Have Fun, Will Travel

Travel websites had a rough week leading into this morning's quarterly earnings report out of Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE  ) . Canaccord Adams analyst Domenic LaCava downgraded Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE: OWW  ) on Monday, fearing that the struggling portal's emphasis on domestic air travel will sting in the near term. Travel deals publisher Travelzoo (Nasdaq: TZOO  ) disappointed investors with another horrendous quarterly report on Monday, as global expansion is delivering losses without material top line growth.

Well, here is Expedia to save the day.

The leading travel booking website saw revenue climb 15% to $795 million. LaCava may be concerned about the ability of Orbitz to hold its own stateside, but Expedia sported a 16% boost in gross bookings, with double-digit percentage gains both here and abroad.

The way to Expedia's bottom line wasn't as kind. Net income clocked in flat at $96.1 million. However, share repurchases over the past year helped boost profitability on a per share basis by 10% to $0.33, or $0.40 on an adjusted basis. It is on an adjusted basis that Wall Street was looking for $0.39 a share in earnings on $793 million in revenue.

Once again, Expedia and Priceline (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) are proving to be the class of this sector. Expedia isn't growing as quickly as Priceline, but shareholders can't be too envious when their company is delivering respectable revenue growth despite airlines scaling back and fuel-smacked vacationers staying closer to home this year.

Expedia also has other things working in its favor. It is more than just a booking gateway through sites like Expedia, Hotwire, and Hotels.com. The company has been a serious acquirer of travel community hubs like TripAdvisor and more recently Virtual Tourist.

Expedia has also had an early eye on overseas trends, given its stake in China's eLong (Nasdaq: LONG  ) . Yes, eLong is smaller and growing much slower than niche leader Ctrip.com (Nasdaq: CTRP  ) , but it's also one of China's most attractively priced stocks given its generous cash cushion.

So where do we go from here? The sites will probably say the course. Three months from now, we will probably continue to comment on how the smaller sites are still struggling while Expedia and Priceline are gaining at their expense. They are the first-class investing options, while everything else is either sitting in coach or getting bumped off the flight altogether.

Other ways to fly higher:

Ctrip.com is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation, and Priceline.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been booking travel online since the 1990s but he does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He 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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