Expedia has grown into one of the largest online travel agencies in the world by returning to its technology roots.

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With six sensors strategically placed around her face and another calibrated to monitor her eye movement, Marcy Chartier spent a half-hour at a computer searching online for the perfect Disneyland vacation.

As she browsed Web pages, she liked pictures of large swimming pools and got excited when Mickey Mouse popped up on the side panel of her browser but was frustrated when the only morning flights displayed left Seattle at 5.

As Chartier clicked away, researchers sat on the other side of a two-way mirror monitoring her emotions using facial electromyography — called the delight-o-meter — to measure Chartier’s responses while using Expedia.com.

What sets Expedia apart

Bulked up to become the largest online travel company in the U.S., and the world’s second largest, by buying smaller competitors.

The Bellevue company, whose financial performance in 2014 was good enough to rank fifth in The Seattle Times’ 24th annual ranking of publicly traded companies based in the Northwest, has spent the last three years overhauling its technology platform and, in turn, its bottom line.

“We grew up in the mid-90s and the way it happens in Internet companies is you kind of get defined by the year you grew up in because that is when you made your investment in technology,” said chief technology officer Aman Bhutani, who joined the company in 2010. “It is very hard to separate yourself from your origins and what we needed was a bit of a reinvention.”

The plan was to put all of Expedia’s brands — Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, etc. — on the same technology platform and then focus on the concept of “test and learn.”

The new culture allows anyone in the company to make an observation, write a hypothesis, create a test and then test it. “Then, very important, you do what the data tells you to do, not what the boss tells you to do,” Bhutani said.

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The boss — CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — says the only debating that happens now is about the fastest way to implement a feature.

Expedia used to conduct about seven tests a month on its websites, ranging from changing the size of the search button to the color of a display box to how a search is filtered. Now, the company conducts more than a hundred tests a month on the Expedia.com website alone.

“We would have large groups of people debating what should be prioritized because you only had a few times a year when you could test a new idea. If you were wrong, you had to wait another six months to test something else,” Khosrowshahi said in an email interview. “Now we just go for it. If we fail, we fail fast; we learn our lessons, and try something else.”

Khosrowshahi said it is a matter of seeing — in real time — what travelers respond to by measuring their clicks.

Expedia at a glance

CEO: Dara Khosrowshahi

Headquarters: Bellevue

What they do: Through more than a dozen different brands — Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, CarRentals.com, Tavelocity — Expedia allows travelers to research, plan and book travel around the world.

What sets them apart

Bulked up to become the largest online travel company in the U.S., and the world’s second largest, by buying smaller competitors.

Employees: 18,210 (3,000 in Bellevue)

“When you let travelers vote with their clicks and you put that at the center of your decision-making, you build the product they want and, ultimately, their business will follow,” he said. “Our room-night growth is at the highest level it has been for years.”

Michael Olson, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said sharing the hotel inventory across all its sites eliminates brand silos and creates “more potential to convince travelers to make bookings because they have a higher hotel count per website. That is the key to the numbers.”

Olson estimates 70 percent of Expedia’s revenue comes from hotel bookings. The company brought in nearly $5.8 billion in revenue last year and hotel revenue increased 18 percent, primarily due to a 26 percent increase in the number of nights booked in hotels, according to documents file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This was partially offset, however, by a decline in the revenue per room night due to an effort to expand the size and availability of the hotel portfolio globally.

While Expedia is the largest travel company in the U.S., Priceline, its top competitor, has it beat in the international market. Expedia has been gaining share internationally, Olson said, but not against Priceline — rather against offline travel agencies and smaller travel-agent websites.

Olson expects Expedia’s share of the airfare market to increase to 11 percent from 7 percent after the Orbitz acquisition closes later this year. While flight bookings do not bring in a lot of revenue, it is a way to drive traffic to the site and then sell them on other higher margin businesses: rental cars and vacation packages, for example, he said.