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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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We stayed at Kayak in Miami to see how a booking site runs a hotel

The travel search engine opened three technology-focused hotels during the pandemic

The lobby at Kayak Miami Beach. The hotel features a bar and Mediterranean restaurant called Layla. (Amanda Finnegan/The Washington Post)

A March wedding in Miami seemed like the perfect excuse for a winter escape — until I realized it was spring break. Aside from the thought of hordes of college students on the streets, hotels were astronomically expensive, making it difficult to find a decent room under $500 on a Saturday night. I didn’t want a party hotel, but I didn’t want to shell out for ultraluxury, either.

After spending days looking at options, I came across Kayak Miami Beach and did a double take. Is that the same Kayak as the travel search engine? It was. Had our reporters heard about it? Nope — not even our Miami native.

The company opened the Miami hotel as its first in April 2021, and later launched two other branded hotels in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, later that year. Though it’s been in the travel planning game for nearly 20 years, Kayak says it wanted to reimagine the in-person experience.

“We have deep expertise in distribution and driving traffic to hotels, and opening our own hotel has given us an unfiltered view of the day-to-day pain points hoteliers face so we can develop our software to address those needs too,” Victoria Hart, vice president of communications at Kayak, said in an email. (The company declined a phone interview.) After publication of this story, Kayak confirmed that it will exit the hotel business once its leases expire. It will continue to develop operations technology that hotels can use.

I wondered how the hugely popular search engine and price-tracking tool would translate into a hotel, so I stayed the night.

The price

Kayak’s rooms start at $159, but I knew I was unlikely to find that at such a busy time of year in South Beach, even though I was booking more than a month out. I was right: Rooms were more than $400 a night at Kayak, but still far less than at some hotels in the area for a weekend.

Ironically, I started my search on, which (full disclosure) is often my preferred booking site. I like that I have the option to pay at check-in, so I can book multiple hotels and cancel with little risk. I’m also notorious for canceling and rebooking if I find a cheaper rate. I checked both Kayak and the hotel site to see whether they listed a lower price, but was still the best deal.

After debating over a rooftop suite and deciding I didn’t need to splurge, I opted for a 220-square-foot Deluxe King, which Kayak calls “cozy but not cramped.” I paid $489, including taxes and a resort fee — inescapable in Miami.

You asked: My hotel changed my rate after booking. Can it do that?

The check-in

A few days before our arrival, I realized my flight was landing at 9:30 a.m. — almost seven hours before Kayak’s 4 p.m. check-in. Without a home base to change out of my D.C. winter attire, my early arrival in sunny Miami was going to be miserable.

I called the hotel, wondering whether I’d be able to get anyone on the phone, because I’d read the check-in process was mostly self-serve. But someone quickly picked up, and I asked whether I could request an early check-in. The woman said she could put in a request and asked what time: 9, 10 or 11 a.m.

I got a text around 11:45 a.m. on the day of our arrival that our room was ready, so I didn’t have to call and pester, and the timing worked out perfectly. We arrived at the small art deco building tucked into a quieter part of South Beach. The lobby was empty — minus a bartender and someone behind a front desk — which surprised me, considering the high rates and time of year.

Don’t like flying? We tried a sleepover bus from D.C. to Nashville.

Kayak is focusing on technology, so the front desk had two embedded tablets, where I entered my first and last name to pull up my reservation. Next, it had me hold up my ID to take a photo. A hotel employee was behind the desk to help guide through the process, which made the automated experience feel moot.

I soon got a text saying housekeeping was available upon request, a trend we’ve seen with hotels since the pandemic, and encouraging me to download the Kayak app to send requests and communicate with staff.

The location

Located in the Collins Park neighborhood, the Kayak building dates back to 1934. It opened as the Park Avenue Hotel, which once housed troops training during World War II, and later closed for years until becoming the Vintro Hotel in 2014. Its exterior still maintains much of its 1930s charm.

The hotel is tucked between apartment buildings and is across the street from the Miami City Ballet. It felt like being in a real neighborhood vs. on the strip of resorts on Collins Avenue, yet it was only a few blocks from the beach and action. A few smaller hotels dotted the area, along with the Bass art museum and Collins Park in the center.

Tired of the same old home office? Punch the clock in a hotel guest room.

The hotel space

Inside, the design feels Moroccan-meets-bohemian-meets-tropical, with deep oranges and dark blues, neutral tones and lush plants. It fit right into the current trend in hotels, especially ones targeting younger travelers: vibey communal spaces intended to be social hubs with small, minimal-amenity rooms.

There’s lots of seating, with a long communal table ideal for remote work; a lobby bar with prepackaged takeout items such as fruit and wraps; and Layla, the Mediterranean restaurant with a junglelike patio where a few people were dining.

After checking in, we went up to check out the small rooftop pool, though I thought it may be tough to get a lounge chair. (I like to be up at 7 a.m. saving mine.) There wasn’t another soul around, no one by the pool and no one in the upstairs lounge space.

While walking through the hotel, I found myself once again asking, “Where is everyone?” We ran into a couple exiting the elevator and another looking at the rooftop for an event. For Miami during peak spring break, the hotel felt like a ghost town. It was good for our sleeping needs, but I wondered how good it was for business.

The room

There are seven room types at the 50-room hotel, including standard 200-to-260-square-footers with double or king beds; a two-bedroom, two-bath suite; and a bunk-bed room called the Boho Quad, which has two double bunk beds.

My Deluxe King room had the same bohemian feel with dark walls, light wood and macramé, but it was also minimalist, which I liked from a design standpoint. It felt less tropical Miami and more about appealing to the current millennial aesthetic. I wondered whether anyone would notice if I took one of the throw pillows home; they felt identical to ones on my own couch.

The black-and-white-tiled floors in the bathroom felt older — both in a cool, vintage way, but also in a “How clean are these?” way.

My room promised “a view,” but the underwhelming scenery consisted of an empty chain-linked lot with an old shuffleboard court. I thought about the missed opportunity for someone to turn it into an outdoor garden lounge or a restaurant space.

The rooms boast some trendy brand-name amenities, such as Le Labo bath products and Marshall speakers that look like tiny guitar amps.

One amenity I quickly realized the room didn’t have: live TV. Instead, there was an Apple TV to log in to your streaming apps, but also not in a very seamless way. I’m sure some cord-cutting guests won’t miss cable, but I thought about my parents and how they probably wouldn’t log in to all their apps.

Checking out of our room was a breeze: I got a text the evening before instructing me to text “check out” when we were ready to leave.

The takeaway

Kayak feels geared toward younger travelers. With the self-check-in process and the lack of live TV in rooms, less tech-savvy travelers could be annoyed — or might not be able to figure it out at all.

Though Kayak was much quieter, it reminded me of Marriott’s trendy and budget-focused Moxy hotel chain, where you check in at the hotel’s bar while music pumps and people dine and drink. Like with Moxy, Kayak’s room was small and a bit bare-bones in amenities, with more emphasis on common spaces.

If you are looking for a resort feel, Kayak might not be the hotel for you. But if you plan to be out in the action anyway, it could be a good fit.

Besides, as any dad might say: We didn’t come on vacation to sit in the room.