When It Comes to Online Travel, Buy American

A couple of years ago it seemed as if overseas speedsters were the smart bets for growth investors playing the online travel revolution.

China's Ctrip.com (NASDAQ: CTRP  ) and India's MakeMyTrip (NASDAQ: MMYT  ) were posting explosive results, tantalizing the market with the opportunity to ride the inevitable economic bursts of the world's two most populous nations.

It didn't matter that both companies still did a lot of business the old-fashioned -- you know, offline -- way. It didn't matter that they commanded lofty valuations. As China and India blossom as economic hubs, this would be the place to be.

Well, both of the stocks are trading in the teens these days, just as priceline.com (NASDAQ: PCLN  ) soars today after another market-thumping report.

Yes, the "name your own price" portal is still rocking. Revenue climbed 20% in its latest quarter as gross bookings soared 33%. Priceline's adjusted profit of $6.77 a share blew past the $6.53 a share that Wall Street was targeting.

The near-term outlook is solid. Priceline's aiming for 30% to 37% in gross travel bookings during the current quarter.

How are Ctrip and MakeMyTrip holding up in comparison? Well, Ctrip just tapped a new CEO last week, and analysts see profitability declining for all of 2013.

MakeMyTrip is faring even worse. It posted quarterly results earlier this month, and it wasn't pretty. Reported revenue and bookings may have grown sharply, but revenue after service costs actually declined on a year-over-year basis. MakeMyTrip also posted a quarterly loss, reversing a year-ago profit.

The good news for investors is that they don't need Ctrip or MakeMyTrip for some skin overseas. Priceline is a global juggernaut. A whopping $5.5 billion of Priceline's $6.6 billion in gross bookings during this past quarter were international.

Larger rival Expedia (NASDAQ: EXPE  ) isn't the same kind of globetrotter, but a healthy $3.3 billion of its $7.5 billion gross travel bookings in its latest quarter originated internationally.

It would seem that investors can get the best of both worlds by buying into Priceline or Expedia, shaving the risks of country-specific exposure while still grabbing fast-growing companies.

Investors can also choose for smarter country-specific plays. India is still too early in its online migration for investors to cash in, but there's an interesting online travel play in China through Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU  ) .

China's leading search engine also happens to own Qunar, the travel website that surpassed Ctrip late last year to become the country's largest online retailer of airline tickets. Qunar is more Web-centric than Ctrip, which still relies on old-school call centers for a sizable chunk of its bookings.

Unlike Ctrip, Baidu is expected to grow its bottom line at a healthy double-digit clip this year.

There's a world of opportunities for investors in online travel; you just need to know where to look.

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