The three big online travel agencies - Inc., Expedia Inc. and Orbitz Worldwide Inc. - have responded to the downturn by cutting booking fees, providing some price guarantees and offering more flight- and-hotel packages. Those moves have helped them increase market share and report better-than-expected results.

The performance of the online travel agencies during the downturn seems to be reversing years of market share erosion. Now, some industry observers are suggesting a trend that was only recently unlikely: Online travel agencies could continue gaining once the economy rebounds.

"Online travel agencies are redirecting consumer attention toward themselves as a result of the travel slump in a way that will be irreversible," said Frederick Moran, an analyst at Benchmark Company.

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