Kayak quietly introduced its Private Sale exclusive hotel deals, where Kayak, in an apparent travel-metasearch first, collects the booking and credit-card details from the consumer.
The basics look a lot like Jetsetter: Both Kayak and Jetsetter enable consumers, who have registered for these private offerings, to access a handful of what are said to be exclusive hotel deals for a limited period of time. Incidentally, the only thing -- for now -- that makes these hotel deals private is that you have to register for free to access them.
The buzz about Kayak Private Sale has to do with its collection of consumer booking details, a function previously reserved for travel agencies and suppliers and an area until now shunned by travel search companies. Also, there is additional intrigue because Kayak plans to extend this new role into its mobile app and eventually to its core search process, thus totally overturning the travel-metasearch playbook.
Kayak says it is not the merchant of record -- the hotel is -- and that Kayak merely collects the information and transfers it to the hotel for booking.
In fact, when I looked into Kayak's Private Sale for the Bryant Park Hotel in New York City, a note advises: "You are purchasing a Junior Suite directly from Bryant Park Hotel. This is a special Advanced Purchase Rate, so your credit card will be charged when you complete your reservation below."
Brian Harniman, Kayak's vice president of marketing, says Kayak's aim in these assisted bookings is to make "the buying experience fast, clear and uncluttered, like the core search app."
The hope is that an uncluttered booking process will lead to more conversions, with Harniman explaining that "it's a 3-page path to checkout."
Does Kayak do anything else with this new-found customer data?
Harniman says Kayak does not use the data for behavioral advertising purposes, nor does it pass along anonymous cookie information to third parties.
"We use headless Kayak trends data to direct sales team efforts," Harniman says. "So, if we see that many Kayak customers are searching for hotels in Concord, Mass., we'd make sure we have a Private Sale event for this market."
There was much talk in the past couple of weeks about how Kayak's new thrust into sourcing exclusive deals would impact its infrastructure costs. For now, Kayak, which gets these new hotel deals directly from suppliers and not from a third party, is adding two salespeople to support private sales.
I took a look at Kayak's Private Sale for the Bryant Park Hotel in New York City. The offer, which ends Feb. 11, was presented in the following way:
When I compared the deal on Kayak Private Sale to booking the room on the hotel's website or Expedia, I found the Kayak deal a bit over-hyped, but somewhat of a bargain nonetheless.
For example, Kayak claims that a room at the property booked elsewhere goes for $420 per night and that consumers would save around 23% off regular rates if booked through Kayak Private Sale instead. In fact, a junior suite on a pre-paid basis for Jan. 29 through Kayak was available tonight for a base rate of $324 and a total price of $374. On the Bryant Park Hotel website, a junior suite for that night -- with no pre-payment -- went for a base rate of $349 and a total price of $402.
In reality, regardless how you slice it, Kayak thus offered roughly a 7% discount on the room.
Still, Kayak's Private Sale price on the Bryant Park Hotel also bested Expedia.com's offer, which was a $349 base rate or a total price of $400, including taxes and fees.
What does it all mean? For starters, if Kayak is successful with Private Sale, it may have found the beginnings of a new revenue stream, and a new way of doing business.