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BEST WAY TO STICK IT TO THE AIRLINES

Seatguru.com

Seat maps of nearly every airline in the world - and definitely just about everything that flies the North American skies - make for educated consumers who know exactly what seat they're getting.

If your airline allows you to choose your seat during the booking process, don't even move before you've scoped out this site.

BEST MAPPING SITE

maps.google.com

We had high hopes for Microsoft's Local Live mapping service to pull ahead in this tight race, but all it's done over the past year is get more bogged down in graphics. Kudos to Google's easy-as-ever-tonavigate site, which allows you to map not only Paris, Texas, but also Paris, France. Not to mention far beyond that (Hello, Japan!) Here's to more countries (and no clunky redesigns, please) in 2007.

TASTIEST FOOD SITE

Chow.com

Chowhound was always the refuge of the traveling foodie, and this year not only did it undergo an enormous, sensible redesign, it paired up with the defunct-but-worthy Chow magazine to become part of Chow.com, our favorite portal anywhere, with food blogs, food travel articles, plain old food articles for when we aren't going anywhere, and more treats. Hopefully this inspires last year's winner in this category - Roadfood.com - to juice things up a little.

BEST SPA SITE

Spafinder.com

It calls itself the "Global Spa Resource," and that's pretty much true - their constant updating of what's new/coming up, their comprehensive search engine and their in-depth listings make this online home of Luxury Spafinder magazine a winner, much like its print sibling.

Log on, search, click on a few pictures and you're already relaxed. The trip is just gravy.

BEST MEETING PLACE

Tripmates.com

A concept in its infancy here in the U.S., but one we're excited about: Imagine one of the better dating Web sites, but strictly for the travel-obsessed.

Meet up with other likeminded folks, plan trips together, or just arrange a spontaneous meeting with someone who just might happen to be where you're going next.

QUICK CONVERSION

Xe.com/ucc

Peso to pound or rial to rupee, Universal Currency Converter has the answer.

MOST-IMPROVED GUIDEBOOK SITE

Lonelyplanet.com

The sleeping giant finally woke up in 2006, realizing that everyone else had put their content online, so they'd better do so, as well. And while they're still really only committing to uploading certain parts of the books, it's a start.

The new free CityGuide PDFs rule, but don't look for their maps (the best in the business) - they're still holding out for you to buy the book.

BEST BITCHING POST

Airlinequality.com

The Skytrax Web site is old-school, but we love their star rating system, which assigns airlines anywhere from one (North Korea's Air Koryo) to five (Singapore Air) stars.

But even better is what the site terms as the "world's largest passenger forums." Hated your last flight? Tell everyone. It's nothing they haven't heard. The airport boards are great, too: handy if you've never been to, say, Abu Dhabi and want the lowdown.

BEST WEATHER

Weather.com

What's the temperature in Reykjavik? Dubai? Tahoe? With global warming, the answer's probably "hot as hell" to all of the above. (Har.) But just in case Al Gore was wrong, check in with the Weather Channel's increasingly helpful site, which gives the forecast to some 77,000 locations around the world.

BEST WAY TO BEAT THE SYSTEM

Gethuman.com

This bare-bones site is your first stop if you're having trouble navigating the automated call-center hell that's becoming so common in every area of life, including the travel industry.


   







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