NEW YORK Planning a winter vacation?
Sure, you can go online to one of the biggies like Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity for hotel, rental car and airfare. But there's a whole new collection of Web sites for savvy travelers. Some are aggregators, following the successful model of Kayak.com, which pulls data from a variety of sources so you can compare airfares. Others combine social networking and consumer reviews, such as VibeAgent.com. Some are improved versions of old favorites, like OrbitzTLC Traveler Update, which allows travelers to share information about conditions at more than 40 airports in the United States.
Here is a guide to some of the new or reincarnated sites, with one important caveat: Some of these sites do not yet offer the comprehensive database of reviews and information available on older sites like TripAdvisor. So don't be surprised to find minimal listings and reviews for some destinations, especially obscure ones, as you explore what's new in the next generation of travel Web sites.
• boo.com (no connection to the defunct fashion Web site): Offers travel reviews from consumers, search capabilities for 2,500 destinations in 170 countries, comparison hotel prices, and booking through boo or hotel Web sites. Includes restaurants, bars and other interesting things to do in chosen destinations.
• vayama.com: An online booking agency for international air travel with flight and fare options to about 190 countries. Allows travelers to enter preferences for connecting airports and travel time. Also has information about obtaining visas, passports and immunizations.
• VibeAgent.com: Combines user-generated reviews, meta-search capabilities, and social networking (think TripAdvisor plus Kayak plus Facebook) for personalized hotel recommendations and booking at the best prices. Personalizes hotel searches via three categories: "Ambience," "Activities," and "Recommended For," such as a romantic hotel near the beach for gays and lesbians. Users can create custom groups or become members of existing groups, such as marathon travelers, to exchange stories, tips and recommendations. Connects you to the Web site with the best price for booking from among 120,000 hotels.
• YELLOWPAGES.travel: Searches up to 12 travel Web sites, including Orbitz, Kayak, Expedia and SideStep. Users click on each site's logo at the top of the page for the results. SearchBoth.com, a subsidiary of YELLOWPAGES.travel, allows users to search two travel sites at the same time and places the results from the sites on a split screen.
• ProfessionalTravelGuide.com: Offers reviews of hotels and restaurants from professionals journalists and expert reviewers from the travel industry including insider tips and specific, detailed information about more than 159,000 hotels. These reviews are more like what you would find in a guidebook than in an anecdotal consumer review. Also has a customized guide for users who are traveling to several cities.
• yapta.com: Stands for Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant. Enables travelers to tag flights from several airlines, including American, United, Delta and Continental, and alerts them when the fare drops. But unlike farecast.com, which predicts whether prices are rising or dropping, yapta can continue tracking prices even after you purchase the ticket. If you booked directly with the airline and the price drops below what you paid, you may be eligible for a refund or credit from the airline. (Other rules may apply for example, some airlines charge a rebooking fee to capture the travel credit, so check the details.)
• Orbitz.com: Offers a new social networking component OrbitzTLC Traveler Update with real-time updates from travelers about security wait times, traffic and parking, taxis, etc. at more than 40 airports. Travelers can post the information on the Web site or send a text message. Orbitz encourages people to send information by giving out perks to people who send in tips and updates, such as a free pair of airline tickets.
• BestTripChoices.com: Matches travel personalities with best destinations. Travelers take a test and are classified into one of six travel personalities, ranging from "Venturers," people who are extreme risk takers, to "Authentics," people who want a relaxing, lazy vacation. The site recommends travel destinations based on the results. The destinations have been rated by travelers with similar personalities who have visited those places.
• fabsearch.com: For the fashion-conscious traveler. Fabsearch features blurbs on hip restaurants and trendy hotels from media mentions in sources ranging from Vogue and Town and Country magazine to DailyCandy.com, the Financial Times and Wallpaper. Saves the mentions in a "my clippings" file.
• Yahoo! Trip Planner (travel.yahoo.com): Helps travelers create a personalized guide for an upcoming trip, with information on hotels, attractions and restaurants, and share the details of their trip with friends and other travelers. Coming soon: Yahoo! Travel will roll out a revamped version of My Travel with an interactive world map that will allow travelers to mark the places they have been and the places they want to go and connect users with others who share similar travel interests.
• americanexpress.com: Click on Travel, then Local Color, a one-stop shop for travel information. Combines Lonely Planet Guides, IgoUgo reviews and Travel + Leisure magazine articles to give travelers "local color" about a place. (Travel + Leisure is published by American Express Publishing Corporation).
• travelocity.roadtripwizard.com: Helps travelers plan U.S. road trips, with maps and step-by-step directions. The site gives the 411 on shopping, restaurants, festivals and other attractions, with directions on how to get there. Online booking of air, car, hotels and attractions is provided through Travelocity Partner Network.
• cfares.com: Bills itself as the Costco of travel. Searches airline and travel Web sites. Users can purchase a platinum membership for $50 a year, which provides access to the site's best priced wholesale fares and special fares from the airlines.