back to all news

Flight search site Routehappy helps you pick comfort over price

By John Walton     Filed under: online booking, flight search, booking engines, Routehappy

You've chosen flights by price, you've chosen them by departure time, you've even chosen them by the type of plane used — but US startup Routehappy has a new hook: how happy you'll feel on the plane.

"All flights are not created equal," is the Routehappy declaration of independence, and CEO Robert Albert explains: "We're creating a new and better way for flyers to research and shop for flights."

Search for a flight between two airports on a certain date, and Routehappy sorts the results by its signature Happiness Score rating system, and then by schedule -- letting you pick the overall highest-scoring flight.

"We're adding prices (in the US first) so Routehappy users can see Happiness Scores and price at the same time," Albert explains.

Happiness Scores take into account legroom, seat width, entertainment, power points, wifi, on-time records and Routehappy's user review scores for the airline.

"We've collected over 130,000 contributions from flyers from more than 60 countries," Routehappy's Albert explains, with visitors "from all 6 Australian states, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Among them, users in WA have stayed on the site the longest but Sydney (predictably) wins for the most visits."

Among those Australian users is regular business traveller Janel Pratt, a Routehappy member since the site launched, the Route Expert for Sydney-Melbourne, and an elite frequent flyer with Qantas and Virgin Australia.

"Posting my flight experiences to routehappy has caused me to change the way I approach my travel planning process," Pratt tells Australian Business Traveller. "I now take a few minutes to check out what other travellers have said about what made them happy or unhappy about the route I'm planning."

And Pratt gleans what she calls "interesting tidbits of information" about her upcoming trip from Routehappy reviews: things like the Qantas Museum near gates 11/13 at Sydney domestic and the paltry food or convenience shop after security at Perth domestic. Routehappy notes those down as "Gems" in its reviews.

Usefully, Routehappy flags whether its users are elite frequent flyers, which helps other regular travellers spot reviews that are relevant to their experience (and perhaps skip the gripes or gems breathlessly scribed by someone flying for the first time in decades).

The trick is getting the data correct

Australian Business Traveller took a look at Routehappy's results this week. While there's still a fair bit of cruft in the system, the week we've noticed step-change improvements to the data all week.

Perhaps understandably as a US-based company, not all the promised functions work outside the US yet, and some of the Australian data is still a bit shonky, Albert is the first to admit.

"Our mission is a very complex undertaking - and we're still building, collecting, improving, fixing and perfecting," Albert says honestly.

Data comes from publicly available airline information, which is often less than fully accurate: airlines average out numbers, round figures in ways that don't always stand up to scrutiny, and measure things differently. And Albert acknowledges that Australian airline review scores are based on just 55 reviews of Qantas and 38 of Virgin Australia at the time of writing.

Albert suggests you take a look at Los Angeles to San Francisco instead of, say, Sydney to Melbourne, to see what the site can really do.

In fact, Albert suggests Routehappy can be particularly useful for business travellers in what he calls "unfamiliar places", flagging up useful nuggets of info on the routes that you don't know much about.

How Routehappy's results stack up with the real world

Australian Business Traveller checked the highly competitive business class market between New York and London (using the NYC and LON codes to take in all airports in both cities). Overall, Routehappy's fairly reflective of our thoughts, although its business class data needs some attention.

For example, Virgin Atlantic's newer business class (with inflight Internet) scores below its older, less comfortable business class, and the search categories of "biz or better" and "best premium" overlap oddly. (American Airlines returns only business class for the former, but only first class for the latter, while British Airways returns only business for both searches.)

Los Angeles to San Francisco in economy squares up much more closely with AusBT's take on the route: the best inflight experience is on Virgin America, with a score of 9.1, followed by United's newest 737-900 nearly two full points behind at 7.3 and the other airlines much of a muchness from there. The extra legroom, wider seats, entertainment, power and wifi that Routehappy factors in are all big points in our Virgin America plus column too.

Closer to home, the results still need a bit of massaging: the entertainment section is a bit skew-whiff on our side of the Pacific, Australian on-time ratings aren't folded in yet, user ratings are based on a small sample, and you can't actually book the United flights that Routehappy lists: the airline can't sell them unless as part of an international trip.

But we reckon Routehappy's already useful for planning US flights or for researching unfamiliar trips — and we'll be keeping an eye on this startup in 2013. Check it out at

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter for all the latest news, reviews and information: we're @AusBT.


