Feeling too pinched by the ever-troubled economy to travel? You can still find good deals to get away -- if you know where to go online first. Here are the best travel sites we've found to help you bag the best bargains on airfares, lodging, car rentals and all your other travel needs. Note: All but one of the following sites are free to use.
1) Kayak.com scours hundreds of online sources for the cheapest fare available. The more flexible you are on time and destination, the better your chances of finding a great deal. Search for dates up to three days before and after your ideal travel dates, within a selected month, or on upcoming weekends. And with the site's Explore tool, you can scan a world map for all the places you can reach within a specified per-ticket price range. It also lets you specify your preferred flight time, vacation activities (beach, gamble, golf or ski?) and weather (from freezing to "ouch").
2) Bing Travel can help you bite the bullet and buy your ticket, or not, with its "price predictor," which forecasts whether fares will go up or down. Enter your desired itinerary and the site will return a list of flight options, along with a recommendation to either buy now or wait for a fare drop. But the tool is not omniscient. Predictions appear with confidence rates are are limited to certain cities, round-trip, coach flights and specific time frames depending on your departure and arrival cities.
3) AirfareWatchdog works best for travelers ready to take off at the drop of a deal. The site has actual people lurking on airline Web sites in anticipation of fare sales. They sign up for rewards programs to snag promotional codes and discount offers that can be passed on to AirfareWatchdog users.
Bonus: The site includes fares from Southwest, Allegiant and other small airlines that may not appear on bigger search sites such as Kayak and Bing.
4) WhichBudget.com will help you build an inexpensive, overseas flight plan by using local, budget airlines -- a great way to save on international travel. Select your overseas starting point, end point or both, and the site will list airlines you've probably never heard of that service each route. For example, if you search for flights from Bangkok to Beijing, you'll get options from AirAsia, China Eastern and Hainan Airlines.
5) Yapta.com tracks fares for you and will shoot you an e-mail or Tweet if the cost of your selected flight drops. After you buy your ticket, if the price falls below what you paid, most airlines and online travel agencies will refund you the difference, usually in the form of travel credits or vouchers. If the change in price dips below the cost of any "re-booking fees" some airlines charge in these situations, Yapta will walk you through how to collect your refund. Note: Yapta does not currently track Southwest flights.