IUI Example – Kayak

This post is incredibly personal, I love to travel. Just look at my profile on Twitter…

Anyway… 🙂

One of the biggest questions someone has when they’re looking to book a flight is whether the price will go up or down, in other words, should they buy now or wait?

Kayak offers people an answer to this question with a little indicator “OUR ADVICE”.


If you read my recent post on IUI Design Principles, the very first one was “Raise People’s Acumen”:

Acumen is roughly defined as the ability to make good decisions, quickly. Where a principle like this works really well are for things like analytical tools. As an example, if you’re designing a dashboard, think about the decisions that someone would make with the data and figure out how you can enable them to make better decisions, faster. Another way that I’ve written this principle is “Help people make smart decisions quickly”.

This is so perfect. They are answering that critical question of whether or not to buy now.

But they don’t stop there. They also follow one of my other main principles when building Intelligent User Interfaces, “Be transparent, the real job is developing trust

If a machine is going to do something or make a suggestion for a person, they should have the ability to see how that output was chosen. Look for ways to provide some transparency in the system that gives people trust & confidence.

They put a little ‘i’ icon that people can click to provide some detail behind the advice

This is so brilliant.

I’m not sure the explanation is quite as robust as it could be, however…

Let me explain…

This incredible little innovation didn’t originate at Kayak. The company that invented this was actually called Farecast, which Microsoft acquired in 2008… and, shockingly, they don’t offer this when you search for flights on their site.

One of the reasons that I know that the explanation could be better is because I know some of the history of Farecast.

Farecast was founded by Oren Etzioni, a computer science professor at the University of Washington. He came up with the idea back in 2002 when he was on a flight and learned that the people sitting next to him paid much less for their tickets simply by waiting to buy them until a later date. So he had a student go try to forecast whether particular airline fares would increase or decrease as you got closer to the travel date. With just a little bit of data, the student was able to make pretty accurate price predictions on whether someone should buy or wait.

From there Etzioni built Farecast. It was just like other online airfare search sites (OTAs), with one major addition: it added an arrow that simply pointed up or down, indicating which direction fares are headed.

The company, which was originally named Hamlet and had the motto of “to buy or not to buy”, was built using 50 Billion prices that it bought from ITA Software (which was acquired by Google in 2010). ITA is a company that sells price information to airlines, websites, and travel agents, and has information for most of the major carriers. When Farecast bought the data from ITA, it didn’t have prices for JetBlue or Southwest, but could indirectly predict fares for those carriers based on fares from the carriers it did have pricing data for.

Farecast based it’s predictions on 115 indicators that were reweighed every day for every market. They paid attention not just to historical pricing patterns, but also included a number of other factors that shifted the the demand or supply of tickets – things like the price of fuel, the weather, and non-recurring events like sports championships… anyone buy their tickets for Qatar 2022 yet? 🙂

As mentioned at the start of this post, I love travel… and there are some other travel examples I’ll be sharing in upcoming posts (including one from Google Flights).

What do you think? Any examples you can think of leveraging IUI for travel??


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