Improving Travel Aggregators on KAYAK Example

iOS app UX redesign concept

Daniel Novykov
Dec 13, 2016 · 11 min read
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We all can find a thousand reasons why we like to travel. Someone like to discover new cultures, new feelings or to taste some new stuff. Someone travel to open their eyes to the ways of life you would never imagine. Someone travel simply to relax and recharge.

As it appears, the loyal travellers tend to return to companies, that provide a better overall travel experience than just a good deal. Building a personal approach to the client can lead to long-term relations for business.

For the past years, I’ve been using several travel apps to get flight tickets or to book a hotel. Personally, my problem was to have a dozen of apps in a travel folder on my iPhone, where every app solves one particular problem — to rent a car, for example, or to find popular tourist spots and so on.

The online travel market is huge with the high competition due to a number of well-established companies. To name a few: Skyscanner, Anywayanyday,, Airbnb, Momondo, TripAdvisor, Uber and many, many others.

Of course, there are bundles like Expedia, which solve almost everything you need in your journey, but something pushes me away from those all-in-one solutions. And I thought: ok, what would I change to replace a gazillion of travel apps with just one to rule them all.

I started with KAYAK. It’s a global fare aggregator and travel metasearch engine focused on making online travel better. It searches hundreds of sites at once for flights, hotels, rental cars and vacation packages. Great, but is there any room for improvement?

1. Defining the audience

To understand the mindset of users, their needs and goals, it’s important to figure out first who those users are. Here are 3 personas of who I believe are the core KAYAK app users.

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User personas

There are a few goals they have in common:

  • to get inspiration and new ideas for vacations
  • to have a fast, easy search and booking flow
  • to get good deals that meet their needs and preferences
  • to track price changes on planned trips
  • to manage all trip information conveniently in one place

2. Defining the problem

Every redesign starts with a problem. First, I wanted to know what other users think of the app. I got 3 people who’ve never used the app before and 2 persons who use it once in a while. We walked through the app with a few scenarios to search for hotels, flights, cars for different dates; save and book the best results; review bookings, etc. The goal was to identify their pain points within the app.

Upon review, the following pain points were found:

  1. The current experience offered by the app feels like a set of divided tools for each operation, whether it is a flight search, hotel booking or trip tracker. There is little to no communication between screens.
  2. When you book a flight, a hotel or rent a car the app uses a built-in web browser to display websites of those service providers. Each booking requires to enter contact and payment information on those sites. Again and again every time.
  3. Sometimes you need to continue searching on partner network after you’ve already searched and filtered your results in KAYAK app.
  4. The mobile app lacks a certain functionality compared to the website. For instance, it is not possible to search for vacation packages in the app.

Then I checked the app’s reviews and what are the main issues the current users have.

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KAYAK iOS app user reviews, AppAnnie

As we can see, the current users who got used to the app don’t see the above problems that new users have. Although there are some complaints about the service KAYAK provides and the app performance.

3. Business goals

Since the user goals are already found, there is one more thing left behind — business goals. And here are they:

  • to increase user acquisition
  • to increase user retention to the app
  • to increase the time users spend in the app
  • to increase sales
  • to provide a flawless experience for the user to finish the booking flow

4. The current app

As of December 2016, the app provides 5 main tabs: Search, Trips, Flight Tracker, Price Alert and More, where an additional 3 tabs — Explore, Directory and Settings can be rearranged on the tab bar.

In terms of navigation, everything seems okay at a first glance, as you can quickly switch between tasks. Although I believe there is room for some improvements. Take a look at the current user flow:

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KAYAK app user flow

The primary goal of the app is to find a flight/ hotel/ car or to track trips. It is app standard to include primary tasks on the main screen. Any additional items or secondary actions, like Flight Tracker, can be hidden from the main screen since they’re unlikely to be used every time a person opens the app.

Suggested user flow:

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Suggested app user flow

By hiding less frequently used options I was trying to eliminate the main screen clutter on the tab bar and also to give more clarity of what the app can actually do: it can search things and it can track them. The rest is secondary.

Having analyzed a ton of competitor’s solutions, it was time for some creativity.

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Sketching ideas

In this redesign, I was trying to achieve simple yet powerful search and book flow along with clear and intuitive navigation.

5. Before & after

5.1 Navigation

This is how the current app can be customizable within the tab bar. I wish to know how many users replace “trips” with “airline/airport directory”, but with an absence of that data, I decided to completely remove this feature.

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KAYAK tab bar customization

5.2 Explore

First off — what is Explore? It was really fascinating to observe how my test users were trying to find a vacation package on this interactive map :)

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KAYAK Explore interactive map + UI bug

The included filters allow to narrow down the results by these parameters: departing airport, flight time, trip duration, trip month, budget, vacation temperature, ambience (which are beach, gambling, golf, ski and that’s it!) and continent.

In the end, do you think the map will show you price pins for vacation packages? Nope! It gives you flight prices! So basically, it’s an alternative to Search Flights.

What’s the point here? If you check the website, you will clearly notice “Flight+Hotel/ Vacations” page, but guess what? There are no vacations in the app.

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That nice vacations label pulling your attention… just didn’t make it to the app :(

I didn’t understand the idea behind limiting the app of having vacations, as it can dramatically improve user retention and get new users on board who need a full flight + hotel package. Do I need to mention competitors include this feature in their apps?

