Hostt is a just-launched free web hosting company that includes domain name purchasing and registration. They've a suite of offerings, such as one where you'll pay $13.99 per year for domain names with extensions that include .com, .net, .org, .us, .biz, and .info., but have unlimited bandwidth, web space, sub-domains, parked domains, sub-domains and email accounts, among other things. Like HostGator, they include domain locking and automatic renewal, along with a user-friendly management portal (which, believe me, is pretty rare) and 24/7 technical support. This isn't a bad price considering the amount you get, and their $3.95 and $5.95 a month packages both offer fairly balanced domain-inclusive packages.
My personal preference is to register the name directly with a domain name registrar rather than through my web host. I've heard stories, in the past, of less-than-reputable web hosts that registered the domain under their own name, making them the owner of the domain rather than you (although I don't know if such web hosts still exist today). Registering direct with a domain name registrar allows me to make sure that I am registered as the owner, the administrative and technical contacts. Being the owner is vital — if someone else places himself as the owner (such as your web host), he can always decide to charge you some exorbitant fee for the use of the name later, and there is little you can do. The various other contacts are less vital, but may still play important roles, depending on your registrar. For example, for some registrars, the administrative contact's approval is required before a domain name is transferred out of a web host (or at least, it used to be). If he/she cannot be contacted, the technical contact is used.
Just because a domain has expired, doesn’t mean it has to be kicked to the curb immediately. It is worth considering turning the internet address into a parked domain for a certain period of time in order to generate advertising revenue. This allows domain owners to bide their time and come up with a new web project for the domain or to find a suitable buyer.