Folks seem to be digging the kinder, gentler (NASDAQ:PCLN). The edgy online-travel pioneer, which has embraced a more traditional portal approach to accompany its travel-bidding service, saw a 63% spike in gross travel bookings this past quarter. A good chunk of that came through timely acquisitions and overseas expansion, but organic domestic growth still rose a healthy 17% for the June quarter.

Eyeing the income statement, we see that earnings before a series of stock-based-compensation and acquisition-related charges came in at $0.55 a share, while Wall Street was settling for just a $0.51-per-share showing. On that basis, Priceline now looks to earn between $1.66 and $1.74 a share for all of 2006. The new range places Wall Street's target of $1.67 a share in profitability at the low end of the spectrum of possibilities.

If that sounds familiar, you may be recalling the company's quarterly report that ended in March, in which Priceline issued a profit-per-share range between $1.60 to $1.70, while analysts were expecting only a $1.58 showing. The only real mystery here is why a company that has raised guidance twice in recent months is trading at just 16 times the midpoint for its 2006 income target.

Maybe rival Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) has kept the sector in check. Expedia doesn't report until Thursday, but the company has already warned of negative growth through the first half of 2006, and it's been a standalone dud since being spun off by IAC/InterActiveCorp (NASDAQ:IACI) last summer.

Priceline is clearly on a different plane at the moment. I used to be a skeptic, but I'm starting to see the light regarding the more mainstream model that the company has adopted.

"Prove me wrong, Priceline," I wrote earlier this year. "I'd hate to reject you the way you used to reject me when I was bidding peanuts for top-notch hotels."

Well, Priceline has gone on to prove me wrong. With a newly sturdy track record and attractive valuation, this is now the "good looks, great personality" combo that so often pays off nicely for potential portfolio suitors.

Priceline is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendations. Want to learn why? Check it out for free with a 30-day trial subscription.

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