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Heavy Summer Travel Could Mean Big Earnings for Top Online Companies

Lee Jackson

The busy summer travel season is all but upon us, and the big names in online travel are starting to ramp up the spending to get consumers to use their services. While the traditional travel agency still exists, online travel companies make it much easier for consumers to compare prices and look for the best bargains and packages. In a new research report, the Internet team at Stifel noted that U.S. online travel TV ad spending ramped up in April and May as expected heading into the heavy travel booking season, driven largely by one of the top players in the game.

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Here are the top online travel companies for investors to consider for their portfolios.

Expedia Inc. (EXPE) has absolutely exploded pricewise over the past year, and more gains are expected, especially after the company has picked up the pace in television advertising. The company provides travel products and services to leisure and corporate travelers, offline retail travel agents and travel service providers through a portfolio of brands, including Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Expedia Affiliate Network, Classic Vacations, Expedia Local Expert, Egencia, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, eLong and Venere.com. Investors are paid a 0.82% dividend. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target for the stock is $79. Expedia closed Wednesday at $73.27 a share.

HomeAway Inc. (AWAY) is a top travel site that could also be a solid pick going into the busy summer rental and vacation season. HomeAway is the world's largest marketplace for vacation renting, with a total of 890,000 paid listings on its system. The stock has been mauled and is down 25% since the beginning of the year. The consensus price target is $43.54. The stock closed Wednesday at $30.07.

Priceline Group Inc. (PCLN) is one of the momentum stocks that got pounded in the spring sell-off, but it has bounced back smartly. With the summer travel season on, this industry powerhouse may be poised for big earnings in the second and third quarters. Given the markets' shaky view of names like this, investors may want to scale some capital in, especially given the stock's hefty price. The consensus price target is $1428.96. The stock closed Wednesday at $1245.97.

TripAdvisor Inc. (TRIP) is the world's largest travel site, enabling travelers to plan and have the perfect trip. TripAdvisor branded sites make up the largest travel community in the world, reaching more than 260 million unique monthly visitors in 2013, and more than 150 million reviews and opinions covering more than 3.7 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions. The consensus price target is $98.32. TripAdvisor closed Wednesday at $99.35.

The one problem with these top stocks is that, by most measures, they are expensive. Long protracted rallies in these names have driven some of their valuations beyond what may be prudent except for the most aggressive accounts. One idea for investors wanting to buy cheaper would be to sell puts at an option strike price lower, where you would be willing to buy. A good place to look would be the 200-day moving average. That would likely be a place that after a sell-off, that technical buying would kick back in.

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