Plenty of websites let you search flights by price, but Routehappy serves a new twist on the familiar flight search engine formula: it factors in comfort as a 'happiness' factor built around the passenger experience.
Routehappy, which goes live today after almost two years, is less about searching for the cheapest flights and more about finding the best flights.
The site's Happiness Score takes into account seat type, legroom, seat width, entertainment, AC power points, wifi, on-time performance records plus user review scores for the airline.
And while you can still make your pick on price, Routehappy's Happiness Score helps you determine if the money you save up front is worth it against, say, a slighter more expensive but noticeably more comfortable flight.
In other words, Routehappy turns considerations of outright price into a judgement of value. And that's a boon for business travellers, who can discover a better flight for the same price or less – whether they're sitting in the cheap seats down back or stretched out at the expensive end of the plane.
"All flights are not created equal" is the company's mantra, Routehappy CEO Robert Albert tells Australian Business Traveller in an exclusive interview.
Routehappy has spent two years gathering, verifying and scoring data on a cabin-by-cabin basis for airlines worldwide, and now combines it with real-world flyer reviews, global flight availability and pricing.
"We start off by ranking all the flights or connections on your route with a simple Happiness score for your flight so you can compare all the options" Albert explains. "From there, it's just one click to switch between happiness and price."
"Then you can narrow down further to find the perfect flight according to your personal preferences. Are power points an absolute must-have for you? Or how about roomier seats on a long flight on the Kangaroo Route, or arriving into a particular airport in a city like Tokyo, London or New York? You can filter our results by those factors and more."
Australian Business Traveller took a first look at Routehappy in December last year, but now that the site's live – and unlike so many US-based sites, it's packed with accurate data on Australian flights.
Routehappy in action
Business class is one of Routehappy's strengths, and business travellers will find the site an invaluable resource.
Other flight search sites don't explain whether your business class seat will be a recliner, angled lie-flat seat or fully flat bed.
But Routehappy scores and ranks every type of business class seat in the sky, although its terminology will take some getting used to.
For example, you'll know if business class on your flight will be the convertible style seats found on Qantas' older 737-400s (Routehappy calls this Eurobiz, as it's similar to 'Eurobusiness' class) to spacious fully flat beds with direct aisle access (or "Full flat pods" in Routehappy parlance).
"The Kangaroo Route from Sydney to London is a good example of how Routehappy works," CEO Robert Albert says.
In business class, Singapore Airlines' all-A380 connection via Changi comes first with a 9.5 Happiness Score. Etihad's A340-600 and Emirates' A380 are close on SQ's tail at 9.4, with Cathay at 9.1 (because CX doesn't offer the chance of Wi-Fi, Albert suggests) and Virgin Atlantic Hong Kong at an 8.9.
"Singapore Airlines wins thanks to the quiet cabin and big windows on the A380, a full flat pod, direct aisle access for everyone, on-demand entertainment, full universal plugs and USB sockets, the chance of having Wi-Fi on board, and a Very Good flyer rating," Routehappy's Albert explains.
Who flies happiest between Melbourne and Sydney?
Melbourne to Sydney is also a useful comparison.
The streaming iPad entertainment on Qantas' 767 jets bring its score to an 8.0, with with Virgin Australia's spacious little Embraer E190 jets and Qantas' 737-800s following shortly behind at a 7.9.
Virgin Australia's 737-800s score a 7.6 thanks to their lack of plugs and handheld entertainment, with one of the old Qantas convertible seating 737-400s bringing up the rear at 7.2.
When sorting by price, Virgin's Embraers pop up as real diamonds in the rough. If your criteria (or your company's) are mainly "lowest economy fare", then those are clearly the flights to pick.
From Sydney to Auckland, things are even more clear-cut.
Of the nonstop flights, Emirates' A380 is the unsurprising winner with an outstanding 9.5 Happiness Score, with Qantas' Jetconnect 737s following behind at 8.0. Yet Emirates is cheaper than all but China Airlines.
Mix and mis-match
The system also makes allowances for mixed schedules where airlines use different aircraft on the same route on different days of the week.
A good example of this is Qantas' daily QF127/128 between Sydney and Hong Kong, which uses an Airbus A380 on Thursday to Sunday and a Boeing 747 the rest of the week.
On the QF 747 days, Routehappy rates Cathay Pacific's premium economy slightly above that of Qantas (a rating we'd take issue with, but that's by the by).
But on days when Qantas runs the A380, the Happiness Score for Qantas jumps higher than Cathay.
Note the oddball pricing for Cathay Pacific - clearly something that Routehappy will need to refine.
The road to more happiness
Still to come are availability for some budget airlines like Jetstar and Tiger, which on the whole restrict their tickets to their own websites.
"We'd love to include these airlines in our results for those flyers who value price above all, and we're continually talking to them to try to get access to their booking systems" Albert says.
"We're planning to expand our booking options to include as many Australian and Asia-Pacific airlines as we can. And we know that we need to get more reviews from Australian travelers, especially in business and first class. We've got an iPhone app and a web interface that makes putting together a quick review a snap."
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.