the Expedia Group generated $8.6 billion (on gross bookings of $72.4 billion) in revenue. Much like Booking, it does not disclose revenue figures for Expedia.com. More than 22,000 people are now employed by the group.
Headquarters: Brno, Czech Republic Founder(s): Jiri Hlavenka, Jozef Képesi, Oliver Dlouhý Year Founded: 2012
Kiwi, which started out as skypicker.com, claims that its proprietary algorithms are able to uncover the cheapest and best flight options across the entire industry.
For example, its Nomad product enables travelers to save time and money when planning trips to multiple destinations by scouting every possible travel combination. Additionally, its self-transfer hack enables customers to connect carriers that normally don’t work together.
The firm claims that it currently sells 70,000 airline seats – every day. In June 2022, it raised an additional $100 million in debt financing to take advantage of the reopening of the world. Three years prior, VC investors General Atlantic acquired a majority stake in Kiwi.
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In early 2021, the firm drew attention by not responding to customer complaints regarding canceled flights due to Covid-19. Nonetheless, Kiwi.com remains one of the biggest companies in the sector, employing over 1,000 people across multiple offices.
Headquarters: Shanghai, China Founder(s): James Liang, Min Fan, Neil Shen, Travis Katz Year Founded: 1999
Trip.com Group is China’s largest travel site with close to 34,000 employees. Travelers can book anything from accommodations (hotels, houses, apartments, etc.), flights, trains, cars, tours, cruises, activities, and much more.
The site works together with over 480 airlines across 2,600 airports as well as 200 countries. Trip.com currently generates $3.1 billion in revenue on an annual basis. Transportation revenue, which is made up of cars, trains, and flights contributed $1.1 billion (which also includes Skyscanner).
Trip.com is actually not how the firm was named initially. In 2017, Ctrip purchased Trip.com for an undisclosed amount and rebranded into what it is currently known as two years later. The move was meant to signal the brand’s global ambitions.
Ctrip had previously dominated the Chinese market for over a decade. It, furthermore, became one of the first Chinese tech companies to be listed on a foreign stock exchange when it went public on the Nasdaq in 2003.
Headquarters: Needham, Massachusetts Founder(s): Stephen Kaufer, Langley Steinert Year Founded: 2000
Most people will know TripAdvisor as a platform that features reviews across hotels, restaurants, airlines, and more. In fact, over one billion reviews have been published on the site to this date.
What many don’t know is that customers can, furthermore, book hotels, flights, or vacation rentals directly on the platform. This is made possible by TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking feature, which was launched back in 2014.
Two years later, TripAdvisor doubled down on the airline portion of its booking feature by unveiling a new flight search platform as well as a more detailed airline review system. TripAdvisor now even recognizes its user’s most favorite airlines on a yearly basis.
Its Plus membership, furthermore, grants subscribers a variety of benefits including exclusive access to airline and hotel discounts.
TripAdvisor was acquired for $210 million by Expedia in 2004. Seven years after, TripAdvisor spun out from Expedia and became an independent company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
The platform is now one of the biggest travel-related websites. It generates $902 million in annual revenue (most of it from advertising). The platform, which employs over 2,500 people, offers reviews on almost 9 million accommodations, restaurants, experiences, airlines, and cruises.
Headquarters: Montreal, Quebec Founder(s): Frederic Lalonde, Joost Ouwerkerk Year Founded: 2007
Hopper is a travel platform that is primarily accessed via its mobile apps, which have been downloaded over 70 million times. The company claims that its search technology can save travelers an average of $65 per flight and $30 per hotel.
The app, furthermore, predicts future travel prices and can tell you exactly when the best time to book is. In recent times, Hopper has undergone a push into expanding its FinTech capabilities by launching features such as “Leave for Any Reason,” which enables travelers to leave a hotel they already checked in (with the cost being reimbursed by Hopper).
Hopper, furthermore, offers a B2B product named Hopper Cloud, which allows other companies to sell Hopper’s products. The firm’s stated goal, in fact, is to become a travel super app on which users can do anything from booking flights to getting inspired by new locations.
