Finding The Best Flights With Routehappy

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It wasn’t all about work for me this past weekend at the Chicago Seminars – I also got to meet and talk with other start ups, including a great new site called Routehappy, which rates and tracks airlines and specific flights based on user-generated reviews. When I want to know about an upcoming flight, I usually go to a site like Seatguru to find out about the aircraft type and the amenities onboard, and while a valuable resource, it’s not always up to date, it can be hard to tell exactly which version of which aircraft will be flying the route I’m on, and there aren’t any good photos to help me poke around the plane and see if it’s something I want to fly.

That’s where Routehappy comes in. It goes beyond what other sites I frequently check do, and actually lets you check the exact flight you’ll be on to see what’s in store for you based on reader reviews.

Before leaving Chicago, I took a few minutes to sit down with Routehappy founder and CEO Bob Albert, and co-founder Adam Gwosdof about the site, what resources travelers can find on it, how you can contribute, and just what makes a flight happy.

Take a look at my video interview here, and then continue reading for some key points they brought up.

As you can hear in the video, Routehappy creates a “happiness” score for “every flight on the planet” (I mean, hey, they include Air Koryo, North Korea’s airline, so it’s got to be pretty comprehensive).

The site rates flights according to several criteria including aircraft type, seats, entertainment, electric plugs, WiFi and on-time performance. The user-generated, more subjective criteria include crew service, food quality, the lounge experience and more. All are combined into the overall rating, though readers can search by the criteria they most care about.

The Routehappy crew filter outliers out of the results, and reviewers are given “expert scores,” based on their contributions and how other reviewers rate them. You can even earn elite status up to four levels based on the quantity and quality of your contributions.

The whole vision behind the site is to change the way flyers shop for air travel. While today, flyers make travel decisions based on price, schedule and frequent flyer miles, Routehappy wants to integrate a layer of the overall experience to the search and give flyers a one-stop resource to find this information, rather than having to hunt around for reviews as they do today.

They say airlines have been supportive of the site because it gives people information aside from price – the primary factor currently – to help them choose from all the possible flights out there as well as to tout their fleet investments and other unique amenities, so it’s a win-win for the consumers and the airlines.

There’s even an iPhone app where members can review their flights, search for tips from other flyers about specific routes and connecting airports all on the go.

To test out the site, I looked up two different routes.

The first is a pretty standard domestic one from Los Angeles to Chicago O’Hare in economy next Friday. As you can see, Routehappy ranked the airlines from highest-rated to lowest in the following order: Virgin America, American, and United (though those last three are tied at 2.5 stars).

I could also filter the results by aircraft type, seats, entertainment, plugs, WiFi and on-time performance.

I filtered the results by each criterion. For aircraft type, United won with A319’s even though Virgin also flies these on the route. Virgin won for seats and entertainment. Virgin also won for plugs (although American was on the list as well) and then Virgin was the only one in the WiFi category. This seems like an oversight, though, since many of the 737’s that American operates on this route have WiFi, including the one TPG editor Eric took on Sunday. I’m not sure why that result wasn’t catalogued. Finally, for on-time performance, Virgin didn’t even rank, while American led the pack – which seems very odd given their recent issues with crew, though my most recent AA flights have been on-time, so maybe they still do rank at the top for this route.

The next route I looked up was from Chicago O’Hare to Hong Kong in “Biz or better” class. The two airlines that populated the results were Cathay Pacific and United.

Cathay won by an entire star – presumably because it flies a newer 777 instead of United’s 747, and United got a lower score in terms of seating because the business class cabin downstairs “can be cramped.” On-time performance wasn’t factored in for some reason, but hopefully it will soon be part of every search.

What I found particularly valuable about this search, though, was that it was able to tell me that this was the newest version of Cathay’s 777 with the new business class seats in it. One of the hardest things to figure out when deciding how to use your miles is which flight to book to be sure you’re getting the latest and greatest product, and the fact that you can find it here makes me really eager to use Routehappy for future searches where this is a concern.

For instance, when deciding whether to change my itinerary over the summer to fly from Stockholm to Newark to Miami on United, or to fly instead to Frankfurt and hop on a non-stop Lufthansa flight to Miami, it was really the scheduling that was my main concern. It was more of a surprise that I was flying one of the 11 747-400’s that the airline had fitted with its new first-class cabin.

Had I searched Routehappy while investigating my plans, however, I would have known that before I boarded…and you can bet I’ll be doing that in the future!

So what do you think? Are there any other factors you’d like to see Routehappy rate flights by? What other sites do you check when trying to decide between various flight options?

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