The Web can provide answers to a wealth of travel questions, from the obvious to the obscure, but you have to know where to look. The sites below are our picks for getting accurate and up-to-date answers to all manner of travel queries.
* AIRLINE TRAVEL: www.tsa.gov. The federal Transportation Security Administration's site contains lists of prohibited and permitted luggage items, average wait times at airport security checkpoints and claim forms for luggage lost or damaged during the security screening process. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration's site, www.faa.gov/passengers, contains airline safety records, tips on flying with children and pets, and passenger complaint forms regarding safety, service and security issues.
* AIRLINE SEATING: www.seatguru.com. Everything you ever wanted to know -- including leg room, pitch and proximity to the loos -- about the seating for 26 airlines. Can't find your airline? Try www.seatexpert.com, which offers info on a dozen foreign carriers not covered by Seatguru.
* ATM LOCATORS: http://visa.via.infonow.net/locator/global. The Visa site allows searches for ATMs by city or Zip code across the globe. The advanced-search feature also displays locations on maps and includes info on 24-hour and disabled-accessible ATMs. MasterCard's site, www.mastercard.com/atmlocator, can locate more than 900,000 ATMs in 120 countries and includes such details as drive-through locations. Both sites offer airport-specific searches.
* CURRENCY CONVERTERS: www.xe.com. Best site for quick conversions of 21 major currencies. For more details, such as cash vs. interbank rates, go to www.xe.com/ucc, which has info on currencies from the Afghanistan afghanis to the Zambian kwacha. Also, www.oanda.com offers similar info, plus a printable currency cheat sheet.
* CUSTOMS SERVICE: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel. The Bureau of U.S. Customs and Border Protection publishes a "Know Before You Go" fact sheet with details about items that can and can't be taken into the country and the rules on duty fees. Also offers info on border wait times.
* FLIGHT STATUS: www.flightarrivals.com. Check a flight's status within a two-hour window by airline, flight number, city, airport, etc. Also offers separate displays for delayed flights and schedule changes by airport. For a map of U.S. airports color-coded to indicate flight delays, see www.fly.faa.gov.
* FREQUENT FLIERS: www.webflyer.com. The site addresses the complicated subculture of frequent- flier miles, covering details on every major hotel and airline program. Frequent-flier guru Randy Petersen supplies timely articles on such topics as miles and airline bankruptcies. Go to sister companies www.flyertalk.com to chat with others about the world of miles and to www.insideflyer.com if you're so mile-involved you're willing to pay the $45 annual subscription. Also, www.frequentflier.com has good articles on hot topics like what to do with those Delta and Northwest miles.
* HEALTH AND SAFETY: www.travel.state.gov/travel. The U.S. State Department's site publishes consular info sheets and travel warnings on every country, with details about crime, terrorism and traffic safety. Go to www.worldtravelwatch.com for a more global opinion. For health-related info on vaccines, health threats, etc., go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's site at www.cdc.gov/travel.
* INSURANCE: www.insuremytrip.com. The site compares and gives quotes for 96 travel insurance policies from 16 companies, including Access America, Travel Guard, Travel Insured and most of the other better-known firms. Easy-to-read chart lets a consumer see which policies are best for terrorism, financial default, emergency medical evacuation, etc. Also check out www.quotetravelinsurance.com, www.quotewright.com and www.totaltravelinsurance.com to compare travel insurance rates.
* MAPS: www.mapquest.com. Plug in the address or city for locations around the globe and this site will plot it on a map. It also offers driving directions for spots in the United States and a dozen Western European countries. Subscription service lets you download info onto your mobile phone. Another site, www.freetrip.com, shows lodging and lets users ask for routes that avoid tolls or favor scenic roads. For 43 European countries, www.viamichelin.com is a good choice for directions.
* SCAMS: www.bbb.org. The Better Business Bureau's site can be searched by company name, phone number or Web address to find out whether a travel operator has a good or bad rating. Check for membership in the American Society of Travel Agents (www.travelsense.org) and the U.S. Tour Operators Association (www.ustoa.com), two trade groups that monitor its members for good behavior.
* TRAVEL DOCUMENTS: The U.S. State Department's site, www.travel.state.gov/passport/index.html, explains how to obtain, replace or change a passport. User can download applications and forms. It also details how much passports cost and how long they take to get. For visitors traveling abroad, the site contains foreign entry requirements, such as whether a visa is required.
* TIME AND DATE: www.timeanddate.com/worldclock. Site contains a chart of the current time in hundreds of cities worldwide. Can be customized to show specific cities.
* WEATHER: www.weather.com. You can search for weather by Zip code or city. Contains detailed hurricane info, and travel. Also covers historical averages and records for U.S. and international cities. Also try www.accuweather.com and the National Weather Service's www.nws.noaa.gov.
-- Carol Sottili