Priceline this month announced it intended to acquire Kayak, a move that will team two of the whiz-kid companies when it comes to providing mobile apps to travelers.
Priceline said Kayak would operate independently, and they likely wouldn't merge their respective apps. Between Kayak's and Priceline.com's hotel, flights and rental car apps, you can find practically every type of travel-app feature available in the marketplace. That's particularly true when looking for a hotel stay.
So which app is better? It's really an apples-to-oranges comparison, and both can be used in tandem if you have the time and inclination to be exhaustive in planning your trip.
The free Kayak app (iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows 8, Nokia and Kindle Fire), which claims more than 20 million downloads since its debut in March 2009, has built-in advantages and disadvantages over Priceline, because Kayak is essentially a travel-search company and not a travel agency.
With an important exception, that means when you decide to book a hotel after using the Kayak app, you usually have to navigate to online travel agency sites -- such as Booking.com, ReserveTravel, Hotels.com, Priceline.com, Orbitz or Expedia to -- to book your room. The exception is there's a "book Kayak" option for a growing number of hotels. It lets you book within the app or by calling a toll-free number.
Priceline.com is a travel agency. That means you can complete all your bookings through it without being shuffled off to a partner website.
The free Priceline app (iPhone, iPad and Android) offers more than 200,000 hotels compared with Kayak's selection of about 330,000. And Priceline provides more methods to book them, which means you have a better chance of landing a deal.
Priceline booking methods include:
Published rates (which Kayak offers, too).
Name Your Own Price. You can bid and get discounts up to 60%, but you don't know in advance the hotel name and its precise location.
Express Deals. You know the price, with discounts of up to 45%, but don't know the hotel's identity upfront.
Tonight-Only Deals. Same-day bookings, with price and hotel name known in advance, and with discounts up to 40%.
Kayak: Easy to use, with extras
In addition to hotels, the free Kayak app offers flights, car rentals, flight-tracking, My Trips (to organize your itinerary in one place), and Kayak Explore (the ability to search for flights with no preset destination in mind). Kayak Pro (99 cents, iOS only) offers all that plus maps for about 100 airports -- and no advertising.
Kayak's app is easy to use and has extras. For example, when searching for flights, you can sort by the cheapest, shortest duration, leaving soonest, leaving latest and arriving soonest. You can find out how often a flight arrives on time, view the fare code, model of aircraft, distance and number of remaining seats.
Kayak's app is comprehensive, with an array of partnerships with airline, hotel and rental car companies around the world. That's its main advantage. The disadvantage is you often must navigate outside the app to websites of disparate quality to book reservations.
Priceline.com: Lets you compare 4 hotels
In addition to its hotel-booking functions, Priceline's iPhone and iPad apps offer flights and car rentals. The Android app offers car rentals but no flights.
A compelling feature of Priceline's hotel offering is called Stacks. It lets you easily view and compare side-by-side four hotels and their features, including their star ratings, guest scores and amenities. This feature makes it much easier to compare hotels than in Kayak's, although Kayak is supposed to be the comparison-shopping app.
Where the Priceline apps falls down is that the four ways to book a hotel can be overwhelming. That's particularly true when viewing hotel choices in a large city on a map. Dozens of overlapping pins with hotel rates make for a jumbled mess.
I give the Kayak app the overall advantage when it comes to easy-to-use features and elegance and for being comprehensive.
The honors go to Priceline, however, if you're willing to take the app through its paces to find rock-bottom bargains.
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