Expedia: Where You Invest Matters, Too!

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Expedia (NAS: EXPE) showed shareholders after the bell last night that not only does it matter where you book but where you invest, as well. Current shareholders of the online travel site are in line for a sweet surprise following the company's better-than-expected second-quarter results last night.

Flying high
Nearly every aspect of Expedia's results show that the company is flying high, right along with rival priceline.com (NAS: PCLN) . Gross bookings rose 19% on the heels of a 23% jump in revenue and a 40 basis point hike in revenue margins. Total quarterly profits checked in at $0.55, a clean $0.06 ahead of the consensus expectations. Even more impressive, the company's free cash flow exploded 60% higher to $433 million.

Greater transaction volume and rising airline and hotel prices fueled Expedia's large jump in bookings. While we did see fuel costs eat into the bottom lines of Alaska Air (NYS: ALK) , AMR (NYS: AMR) , and United Continental Holdings (NYS: UAL) last week, to name a few, it appears people are still eager to travel even with rising travel costs -- and Expedia's results prove that.

Hotel revenue, which accounted for 65% of Expedia's total revenue, flew higher by 27%. Even advertising and media revenue leapt by 27%, thanks in part to a 34% jump in revenue from its third-party cost-per-click service TripAdvisor. The one and only sour point of Expedia's quarterly results is the 1% decline in air revenue derived from a 3% drop in airline ticket sales. Luckily for shareholders, airline revenue only accounts for 10% of total revenue.

These results therefore beg the question: Which online travel site is the best buy?

Where you invest matters
I'm going to have to say Expedia! Orbitz (NYS: OWW) may seem like an intriguing play in the single-digits, but it's currently not turning a profit on a trailing basis. Likewise, Travelzoo (NAS: TZOO) has been clobbered following the company's second-quarter earnings miss and stratospheric valuation. This really narrows the online travel wars down to two players: Expedia and Priceline.

Priceline does edge out Expedia on many expectations of future growth. It boasts a higher trailing profit and operating margin, more net cash, and a significantly higher five-year growth projection.

But relative to Priceline trading at nearly 15 times book and 20 times forward earnings, Expedia looks like a steal at 3 times book and under 14 times forward earnings. You are still getting a double-digit growth rate by investing in Expedia, and given this quarter's 60% jump in free cash flow, it's a growth machine perfectly capable of paying out a future dividend. This also doesn't take into account the effect Groupon could have on Expedia's future growth if it continues its partnership with the social coupon giant.

Given the green light
If yesterday's earnings were any indication of where Expedia is headed, I think shareholders can breathe a sigh of relief. Rising travel costs aren't impeding growth in this sector, and Expedia looks like investors have given it the green light to trade higher.

Which online travel site would you rather own: Expedia, Priceline, or something totally different? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and consider adding Expedia to your watchlist to keep up on the latest news in the online travel sector.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorSean Williamshas no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen nameTMFUltraLong.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of priceline.com, and Travelzoo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policythat can negotiate its way out of any situation.

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