Travel: Because Planning a Vacation Shouldn't Be Work
AirTroductions is a kind of matchmaker for the jet set. Fill out an online profile, including your flight number, and the site connects you with other travelers with similar interests who also share your itinerary, a connection with potential to improve your vacation or, at least, your flight. More than 17,000 travelers have signed up for the service already, but that's not enough to guarantee a connection on every flight. Registration is easy, but it isn't free: An "airtroduction" costs $5.
You know when you want to fly, but when is the best time to buy the ticket? FareCompare is a database of more than 77,000 possible routes in the United States and Canada and nearly 5 million fares. It displays historical fare information between two destinations, helping you predict the best time to purchase a flight based on historical price data. But sometimes a price that shows up on the site will be unavailable when you try to book the flight.
Think MySpace.com meets travel. The site features write-ups on places both popular and obscure, from Harrah's Hotel Casino in Las Vegas to the Upstream Brewing Co. in Omaha. The pool of reviews is somewhat shallow, but as the site grows it could become a serious online resource for travel planners. And some reviews lack the edginess of those on rival TripAdvisor, which also are written by real travelers.
Railpass just added a new trip-planning function called RailSaver that allows you to easily compare rail passes and city-to-city tickets based on your itinerary and preferences. Just type in your schedule and the site figures out your best rail option. Of course, it also tries to sell you the ticket, but shop around before making a purchase. RailSaver is available only for Europe itineraries, but it expects to launch versions for Australia, Asia, Africa, and South America soon.
Site59.com has developed a new tool called "Meet Me In." that sorts through thousands of flight combinations to help you and a long-distance friend rendezvous in another city. It's easy to use and even suggests alternate (and often cheaper) destinations for group meetings.
Just in time for the ski season, Ski.com has added interactive 3-D resort maps that let you get a feel for the terrain of the mountain before you snap into your bindings. Most of the major Canadian and U.S. ski resorts are featured, plus a couple of international ones (Zermatt, Innsbruck). But Ski.com shows more than just the mountain trails. Restaurants, nightlife hot spots, and hotels are also featured, so you can plan a full day on the slopes and still find your way home.
Two sites aspire to be the YouTube of travel: Travelistic.com and TurnHere, a site that produces short online films about destinations. The quality of videos on Travelistic can be uneven, even though some are professionally made. TurnHere's clips are more compelling, but pay careful attention: You may be watching a "sponsored film"otherwise known as an advertisement.
A new travel guide with a twist: You (and others like you) are the editor. The site points you to helpful guides on tourist attractionsand even some lesser-known destinations, such as Keene, N.H., and Pakistan. It also contains detailed write-ups with photos on hotel accommodations. But a lot of the of links take you to "You've followed a link to a page that doesn't exist yet" error message.
This story appears in the November 20, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.