About John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 14/12/12 by madge

Its a good idea, I hope it doesn't end up like Skytrax, which is full of people complaining about their once-in-ten-years trip.

Still a bit patchy on details. I noticed it doesn't mention that EK's 77W are 3-4-3, nor does it mention that D7's A333 are 3-3-3.

1 on 14/12/12 by John

Yes, Routehappy's CEO and I talked about those "extra seat in the row" widebodied aircraft in some depth, and there's no easy answer. How do you think that they should deal with that? Rollover hover menu popup? Asterisk? Something else?

1 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

I'm really curious what flyers think about this.  In general, we give aircraft with 10 abreast seating in economy a slightly lower score given how many flyers are packed in - but in certain cases, like EK's A380, we look at the whole picture and make some judgement calls like giving that cabin a slightly higher score for being particularly quiet.  Fair?  Unfair?  Obviously, there is no single "right" way to do this but we're aiming to be as fair, reasonable, representative and transparent as possible.  We want everyone to find this tool useful and valuable.

2 on 14/12/12 by Southland

@ madge.... Maybe you could start your own site so we can pick holes at it. Great idea Routehappy. Wonder if ABT will end up like skytrax a place for people to complain????? Smiles

3 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Hi Madge.  This is Robert Albert, Routehappy's Founder & CEO.  We do include the seating configuration - but maybe it's not easy enough to find!  Check BKK-DXB for EK's 77W and KUL-SYD for D7's A333 and click on the Details button.  You'll see a graphical representation of the seating configuration (as you correctly mention 3x4x3 and 3x3x3 respectively.)  We're planning to just say those numbers right above the graphic, so please check back soon.

4 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

And to your point on hoping Routehappy doesn't become a complaint site - yes, we agree.  We're building what we consider to be a fair, transparent and balanced platform for flyers and airlines that focused on finding the good/better in air travel and are happy to report that so far we've collected more positive comments than negative.

2 on 14/12/12 by CL9

I know this is a great idea and has seemed to work relitevely well, but I have (or at least think) found a flaw. On searching for a Sydney- Auckland flight in late December 2012, it gives Air New Zealands 767-300 an 8.9 over Emirates' A380 Flight at 8.7, stating the NZ seats classified as 'Roomy' with the EK ones as 'Standard'. Is there any truth to this?

1 on 14/12/12 by John

As it happens, that was one of the routes I looked into and quizzed Routehappy's CEO about. I see Emirates' A380 as "Roomier":

My understanding of Routehappy's algorithm is that the difference of 0.2 points is around the scale of difference that a power point would bring over a USB port.

(Of course, I'm fairly certain NZ's 767s don't have power points in economy — even in business they only have those Empower style ports.)

So, it's wrong, but it looks like Routehappy is fixing things (potentially even because of your comment — if I were them I'd be watching this article like a hawk for nuggets just like this!).

1 on 14/12/12 by CL9

Yeah, at the time of comment, Emirates defintiely showed up as standard... maybe it was fixed after? Anyway I just don't see how Air NZ's 767-300 should be classified as roomier...

1 on 14/12/12 by CL9

And I think that 0.2 points should be equalled out because of WiFi on Emirates.

1 on 14/12/12 by CL9

Also, found another. SYD-LAX, Virgin rated 8.6, Qantas A380 7.9. Virgin stated as roomier with Qantas as standard, is it just that extra inch on Virgin that get's that? Plus, Qantas has in-seat power stated. Definitely needs some work on it...

1 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Hi again.  We surveyed flyers - and broadly, flyers told us that  seat is the single most important factor in their happiness so we've scored it that way.  This might not apply to everyone equally but we hope that the overall scoring system will be useful enough, especially at the beginning of Routehappy, to allow you to get an easy snapshot of the best options and focus less on a few decimal places but a bit more broadly.  As you can imagine, there really is no "single right way" to do this, so we're going for fair, balanced, transparent and based on what flyers have actually told us they care about.  Over time, we hope to make the scoring system personalized but are starting overall for now.  Fair?  We're definitely interested in your feedback as we're doing this to help flyers (so we want you to like/trust Routehappy ultimately.) 

2 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

It seems like it should be Standard.  Changed.  Thanks!

