Travel search site Kayak launched a new feature earlier this week called Kayak Explore, a visual search engine that starts with the basic question of, "I have X amount of money to spend. Where can I go?"
The map interface of Explore lets you select a price range, a time of year to travel (this year or next), whether you're looking for attractions like beaches or casinos, and whether you have a maximum flight time in mind. Then it'll display the lowest fare available for a pretty extensive range of destinations--but mostly just to major global cities served by airlines with U.S. connections that are accessible by major travel booking sites. Only nine cities in all of Africa are displayed, for example.
I'm not sure to what extent this will actually be used to make real travel plans, but at the very least it's probably a very good marketing tool for Kayak--especially on a Friday afternoon in the summer, this is exactly the sort of thing that cubicle dwellers dreaming of poolside margaritas will want to mess around with. Kayak has time and again proved savvy with gimmicks and oddball features, like a hidden search for the fictional flight made famous by TV series "Lost" right around the show's finale.
Kayak's big rival in travel search is Microsoft's Bing Travel, which was retooled from Farecast, an airfare prediction tool that Microsoft acquired in 2008. Kayak has reportedly taken issue with Bing Travel's design, arguing that it's too similar to its own.