Five Up-and-Coming Sites You Should Know About
* Yapta.com. Track airfares on this application that you download and run in a side window on your browser. Use the "Tag It With Yapta" button to learn about price changes while you're shopping for a fare, or provide the confirmation number for a flight you've already booked. The site then alerts you by e-mail if the price drops and you might qualify for a partial refund.
* VibeAgent.com. Bringing social networking to travel reviews, VibeAgent hones the advice process so you can get recommendations from like-minded travelers. You can click to find out what qualities people are looking for in a hotel; if you're interested in similar criteria, you can give those reviews more weight in deciding where to stay. Many reviewers post pictures of themselves. Just as at Amazon.com, users can note whether they find a review helpful.
* Farecast.com. With an uncanny knack for predicting when airfares will rise or fall, Farecast can help you decide when to purchase your tickets. Enter flight details and click "Add Predictions for My Trip"; Farecast shows the best deals and trend data predicting whether prices will rise or fall. On Jan. 20, we searched for a flight from Washington Dulles to San Francisco; Farecast said the cheapest nonstop was $439 and urged us to "Wait," predicting, with a confidence rating of 77 percent, that the fare would decline. A hotel rate predictor is in development.
* FareCompare.com. This site provides data on how airfares fluctuate by day and month, so if you're flexible you can target your travels to the time when fares are lowest. The site displays calendars showing which days typically have the lowest fares. The calendar shows that, for example, if you fly from Washington to Rome on a winter Thursday, it's likely to be $150 cheaper than flying on a Friday.
* Gusto.com. Combining travel reviews, blogs, booking and trip journals, this site features travel guides compiled by the site's members. Gusto hasn't yet reached critical mass -- TripAdvisor is much more thorough -- but it has potential and a quirky angle. A somewhat similar site, still in development, that could soon be useful for travelers is HereOrThere.com. -- M.S.