For the first time ever, Internet bookings this year will account for more than half of all U.S. travel bookings, according to a recent report from independent travel research firm PhoCusWright. Last year, U.S. online travel bookings totaled about $85 billion.
By 2011, $128 billion in travel will be sold online in the United States, according to a report by JupiterResearch. Everyone wants a piece of the action, and the onslaught of new travel-related sites is daunting.
We've pored over the newcomers, taken a fresh look at the old-timers and come up with our own, admittedly subjective, list of the best and brightest, from A to Z.
Airports. Looking for detailed info on airports across the globe? Go to the World Airport Guide ( http://www.worldairportguide.com/) for the lowdown on transportation, location, hotels, facilities and parking for more than 200 airports. Perhaps most valuable are links to each official airport Web site.
Honorable mentions: For the latest on security issues, http://www.tsa.gov. For local airport info, http://www.bwiairport.comand http://www.mwaa.com. For current airport delays status, http://www.faa.gov/passengersand http://www.flightarrivals.com. For extensive lists of hotels near specific airports, http://www.airnav.com.
Bookings. New sites for booking airline tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, etc., seem to launch daily. But I find myself going back to Kayak ( http://www.kayak.com)/, a meta-search site that doesn't book directly but sends you to other sites to buy. Kayak does a good job of scouring the Web for all available options, although I wish it wouldn't lump our area's three airports together when you request results for just one. Kayak also publishes fare trend graphs and tracks fares that its users are finding in its Kayak Buzz section.
Honorable mentions: Don't forget the all-purpose booking sites. I gravitate toward http://www.orbitz.com, especially if I want to book flights and hotels, buthttp://www.travelocity.comis a close second. For meta-search sites, also tryhttp://www.sidestep.comand http://www.cheapflights.com. For third-party all-purpose booking sites, http://www.expedia.comand http://www.cheaptickets.com. Newer sites that focus on fare trends include http://www.farecast.comand http://www.farecompare.com.
Cruises. For updated cruise news, including the latest norovirus outbreaks and details on who has gone missing from which cruise ship, I head to Cruise Critic ( http://www.cruisecritic.com)/. The site includes extensive reviews of about 265 ships, thousands of reader reviews and good articles on various cruise-related topics for the major lines.
Honorable mentions: Cruisemates.com (http://www.cruisemates.com) offers similar content to Cruise Critic. Also, the Cruise Lines International Association (http://www.cruising.org), official rep for 21 cruise lines, offers an easy-to-use search engine and helps find certified travel agents. The http://www.cruisecompete.com site allows you to ask numerous travel agents to price your cruise requirements.
Driving. When it comes to driving directions and maps, Mapquest ( http://www.mapquest.com/) is still the gold standard. A fun new feature allows you to string together as many as 10 destinations. You can also access Mapquest on your Web-enabled cell phone or PDA. The site also includes a world atlas and extensive foreign country maps.
Honorable mentions: A new site in the beta testing phase, http://www.trippish.com not only gives directions but tells you what the weather will be like. For European driving directions, go to http://www.viamichelin.com, while http://www.freetrip.com is an accurate, simple-to-use mapping site with minimal bells and whistles.