By Laura Bly, USA TODAY
With stock prices falling like acorns, budget-centric websites are rising to the top of more vacationers' bookmark lists. USA TODAY's Laura Bly points a mouse to 25 sites — some old favorites, some newcomers — aimed at bargain hunters.
Relying on brain power rather than computerized algorithms, Airfarewatchdog's site and newsletter emphasize unadvertised, time-sensitive deals, including Web-only fares. Deals are checked for availability, and the site points out when a "bargain" really isn't.
Live Search Farecast attempts to answer one of the toughest airfare dilemmas — buy now, or wait? — by making predictions based on historical data on whether fares will rise or fall over the next seven days. Also worth clicking: FareCompare.com
This streamlined search engine helps fliers find the cheapest, most convenient itineraries. Filters exclude such factors as red-eye flights, while a fee chart compares extra charges on 25 airlines. One drawback: In disagreement over how search results are displayed, American Airlines' fares have been pulled from the site. Also worth clicking: Itasoftware.com (for single searches in a 30-day timeframe).
Though its fares may not be lower than competitors', the discount giant's refusal to allow booking on any website other than its own means that if you're flying from or to a Southwest market, you should check fares on their site as well. Transparent search returns let you see all fares, even if they're sold out, so you know why you're paying more.
Short for "your amazing personal travel assistant," Yapta tracks airfares for specific itineraries, alerts you when prices go down, and, if you've already bought a ticket, helps you get a travel credit or voucher for the difference. (Yapta only sends an alert if the savings are more than the airline's rebooking fees, and claims 19% of purchased flights qualify.)
Whether it's a spare futon, blow-up mattress (hence the name) or private apartment, the options at recently launched AirBed&Breakfast target adventuresome, cost-conscious travelers. The site lists hosts in more than 250 U.S. cities and 60 countries who rent space in their homes; credit card bookings are automated and rates average $102 per night, plus transaction fees of 5%-12%. Also worth clicking: Couchsurfing.com; Roomorama.com
Dedicated to helping travelers score the best deals on "blind booking" sites Hotwire and Priceline, this message board posts overall strategies, lists of hotels by zone and quality level, and winning and losing bids. Also worth clicking: BiddingForTravel.com; BidOnTravel.com; Re-Bidding.com
Aimed at car, RV and tent campers, Fred and Suzi Dow's site posts reviews of campgrounds in more than 150 U.S. national forests (all visited by the authors) with fees ranging from free to $25 per night. Also worth clicking: FreeCampgrounds.com
Once catering largely to backpackers in bunk beds, many of the 600 North American hostels listed on Hostelworld.com offer private rooms, fresh linens, flat-screen TVs, free Internet access, meals and transportation at rates ranging from $18-$35 per person a night. Also worth clicking: HostelBookers.com
In exchange for discounts off published hotel rates, Hotwire doesn't reveal the name or specific address until you pay. Unlike "blind booking" rival Priceline, it lists its non-refundable prices up front, plus such amenities as airport shuttle, pool or free breakfast.
This San Francisco-based directory rates, reviews and categorizes more than 60 home exchange clubs, with tips for making the most of an exchange. Also worth clicking: Homeexchanger.blogspot.com
The original name-your-own-price travel site peddles published rates, too, but remains best known for its 30% to 60% discounts on (mostly) chain hotels whose identities and exact locations aren't disclosed until you've committed to a non-refundable purchase.
Part of the Homeaway.com network, this "vacation rentals by owner" site concentrates on U.S. properties, from mountain cabins to oceanfront villas. Listings include availability calendars, but owners can choose not to post negative reviews. Also worth clicking: PickPackGo.com; Rentalo.com; Zonder.com
The online incarnation of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine mixes authoritative, expert-driven information with a growing social media component that includes reader tips and travel journals. Particularly noteworthy: Real Deals and This Just In, a daily blog. Also worth clicking: SmarterTravel.com
Though this popular marketplace is almost as famous for scammers as for bargains, sharp-eyed (and wary) travelers can nab deals on everything from vacation rentals to theater tickets. Tips: Buy locally from people you can meet in person whenever possible, and never wire funds.
Travelocity's last-minute site lists air/hotel and air/car packages, most in North America, priced up to 70% off on departures from hours to three weeks in advance. Also worth clicking: Licketytrip.com (for last-minute vacation rentals); VacationsToGo.com
Aimed at slope-bound travelers willing to commit in advance to the days they want to ski, Liftopia.com offers discounted, non-refundable lift tickets at more than 60 alpine resorts in North America. Prices fluctuate depending on snow conditions and other factors, but average about a third below on-mountain rates.
Disney fans looking for bargains gravitate here for discount codes and coupons on everything from theme-park admissions to Mary Poppins Broadway tickets, plus tips and tricks to making the most of a visit to Orlando or Anaheim. Also worth clicking: wdwinfo.com; UndercoverTourist.com
This recently launched deal aggregator, a spinoff of Hotwire, updates listings hourly and emphasizes "geographically targeted" choices (meaning Californians are more likely to see come-ons from Cabo San Lucas than Curaçao.) Also worth clicking: Deals.BootsnAll.com; ShermansTravel.com; Travelzoo.com
Drawbacks may include skimpier support services, but independent and off-airport car rentals can save up to 30% over major chains featured on most agency sites. Also worth clicking: BreezeNet.com; Kayak.com; Hotwire.com and Priceline.com (for discounted but non-refundable rates with major chains).
GasBuddy.com collects quotes from nearly 800,000 volunteer spotters across the USA and Canada. A "temperature map" shows where prices are highest and lowest; a just-launched trip planner predicts where you'll need to fill up and finds the cheapest stations along your route. Also worth clicking: fuelcostcalculator.com; drivepricing.com; gasprices.mapquest.com
Created by the co-founder of the car-sharing service Zipcar, this social-networking site connects would-be carpoolers across North America. Members post desired trips and arrange the details online; riders and drivers typically split travel expenses equally, based on a cost of 50 cents per mile traveled. Also worth clicking: eRideShare.com; PickupPal.com; Zimride.com
(google.com/transit) Recently expanded to metropolitan New York, Google Transit targets budget and eco-minded travelers with point-to-point trip planning, displaying public transit stops and locations in 60 U.S. cities and 10 foreign countries. A "My Location" feature on Web-enabled mobile phones uses GPS or nearby cellphone towers to zero in on your starting point. Also worth clicking: HopStop.com
Foodies Jane and Michael Stern and their team of reviewers spotlight "sleeves-up food" from noteworthy diners, BBQ joints and other restaurants across the USA, most of which cost under $10 per meal. Also worth clicking: Hollyeats.com
The site sells discounted gift certificates (most commonly $10 for a face value of $25), good at 8,500 restaurants in 248 U.S. cities. Diners can search by ZIP code, city or state; minimum purchase and other restrictions apply. Also worth clicking: KidsMealDeals.com