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The Journey of KAYAK: from Startup to Market Leader

KAYAK is a popular travel search engine that has become a go-to platform for many people seeking to compare prices and find the best deals across a range of travel categories. In this article, we will explore what KAYAK is, its revenue model, the categories available for comparison, filtering options for search results, other features such as deals and flight status tracking, as well as the sources from which KAYAK retrieves information.

Overview of KAYAK

KAYAK is a travel search engine that allows users to search for and compare prices of flights, rental cars, stays, and trains across multiple providers. The platform provides an easy and convenient way for users to save money and time by displaying the available prices and options across multiple providers in one place.

Kayak uses its aggregator business model to retrieve and display data to its users.

Revenue model

KAYAK generates revenue primarily through CPC (cost per click) and CPA (cost per action) models. The platform also makes use of sponsored placements that allow travel providers to advertise their services to KAYAK users.

These sponsored placements typically appear at the top of a search result or in the form of pop-up ads that provide users with relevant options. KAYAK earns a percentage of the revenue generated from these sponsored placements.

What is KAYAK? As already mentioned, KAYAK is an aggregator platform that searches and compares prices across multiple providers.

The platform aggregates data from multiple sources, including Global Distribution Systems (GDS), airlines, hotels, and scraping. It provides users with a wealth of options, allowing them to choose the travel providers that best suit their needs, budgets, and preferences.

Categories available for comparison

KAYAK offers four major categories for comparison: flights, rental cars, stays, and trains. Each category provides users with multiple options based on their search criteria.

For flights, users can choose their preferred airlines, airports, and travel dates, while rental cars allow users to choose the vehicle type, pickup, and drop-off locations. Stays provide different lodging options such as hotels, apartments, and hostels, while train travel offers users a way to explore their destinations in a more economical and eco-friendly way.

Filtering options for search results

KAYAK provides a range of filtering options that allow users to narrow down the options available and find the best deals. For example, users can filter their flight searches by airline, fare class, and price range.

They can also sort their results by flight duration, departure, and arrival times. Rental car searches can be filtered by car type, rental provider, and price, and stays can be filtered by amenities, location, and price range.

Other features

In addition to the categories and filtering options, KAYAK provides users with other features such as deals, Explore, and flight status tracking. Deals are updated regularly and provide users with exclusive offers and discounted prices on flights, rental cars, and stays.

Explore offers a way for users to browse popular destinations and set budgets for their travels. Flight status tracking provides real-time updates on flight schedules, delays, cancellations, and gate changes to help users stay informed about their travel plans.

Sources for information retrieval

KAYAK retrieves information from multiple sources, including Global Distribution Systems (GDS), airlines, hotels, and scraping. GDS provides KAYAK with real-time data from airlines and hotel providers, while airlines and hotels provide the platform with information about their fares, occupancy rates, and availability.

Scraping involves KAYAK crawling websites to obtain prices and other information to provide more information to users.


In conclusion, KAYAK is a go-to platform for many travelers around the world, providing them with a convenient and easy way to search and compare prices across multiple providers. With its aggregator business model, KAYAK provides different categories and filtering options for users to choose from.

Additionally, KAYAK users can benefit from exclusive deals, flight status tracking, and travel tips to make their travel experience smooth and stress-free. KAYAK is a well-known travel search engine that helps users compare prices and find the best deals on flights, accommodations, rental cars, and trains.

The platform was founded in 2004 by Steve Hafner and Paul English, both of whom come from the travel industry as entrepreneurs and executives. Here is a short history of the platform, from its early days to its current position as a market leader in the travel search space.

Founding team and previous experience

Steve Hafner, co-founder, and CEO of KAYAK, previously worked with Orbitz Worldwide as an executive. Before that, he was the founder and CEO of the travel website,

Paul English, co-founder and CTO, had a background in technology, having co-founded a software development company. He also worked for a few years in the travel industry, including as CTO of Intellirep, a travel search engine.

Together, Hafner and English harnessed their experience and passion for travel to create KAYAK.

Launch of KAYAK and early success

KAYAK launched in 2004, initially focusing on airfare search. Within a year, the platform had already attracted 35 million visitors and gained profitability.

It quickly expanded its product offerings to search for rental cars, accommodations, and travel bundles. The startup gained popularity due to its user-friendly interface, comprehensive search results, and its ability to allow users to compare prices across different travel websites simultaneously.

Acquisition by Booking Holdings

In 2013, (now Booking Holdings) acquired KAYAK for $2.1 billion, making it one of the largest exits in the travel industry. The deal was largely driven by the potential opportunity for Booking Holdings to leverage KAYAK’s technology and user base to increase its own market share, as well as the fact that KAYAK was growing rapidly and was one of the most successful travel startups at the time of its acquisition.

