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Kayak Buzz: Useful search tool or marketing gimmick?

If you haven’t been to lately, you may not be aware of its new search tool, “Buzz.” First launched in November 2005, Buzz recently benefited from new features that improve its search capabilities.

What is it?

Users enter a departure city and then search by region, theme, travel month, and maximum price. The search displays up to the top 25 most popular searches in the past several days by other Kayak users.

Is it useful?

In its original incarnation, we questioned the usefulness of Buzz. Until recently, the “travel month” was not available, so you could be looking for a May flight, but get results from searches for flights in October. The addition of travel month increases Buzz’s usefulness tenfold.

Many of the emails we get from readers ask how much a person should pay for a flight on a particular route. There’s no possible way for us to track every route someone could want. But, a traveler could use Buzz to get a baseline price. For example, if you have been tracking flights from Boston to Paris in July and are considering booking a $700 fare, you might learn that someone recently booked a $600 fare, and know to hold out for a lower price.

Kellie Pelletier, Kayak’s vice president of communications, says Kayak is also designed for flexible travelers—people who like to travel but aren’t sure where to go. Similar to Travelocity’s Dream Maps, Buzz will display the top 25 most popular searches from a departure city to a certain part of the world. However, Dream Maps displays fares that are currently available on Travelocity, while Kayak only displays recently searched fares.

Another addition to Kayak is “Buzz Alerts,” in which users select travel specifications and then receive emails (daily or weekly) with a listing of routes that fit the criteria. If you’re flexible with your dates and route, this can be helpful. Kayak also offers new “Fare Watch” alerts, similar to Travelocity’s FareWatcher and Orbitz’s Deal Detector, which send emails when a specified route pops up for a selected price and travel period.

In a related note, Kayak has also introduced Kayakbot, a program that allows users to check prices for airfare, car rentals, and hotels, as well as flight status, using AOL Instant Messenger (without opening a new Web browser). Kayakbot’s searches aren’t as extensive as the searches performed on, but it can still be a quick and convenient way to get benchmark prices for travel and flight status information.

Is there a downside?

Users only have access to routes that have recently been searched by other Kayak users. Therefore, the top 25 routes displayed are the most popular routes, not necessarily the cheapest destinations available from a particular departure city. And, if a user searched, for example, Los Angeles to Acapulco two days earlier, the listed fare may not still be available.

Kayak’s Buzz is useful as a comparison tool, but only in some circumstances. If you’re looking for actual, bookable prices as opposed to averages and baselines, you may want to look elsewhere.

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