Investors certainly like the company’s approach as well. Hopper is currently valued at $5 billion and has raised over $633 million in funding. The firm, which employs over 1,300 people, grew revenues by over 300 percent in 2021 alone.
Headquarters: Singapore Founder(s): Robert Rosenstein, Michael Kenny Year Founded: 2005
Agoda is largely known as a platform on which travelers can compare and book accommodations such as hotels or long-term rentals. However, since 2019, the platform also surfaces deals for the best flights.
In the beginning, the product mostly surfaced results from Southeast Asian airlines but has since expanded to hundreds of airlines. Agoda, in an effort to become a full-stack travel platform, now even offers airport transfers.
The firm’s focus on Southeast Asia has been rooted in its founder’s personal history. In 1994, Michael Kenny first arrived in Thailand to work for the Arcadia Hotel Group (now Hilton). As the internet began to take shape, he launched travel-related sites such as PlanetHoliday.com (1997) and PrecisionReservations.com (2003).
He then decided to merge those two businesses to create Agoda Ltd. To help him get the new company started, he recruited long-time friend and experienced online entrepreneur Rosenstein as a co-founder. A mere two years after launching, Agoda was acquired by Booking Holdings for an undisclosed amount.
Booking does currently not disclose revenue numbers of Agoda, which employs close to 5,000 people in 30 countries. Its app is available in 39 different languages on top of that.
Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark Founder(s): Thorvald Stigsen Year Founded: 2006
momondo is a global travel search platform comparing prices across flights, hotels, activities, and car rentals.
It is, just like many other companies on this list, owned by Booking, which acquired the holding company behind momondo for $550 million in 2017. As a result of the acquisition, momondo was integrated into KAYAK’s operations.
However, momondo would remain an independent company and continue running its offices in Denmark, the U.K., and the U.S. (Boston). Booking and KAYAK have since taken advantage of momondo’s brand recognition but didn’t invest much into new product development.
Nevertheless, momondo continues to attract millions of monthly visitors across its country-specific sites.
Headquarters: New York City Founder(s): Sam Jain Year Founded: 2005
CheapOair was launched as a subsidiary of Fareportal that now powers a variety of other travel sites including OneTravel. The firm started out as a call center operation where travelers could book flights via phone.
CheapOair has since grown into one of the most popular sites to book flights in the United States. It has, furthermore, expanded into cars, hotels, and activities. The site even offers its own branded credit card, which provides customers with various rewards when booking via CheapOair.
Another key distinction is that CheapOair offers a dedicated phone line, for example, to resolve outstanding issues, which is powered by Fareportal. And even though founder Jain stepped down from his day-to-day involvement back in 2021, both CheapOair, as well as Fareportal, continue to be one of the biggest sites for booking flights.
Over 750 people are employed by CheapOair alone. The company remains in private ownership and is thus not disclosing revenue figures.
Headquarters: New York City Founder(s): Aktarer Zaman Year Founded: 2013
Skiplagged is a little different than the companies on this list. The site takes advantage of so-called ‘hidden city’ fares. For example, if you fly from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago, then you’d simply depart in Chicago. This is made possible because one-stop flights can often be cheaper than direct flights, thus providing customers with unique deals.
While the practice is perfectly legal, airlines hate it because they have to fly with empty seats and thus lose additional revenue. Skiplagged, as a result, has been subject to multiple legal battles.
In 2015, both Orbitz and United Airlines sued the company. While the latter’s case was dismissed, Skiplagged eventually settled with Orbitz. In recent times, Skiplagged has also been sued by Southwest Airlines for allegedly scraping its flight data and using its logo without permission. Skiplagged, in its defense, said it gets that data from Kiwi.
Apart from flights, travelers can also book cars and hotels while earning rewards for doing so. What’s even more impressive about the firm is that its founder, Aktarer Zaman, started the company at age 23 (while working as a software engineer at Amazon) and never took a cent of funding.