This acquisition allowed KAYAK to leverage the resources and scale of Booking Holdings to continue growing its platform. Departure of co-founder Paul English and launch of

In 2018, co-founder Paul English stepped down from KAYAK after going public about his bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Following his departure, English launched a new corporate travel startup called to revolutionize business travel with features like AI-powered communications and budget management tools for companies. The aim of is to simplify corporate travel booking and expense management with a user-friendly platform that helps businesses save time and money.

How Does KAYAK Make Money? KAYAK generates revenue from multiple streams, including CPC and CPA and advertising placements on search results.

The Cost per Click (CPC) model ensures that KAYAK makes money every time a user clicks on a travel provider’s website after being referred by KAYAK’s search engine. The Cost per Acquisition (CPA) model ensures that KAYAK earns a commission if a user purchases a travel product from a provider after being referred through KAYAK’s platform.

KAYAK also offers sponsored placements and banner ads, which are advertisements that appear at the top of search results pages. These ads are displayed based on the user’s search queries and provide travel providers with an opportunity to target specific sets of users interested in their offerings.

These ads generate revenue for KAYAK, allowing them to continue providing value to travelers across the globe.


KAYAK has come a long way since its founding in 2004, and has emerged as a leading travel search engine, providing users with a convenient way to compare prices and find great deals. After being acquired by Booking Holdings, the platform has continued to grow and expand its product offerings, while generating revenue from various streams, including CPC and CPA, as well as sponsored placements and banner ads.

KAYAK’s success and continued evolution underlines the importance of innovation and the ability to provide value to customers in the competitive travel industry. KAYAK, the travel search engine that helps users find the best deals on flights, car rentals, and accommodations, has been successful in attracting venture capital funding and has gone through several rounds of funding.

This article will describe KAYAK’s funding history, its valuation at its IPO and after the acquisition by Booking Holdings, and the lack of public revenue figures, which are included in Booking Holding’s “Advertising and other revenues.”

Amount of venture capital funding received

KAYAK has received approximately $229 million in venture capital funding from some of the most well-known venture capital firms in the world, including Sequoia Capital, Accel, and IVP. In 2004, the startup received $1.5 million in seed funding from four investors, including co-founder Steve Hafner’s father.

Four years later, KAYAK secured $196 million in funding with a valuation of $1.27 billion at the time of its IPO in 2012. Valuation at IPO and

Acquisition by Booking Holdings

In 2012, KAYAK made its debut in the public markets with a $1.027 billion valuation, which was almost double its estimated valuation from the previous year.

The company raised $100 million through the sale of 3.5 million shares priced at $26 per share. Eyeing KAYAK’s success, Booking Holdings, formerly known as Priceline, acquired KAYAK in 2013 for $2.1 billion, or $40 per share, marking one of the largest deals in the travel industry.

Lack of public revenue figures, revenue included in Booking’s “Advertising and other revenues”

While KAYAK once filed its financials publicly, the company began omitting its figures from the regulatory filing starting in 2014, when the brand was fully integrated into Booking Holdings. As of now, the only financial data available is from Booking’s filings, which show figures for a variety of the parent company’s travel-related businesses but do not break out revenue for KAYAK specifically.

Instead, the cumulating revenue generated by KAYAK is included in the “Advertising and other revenues” breakdown that Booking Holdings provides to investors.

It is important to note that while KAYAK’s revenue has not been publicly reported since its acquisition, the platform’s robust business model, offering a range of services such as sponsored placements and banner ads, is undoubtedly a strong driver of the “Advertising and other revenues” category.

KAYAK’s impact on Booking Holdings’ balance sheet is substantial and it has played a critical role in the larger company’s success.


In conclusion, KAYAK has been successful in securing substantial amounts of venture capital funding from top investors, displaying an impressive valuation at both its IPO and after acquisition by Booking Holdings. However, the company’s public revenue figures are not disclosed, and the revenue generated by KAYAK is instead included in Booking Holdings’ “Advertising and other revenues” category.

Even though KAYAK is a subsidiary of Booking Holdings, the strength of its underlying business model and the value it provides to travelers worldwide undoubtedly make it a major contributor to the revenue of the larger company. In summary, KAYAK, the leading travel search engine, has secured significant venture capital funding and achieved impressive valuations.

However, the lack of publicly available revenue figures obscures its financial performance, which is included in Booking Holdings’ “Advertising and other revenues.” Despite this, KAYAK’s robust business model and its contribution to the larger company’s success cannot be underestimated. The story of KAYAK highlights the importance of innovation in the travel industry and the value that comprehensive travel search engines bring to travelers worldwide.

It also serves as a reminder of the impact of successful acquisitions in driving growth and consolidation within the industry. KAYAK’s journey stands as a testament to the power of entrepreneurial vision and disruption in shaping the modern travel landscape.

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