Europe's biggest tour operator TUI Travel reported an 18 percent rise in full-year profit, ahead of expectations, benefiting from increased sales of holidays to resorts it exclusively operates and an upturn in bookings online.

The group, which operates the Thomson and First Choice chains, said operating profit for the year to September 30 was 471 million pounds.

The average forecast had stood at 461 million, according to a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll of 15 analysts.

TUI Travel's arch rival Thomas Cook has endured a torrid 2011 and faces an uncertain future as it battles to regain the confidence of holidaymakers and investors after securing a rescue package from its lenders.

($1 = 0.6399 British pounds)

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; editing by Rhys Jones)