2 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Hi CL9, this is Robert, Routehappy's Founder.  We really appreciate this feedback (and to the author's comment, you bet we're looking at your comments and working feverishly to refine/improve/perfect all of our data.)  To be honest, we'd not yet done a deep dive into airlines in Australia and New Zealand (our apologies, it's not personal, we're big fans) - it's simply a matter of being a small team with a global scope and focus.  But we're on AU now and want to get it right while we're still in beta and before we launch fully.  I agree it's looks like we have the wrong plug information for NZ which will impact its score.  We've been scrubbing all major airlines in Australia and New Zealand now so should have another set of updates coming very soon - and will come back to this forum to let you know when it's there.  Please let us know all and anything else you find - we're hoping flyers like you will continue to share so we can have the most accurate collection of amenity information ever assembled - to benefit all of us when we fly.  Thanks again.

1 on 15/12/12 by CL9

Yep sure, I totally understand. I'll be sure to give more feedback if I find any. Thanks.

3 on 14/12/12 by aero-seat

That's a really good idea! Just visited the site and it is very easy to use and straight forward. Best of all, there are no ads and it links you to the airline's website so you don't have to worry about security and stuff. Good idea, Routehappy! I'm really looking forward to using it in the future.

1 on 14/12/12 by aero-seat

Just then had a look at the website again and it said for Sydney-Melbourne flights that United flew its 747 but when I went to United's site they don't fly their queen on this route.

1 on 14/12/12 by John

As I said in the article, that's because the flight runs but you can't buy a solely domestic itinerary on it: you can only fly on it if you're connecting from the US. It's called cabotage officially.

Think Qantas from LA to NY: you can only buy that if you've flown Qantas from overseas.

Most countries have a similar rule for foreign airlines.

2 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Thanks Aero-seat!  Specific feedback?  Please pass it on.  [email protected]

4 on 14/12/12 by djb

checked it out from your link, not particularily impressed with data, shows qf from singapore to frankfurt at end of jan as angle seats in biz. 

also if request biz, jumps to economy when opening up a leg of the journey.

on a number of searches shows up wrong biz seats esp on oman air to london it shows cradle seating when they have fully flat. you couldnt trust this site to make decisions.

1 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Hi djb, yes, we're in a public beta working on our data to get it right.  Think of Routehappy like walking through a partially constructed building - one that has a few rooms more done than others (the US for example.)  But note - we're working on our data on priority airlines now as well as the subfleet problem - as accuratey as possibly matching schedules to subfleets.  If you ever see an "* or better" it means we haven't yet been able to match the schedule to the exact subfleet.  In that case, we tell you the worst case scenario but realize that this case still means all the back and forth between airline websites and other information sites.  We're trying to fix this problem.  Thanks for checking us out - we will improve on the routes you mention (but will admit that Oman Air is a bit down the priority list for now - over time, we'll do it for sure though.)

5 on 14/12/12 by rededeal

Seems like a good thought, but they need to be a bit more thorough with their data collection! The site is saying that Cathay's newly upgraded A330s from SYD-HKG have no AVOD (looped video only...) and they aren't as good as QF's old and tired 747!

1 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Absolutely noted!  We're working to fix this.  We've prioritized airlines into four buckets and are working through very detailed focus on each.  CX is definitely in the next bucket of priorities to focus on. 

6 on 14/12/12 by Jason

Not impressed really.

Searched my regular HKG-SYD route, J class.

Lists VS at the best (IMHO the worst).

QF second with a 'lie flat' not 'fully flat' bed.

CX last with 'cradle seats' listed for J??!! Huh!

1 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

This is an example of a market where we're still working to match the exact subfleet to the schedule.  So we acknowledge this one in Biz isn't a good as it's going to be.  Our goal is to make this is as accurate as it can be.  Would love your assistance if you want to share, otherwise please stay tuned and think about what this "can be" as we build/upgrade the product during our public beta.

7 on 15/12/12 by Richard Brown

Looked up Malta to London and got zip in return. Clearly does not work on all routes.

1 on 15/12/12 by ralbert

Hi Richard, sorry you had trouble, it must have been a temporary internet snag?  There are 4 flights and we have them - 3 on Air Malta and 1 on easyJet.  I just tried it and it worked fine.  We basically have 100% of commercial non-stop flights that fly (stripped of codeshares) - as long as OAG has them, we have them.

1 on 15/12/12 by Richard Brown

Good to hear. There is also Ryanair flying to Ltn amd Stansted. Not sure if you cover them.


Related News Items


Australian business traveller newsletter

Get Updates as they happen, tailored to your preferences, right in your inbox


What topics interest you?