Expedia Gets Smarter

If Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE  ) can't catch a break, it may as well make its own luck. Three hours after announcing disappointing first-quarter results, Expedia announced a few website additions to its TripAdvisor business.

The purchase of Smarter Travel -- the parent company of smartertravel.com and bookingbuddy.com -- is enhanced by the purchase of SeatGuru.com, TravelPod.com, and Travel-Library.com.

The catch is that the announcement wasn't built around a recent acquisition. These are five profitable, ad-based websites that the company has purchased in recent months. A conspiracy theorist would argue that Expedia timed the press release to deflect negative investor sentiment about the company's lackluster first-quarter report. Whether or not that was the case, the strategy worked.

The stock was trading nearly 10% lower just 30 minutes into the trading day, but it bounced back after the second press release, closing less than 3% down on the day.

The results weren't dreadful. Adjusted earnings rose from $0.15 a share to $0.18 a share. Revenue inched 11% higher to hit $550.5 million. Analysts were expecting a $0.20-per-share profit for the period, though Expedia did edge out the top-line forecast.

Just as Priceline.com (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) would report later in the day, strength in European bookings offset flat domestic results. Both companies also suffered from declines in airfare bookings.

Expedia is still growing, even if investors were holding out for more. Since Expedia is putting its recent website purchases up for a public sniff test, let's check them out.

Seat Guru provides reviews of good and bad seats on particular air carrier configurations. Travel Pod is a blogging site for travelers. Travel Library offers direct links to travel providers. That last site may seem to run against Expedia's bread-and-butter role as a commissioned middleman, though I guess it's important to keep your enemies close.

Some of the sites pepper their content with relevant ads by Google. Some feature ads or link to Expedia rivals. That's OK. The five sites -- acquired between September of 2006 and March of 2007 -- in addition to its current audience will provide more than 24 million unique monthly visitors to TripAdvisor.

So why are we talking about this several months later? Well, it's just more interesting to talk about what Expedia has got (the sites) instead of what it missed (yesterday's profit target).

So I'll give Expedia the benefit of the doubt this time. But if it misses again next quarter, it will become a Pavlovian instinct to wait for an upbeat press release three hours later.

For related Foolish reading:

Priceline is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. A free 30-day trial will have your portfolio leaving on a jet plane.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still relies on the portals to get basic travel information, but then he runs off to see if better deals can be had directly with the provider. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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