Interview with RouteHappy: not all flights are created equal and this startup wants you to know...!

Continuing with our series about "new generation" flight search engines, we re-visit a startup that we already mentioned some time ago in our article "A list of really cool sites for frequent fliers", I am talking about RouteHappy, a site that aims to give you not only information on flight prices and schedules but also on the level of service and comfort you can expect on-board ("comfort" understood in a broad sense that includes from seat pitch to in-flight amenities).

Routehappy Happy & Cheap Screenshot.SFO to Honolulu.png

The fact is that RouteHappy has been introducing a number of very interesting novelties in the past quarter, such as "Flightpage", a sort of Amazon-style page for flights, or the "Happy & Cheap"filter that aims to simplify searches by mixing the price and comfort elements of the trip. So I got in touch with them to learn first-hand about all what is going on from RouteHappy's founder and CEO, Bob Albert:

Q: Could you, please, describe in your own words for our readers what is RouteHappy?

A: Routehappy launched April 26 with the mission to help people fly better.  Routehappy built a new breed of metasearch site (think KAYAK, only smarter) to expose the experiential factors flyers care about most. For the first time, a travel site allows flyers to compare comfort alongside price and schedules for a fresh new approach towards flight search.

Routehappy organizes flights by the industry's first "Happiness Scores", which rank flights based on Happiness Factors including Wi-Fi availability, entertainment options, in-seat power, seat comfort, quality of plane, seat layout, and ratings from Routehappy's community of real travelers.  

Non-stop flights with larger than standard seats, lots of amenities, and rave reviews from Routehappy flyers receive the highest Happiness Scores while flights with narrow seats, no perks, and lots of fees will earn poor scores.

Airlines are spending billions of dollars upgrading planes with new services and amenities, but no travel site — OTAs, metasearch, or even the airline sites — expose this data in the shopping funnel when consumers need it most.  Routehappy's team of data and airline experts spent over a year gathering data for the world's flights. Routehappy built Flightpad, a Product Attribute Database to house and analyze the data and grade each flight based on Happiness Factors.

Routehappy Comparison tool LA-to-Miami.may 23.png

Here are some real world examples:

  • LA to Miami: AA has 9 non-stop flights. Two have much better economy seats than the other seven.  Three have Wi-Fi for sure.  Four have the old kind of overhead entertainment (while the others have more modern kinds, either in-seat or streaming to your own device). Flyers can easily pick a flight that more fully meets their individual needs with this information.
  • Dubai to Bangkok: Emirates has four non-stop flights (Note from the editor: since the time this interview was conducted, Emirates has increased its Dubai-Bangkok frequencies to six daily) . Only one of them has the best kind of business class seat, a full flat pod. The other three have angled flat seats. Business class passengers on Emirates are often surprised when they get one of the older seats, and now they have the information at their fingertips to pick the newest one.
  • New York to Phoenix, US Airways currently has seven non-stop flights a day.     Three of them have an inch more legroom than the others in standard     Economy seats and also offer Wi-Fi while the other flights have less legroom and only might have Wi-Fi. These flights are almost always priced the same, so a little bit of knowledge can make a huge difference to a flyer’s comfort and productivity.

Q: How do you rate the airlines?

A: Routehappy's secret sauce is Happiness Scores and Happiness Factors.  Flight options are organized by the industry's first Happiness Scores, based on the Happiness Factors flyers care about most.

  • Happiness Factors: Routehappy starts off with Happiness Factors, this means we assess factors such as aircraft type, seat type, seat layout, entertainment, in-seat power, Wi-Fi and flyer ratings on a particular route, as well as the length of each flight. Each Happiness Factor is assigned a score within its category. It’s been a massive effort to get this data because we do not get this information from a single source. We had to start from scratch, researching and validating information from hundreds of sources.
  • Happiness Score: Routehappy combines the Happiness Factors on a weighted basis into an overall Happiness Score, matched and scored dynamically with real time flight availability. The weightings we use are based on the extensive research we conducted on what is that flyers value most (no surprises here:  seat comfort is the most important factor!). Our Happiness Scores uses a 1 to 10 scale and color-coded facial expressions for a more intuitive and funny use of the site.

Q: How do you source all the information that is needed to provide comfort ratings?

A: Big Data meets Metasearch: our team has spent over a year working with a team of airline and data experts, researching literally thousands of unique combinations of airlines, airplanes and cabins around the World in order to build the most accurate flight product attributes database on the planet.

Routehappy’s data team has a combined 50 years of travel experience. We manually gather complex information about flights from hundreds of sources, including airlines' websites, press releases, airline staff, industry analysis, industry influencers, blogs, forums and news stories as well as our own Routehappy reviews.  

All this data is then fed into our "Flightpad," a proprietary attribute database, built by us, that scores all the product's attributes and matches them with dynamic flight availability information. Our engineers built some powerful and complex algorithms that are able to give scores to all those flight product attributes and match them with a powerful low fare search engine. At the same time, we need to take care and manage lots of exceptions and nuances that are a feature of flight product data.

Q; What is the story of the Routehappy? How did you get the idea?

A: The idea first came to me while thinking about the future of the air path while working at Travelocity. Airlines were struggling to differentiate their products and services. The problem was - and still is - the disconnect between flight search aggregation and airlines.

Airlines are investing heavily in product enhancements, and in fact, air travel has never offered more differentiated products and services in its history. But flight search aggregation remains about price and schedule. This makes it too hard for flyers to understand and value their disparate options - and doesn’t give the entire industry an effective way to merchandise and promote their differentiated products and services.

We decided to do something about the problem: build a next generation flight metasearch that combines experience - together with low prices and comprehensive flight availability.

Q: Where are you now? What has been the traction of your concept?

A: We are getting very positive feedback from consumers, media and industry experts alike. Here are some metrics: 

We've also had very positive media coverage with almost 200 articles since launch. Routehappy has been called the future of travel search by TechCrunchPandoDaily,  Washington PostJaunted, and Cranky Flyer  as well as a "Tech Company to Watch" by Inc and a travel sites you need to know by Mashable.

Q: What is your business model?

A: Routehappy is a metasearch site, so we generate revenue from referrals to our airline and OTA partners.  

We all know that the revenue generated from air search alone will not sustain a business.  So, sites like Routehappy need to carve out additional revenue generators. In this regard, Routehappy's unique value proposition gives us more revenue options than commodity-based flight search sites.

We have got 100k unique visitors since launching on , from 192 countries and over 30% return visitors in in July.

Airlines know flyers care about aspects of the experience beyond just price and we’re developing unique targeting capabilities for airlines and others to upsell their products, which is an entirely different economic discussion from selling a low-fare ticket with airlines.

We also have shopping and purchase analytics that are valuable to the industry.