Online travel company Priceline.com Inc. (PCLN) said on Thursday its quarterly profit declined 24 percent, because it paid higher taxes in the fourth quarter while its operating earns rose.

The Norwalk, Connecticut-based company said its fourth-quarter net income fell to $3.79 million, or 9 cents per share, compared with a profit of $4.99 million, or 12 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding special items, Priceline said its fourth-quarter profit was $11.4 million, or 28 cents per share. That compares with a consensus Wall Street analysts' forecast of 27 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Priceline chief executive Jeffery Boyd said its net profit declined because certain tax breaks related to acquisitions expired in the fourth quarter.

The company's revenue rose 4.6 percent to $203.9 million. Priceline said that in the fourth quarter its gross travel books — the total dollar value of all travel services purchased by consumers — rose 29 percent to $536.8 million.

The company predicted that in 2006 it would generate approximately $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion in gross travel bookings.

Priceline shares closed at $22.35, down 68 cents, on Nasdaq.