I believe this feature can have a place on mobile too and I placed it right beside search stuff.

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Explore redesigned into Vacations

The redesigned default screen is set to Vacations, showcasing banners divided by categories. These categories include top destinations, hot deals, amazing beaches, ski slopes, romantic escapes, world wonders, family-friendly cities, hiking hotspots, party destinations, fashion destinations, music destinations, surf spots, wine regions, golf destinations, you got the point. The majority of these categories are already used to search flights on the website. The idea is to provide curated destinations for people, who don’t want to spend bazillion of hours to combine flights and hotels.

Another interesting category might be “For you”. With machine learning and studying user’s behaviour and preferences, the app can quickly suggest trips specifically tailored to that traveller.

As for the company, I believe this solution may hold users much longer in the app and bring more sales.

5.3 Search

On the Search screens, there is a lot of unused space that feels like a waste of screen real estate. Moreover, keeping those input forms on top ignoring the bottom of the screen… that’s something not quite handy on a 5-inch phone.

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KAYAK Search

As an alternative, I filled all the elements throughout the screen and made them bigger. In addition, I decided to assign individual prime colours to hotels, flights and cars tabs to visually distinguish different searchings the user performs.

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Suggested search

To deal with that empty space, I included additional basic filters that could be applied if needed. For instance, if you search for a hotel, you probably already know if you wanna stay in a 5-star residence or a 2-star hostel. Same thing with a number of flight stops. If you need a direct flight, just add it on the first step.

This solution can speed up your search. You get results and you good to go to check them. Otherwise, after loading your first results, you need to apply more filters and get new ones. And also it can save you 3G/LTE data ;)

5.4 Search results

In terms of the search results list, I don’t see any significant problem with this screen. It does its job, it shows results and short descriptions. Filter and sorting available as well. Nothing more needed.

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KAYAK Search results

But there are actually a few tweaks I could add. When you scroll through the hotel deals, for example, and then you want to check car rentals near that area — you go back, do a new car search and loose your previous hotel deals. Not cool.

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Suggested search results

I tried to keep top tabs visible to make it headache-free to jump between different search categories + keep the found data cached if the user didn’t ask for a refresh. And bigger pictures. Everyone loves big pictures.

5.5 Deal description & booking process

Neither I nor my test users found any problem with description screens. Everything looks fine, all the information to make a booking is available. It can be a little bit cleaner, but overall that’s fine.

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KAYAK deal details

Regarding the booking process itself, well, it’s a nightmare (sometimes). After you tap on Book Now, the app opens a built-in web browser and shows partner websites.

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KAYAK booking chaos

Sometimes it gets straight to the point where you need to check the info, confirm and pay. Sometimes it gives you more choices for booking options, which are complicated. Sometimes it gives you new search results, even though you’ve already found what you need. Sometimes it gives you different prices before booking and on payment steps. Sometimes it requires you to enter an immense amount of information (eg. name, passport, dates, phone number, billing/payment, etc). There is actually a magic button to pre-fill the data, but that’s not always the solution. And all those websites come with a different interface. Oh God!

So it all depends on what you’re booking and who is the deal provider. Of course, KAYAK is the aggregator and that’s how it works, by “searching hundreds of other travel sites at once”, but we’re talking UX here. This process must be redesigned somehow. Such a large company can afford to work closely with partners and get the raw data to display it in the native UI. Choosing partners more carefully and selecting those with a higher reputation is another issue that many travellers are concerned about.

5.6 Trips, Flight Tracker & Price Alerts

Simply, the Trips screen is a list of folders where you can keep your saved or booked deals and share them with friends or family. That’s, basically, it’s all it can do.

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Flight Tracker tracks flights, obviously. But why does it ask to add flights? Why not just pick up from user’s saved or booked flights?

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KAYAK Flight Tracker

Price Alerts are really great. You set a flight or hotel parameters you need and the app searches deals automatically for you. The only question is — does it has to be a separate feature inside the app?

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KAYAK Price Alert

To avoid this clutter, the solution I came up is to unite all that features under one roof and call it, simply, Trips.

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Suggested Trips screen

First, I merged saved and booked deals into one feed, since it’s easier to see everything you’ve planned for your trip. Found a better deal among saved? Just book it!

Second, to track a flight simply select the one you need.

Third. Feeling busy and want the app to do a search for you? There is a button for new alerts down there. Create a filter and the app will suggest deals for your trip automatically.

5.7 Account

Account is the place where you manage various settings, notifications, sign in/ sign out options, autofill data, airports/ airlines directory and other things that you probably will ever use once.

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Suggested Account screen

6. Summing-up

Redesigning a website or an app that already used by millions of people worldwide is not an easy task since there might be users who won’t find the new solution better. It’s important to understand the problem clearly and find out if it really is the problem.

Based on the feedback gathered from my test users, I was trying to fix their usability pain points in this app redesign. The current app is great to search for separate deals, like flights or hotels only. But it’s hard to use it as an ultimate travel solution since it can’t search for bundled deals and it can’t track trips properly. There’re apps that can do one specific thing much better than KAYAK, but keeping a dozen of them in a phone with different accounts, UI and no communication between each other can hurt the travel experience itself.

Thanks for checking out my post! If you have anything to add, I would appreciate any feedback :)

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