It's been a busy week for online travel-site watchers. Last night's quarterly report from Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE:OWW) capped off last week's string of earnings news from rivals Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) and (NASDAQ:PCLN).

eLong (NASDAQ:LONG) will chime in tonight, providing a little color on how travel is shaping up in China as next summer's Beijing Olympic Games approach. eLong's report should be promising if it's within spitting distance of last week's blowout performance by Chinese leader (NASDAQ:CTRP).  

So how are things going closer to home? Let's take a look at the three stateside bellwethers.

Orbitz claws back to respectability
If Nil City is its final destination, Orbitz Worldwide is nearly halfway there. One of this year's most disappointing IPOs, Orbitz went public at $15 a share this summer, only to trade at roughly half that price today.

I've criticized the company in the past, even taking bullish analysts to task for their misplaced enthusiasm. Last night's report is encouraging, though, making me wonder whether I should trade in my bearish barbs for rose-colored "I call bottom" specs.

Net revenue climbed 20% to $221 million. Orbitz posted breakeven results before an accounting-related charge. On an adjusted basis, earnings climbed 23% to $0.23 a share, comfortably ahead of the $0.14 per share that the pros were expecting.

The company was fueled by its international acquisitions, which helped propel gross bookings 11% higher. (That's the weighted average result of an 8% domestic improvement and a 31% spurt overseas.)

Priceline is king remains the industry's rock star. Like Orbitz, it, too, is seeing healthier advances in Europe. The difference is that Priceline is taking much bigger steps. It posted a robust 54% spike in gross bookings, consisting of a 19% uptick domestically and a whopping 98% gain internationally.

For the quarter, pro forma revenue inched 34% higher to $416.9 million. Profitability on that basis more than doubled, to $1.58 per share, blowing past Wall Street's bottom-line target of $1.28 a share.

Priceline's great quarter sent the stock catapulting to heights last seen just before the dot-com bubble collapsed in 2001. The difference this time is that Priceline is deliciously profitable, and worthy of its market markup.

Proving that just one bellwether is all you needed to gauge this industry, Expedia also came through with market-rousing results. Gross bookings rose 21%, again powered by heartier European advances. Revenue climbed 24% to $759.6 million. Adjusted profitability clocked in at $0.39 per share, narrowly besting the analysts perched at $0.38 a share. Still, a win is a win.

Online portal power boost
Frankly, I'm surprised at the travel sites' strength, though I didn't expect the results to parallel last month's disappointing Travelzoo (NASDAQ:TZOO) report. Travelzoo has missed Wall Street's estimates in four straight quarters, but it's status as a publisher of travel deals is unique. It generates leads for travel service providers, rather than booking arrangements itself.

However, the portals are doing well, even as consumers try to circumvent things like $5 air ticketing fees by booking directly through air carriers' individual websites. The portals are fighting back on that front, though. Priceline recently did away with its airfare booking fees. Orbitz justifies the fee with additional services, like the ability to have flight alerts sent to you -- as well as friends and family members -- if your plane is delayed.

The portals are also arming themselves with content. Expedia has been a heavy there, incorporating the popular Trip Advisor website. Orbitz collects traveler reviews, too. Orbitz is doing things on a smaller scale, but it only lets those who have completed transactions chime in. That helps set it apart from Trip Advisor, where some travel providers have been accused of gaming the system by stuffing reviews with favorable reports (and badmouthing alternates).

In the end, it's great to see the portals growing. Despite innovative measures from the actual travel service providers -- like Southwest (NYSE:LUV) with its Ding desktop tool, which alerts users on last minute discounts -- the portals are doing their part to make sure that they bring something new to the table.

Say what you will about the cluttered runways that stranded way too many passengers this past summer. The portals themselves appear to be taking off, with turbulence kept at a bare minimum.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still relies on the portals to get basic travel information, but then he finds out whether better deals can be had directly with the provider. 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's disclosure policy has a better on-time schedule than your favorite airline.