Online travelers started buying travel packages this year, following two years of little change in their online buying habits, says JupiterResearch. The Internet/consumer analysts also report that general search engines continued to outperform their highly publicized travel meta search engine competitors -- a situation that may change due to alliances with the likes of Yahoo! and AOL.

"In 2005, 29 percent of travelers requiring multiple travel products purchased a package; in 2006, this increased to 41 percent," said Diane Clarkson, Analyst at JupiterResearch and author of the report. "This growth is largely influenced by strong packaging promotions implemented by major online travel agencies, where virtually all of these sales are occurring."

The research also finds the likelihood that online air travelers will book their flights through an online travel agency increases with the number of Web sites they research. Among online air travelers who visited four or more Web sites while researching their most recent trip, 56 percent purchased their flights through an online travel agency, while only 32 percent purchased on an airline Web site. At the same time, frequent travelers show a preference for supplier Web sites.

General search engines remain the most important media prompt among online travel researchers, at 17 percent. Despite garnering extensive media attention during the past year, travel meta search engines have not yet attracted a significant proportion of online travel buyers. Only four percent of online travelers say a travel search engine impelled them to plan or purchase their most recent trip.

"Travel meta search engines are now offering expanded products and several have relationships with major distribution partners such as Yahoo!, AOL and Amazon," said David Schatsky, President of JupiterKagan. "With this, travel meta search engines are poised to grow."

The JupiterResearch report, "US Travel Consumer Survey, 2006" (May 2, 2006) finds that as competition for channel share between online travel agencies and suppliers increases, online travelers continue to research on multiple Web sites. Online travel providers must meet consumers' expectations for best prices and high functionality. The report answers key questions including: How are travelers' decisions to purchase at online travel agencies versus suppliers' Web sites affected by research intensity and travel frequency? What Web site features appeal to online air and accommodation researchers? How are online travelers using search engines?