Smile-high club: which airline makes you the happiest?

Rating airlines by how happy they make you feel could be how passengers determine their carrier in the future.
Rating airlines by how happy they make you feel could be how passengers determine their carrier in the future. Photo: Getty Images

It's all about making you happy in the sky. No, we're not talking about the Mile High Club.

It's a novel way of choosing a flight: looking up its "happiness" ranking.

There might be several airlines flying the route you want, but one is bound to offer a more enjoyable experience than the others.

A revolutionary flight search website, Routehappy.com, is trying to change the way we choose journeys, with the marketing line that not all flights are created equal.

The site searches multiple websites for the best prices and flight availability – similar to Skyscanner and other "metasearch" sites – but adds happiness scores ranging from one to 10 to help travellers pick the best option.

The US-based company uses proprietary software to study airlines and aircraft around the world, feeding a large database of flight product offerings.

It compares 180 aircraft types, 25 seat types, 20 entertainment options, 55 seat configurations, entertainment options, Wi-Fi and more, with the data continuously updated.

As well as providing happiness ratings, the database allows travellers to search for specific factors: one traveller might want the flight with the most leg room while another might want the best entertainment or simply a better quality plane.

“No other companies view transportation in this way,” says global consultancy Euromonitor, which has identified "travel happiness" as a key trend for future travel.

“With more than 100,000 unique visitors at launch [in April 2013] and over 30 per cent of visitors returning in July 2013, the site is a unique offering.”

Figures show Routehappy is only just starting to take off in our part of the world, but Euromonitor says it has the potential to become the industry benchmark for customer satisfaction: the "TripAdvisor of airlines".

The founder of Routehappy, Robert Albert, says happiness scores are not only important to passengers but also airlines.

“Airlines are working hard to move away from air travel being a commoditised, price and schedule-only decision,” Albert says.

Euromonitor, which has just released its annual World Travel Market Global Trends Report, says happiness ratings have the potential to go beyond airlines.

“Other transport modes such as bus and cruising, as well as hotel and travel retail players, can follow suit and adopt the 'happiness score' approach,” it says.

Another trend identified in this year's Global Trends Report is the growth of "vacancy on demand" in hotels.

This is about hotels becoming more flexible to fit the timing of their guests, rather than the other way round.

While day use has been around for a long time, particularly in airport hotels, "micro-stays" can be as little as a few hours to cater for the 24-hour traveller.

Business travellers might want a workspace to hold a meeting, while leisure travellers might just want to get away from it all for a few hours.

Figures from short-stay specialist Dayuse Hotels show its revenue is set to double this year, up from 220 million euros ($313 million) in 2012.

The company says short stays can offer a second office for nomadic workers, a second bed for business travellers or a “second life” for those who want to play away from home without the cost of overnight hotel stays.

On a more savoury note, the Global Trends Report says doting aunties are becoming an important market in travel.

PANKs, or "Professional Aunts, No Kids", are women who have no children of their own but have a close relationship with nephews, nieces or friends' children.

Intrepid Travel is one company already targeting this sector, through social media and other marketing channels, while Royal Caribbean says it markets to women without referring to them as mothers, to capture all types of relationship.

Euromonitor says with many women waiting longer to have children and some opting to remain childless, the PANKs market is expected to grow.

Research by a US-based website, Savvy Auntie, estimates there are 23 million PANKs in the US alone, spending US$9 billion ($9.48 billion) a year on children who are not their own.

Another trend identified by Euromonitor is the growth of mobile concierge services, or personalised travel information via your smartphone or tablet.

Euromonitor says mobile internet devices have amplified customer service expectations, with travellers expecting real-time answers and customised services wherever they are and at any time before, during or after the trip.

InterContinental Hotels has drawn on the knowledge of its human concierges to create a "concierge insider guides" app, while the Singapore Tourism Board has an app allowing visitors to personalise their visit.

Euromonitor says hotels are expected to use a mix of on-site and mobile concierge services in the future, while airlines will develop better mobile apps to provide personal assistance for our entire journey, including emergencies.

jane.fraser@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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