Route planning and route optimisation are two closely related concepts that are frequently used throughout logistics and transportation management, but they have distinct differences and functionalities and shouldn’t be confused with one another. 

With that in mind, here are their definitions for clarity:

  • Route planning is the process of initially planning the shortest route between two or more points, such as delivery stops, which acts as an initial guide to the user.
  • Route optimisation is the process of finding the most efficient and cost-effective way to reach these destinations by factoring in variables (some of which in real-time) such as traffic conditions, vehicle capacity, and arrival times. Meaning that the originally planned route may dynamically change.

The initially planned route is therefore optimised in order to get the vehicle to that destination (or destinations) as quickly as possible using software. 

Route planning is therefore inherently flawed, as it does not account for certain nuances that can hinder the efficiency of deliveries or collections. Route optimisation ensures that the planned route is travelled as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, generally enhancing the process.

Contextualising route planning and route optimisation

Delivery driver Jimmy, for example, may plan a delivery route that takes him from Manchester to London to make one delivery. Jimmy knows through experience that taking the M1 is the quickest and most direct route to the delivery destination.

During the route planning process, Jimmy uses route planning software which establishes this route down the M1; however, there are closures on the M1 while Jimmy is making his journey.

Route optimisation software alerts Jimmy to this variable and changes Jimmy’s route accordingly to use the A1 instead to avoid being stuck in traffic. 

Thanks to route optimisation, Jimmy bypassed the road closures and subsequent traffic on the M1 and managed to make it to London an hour quicker than the originally planned route would have taken.

Jimmy’s customer is delighted that he managed to deliver to them within the promised delivery timeframe, and everyone involved in the process is satisfied. 

In a parallel universe Jimmy didn’t use route optimisation software, managed to get stuck in traffic on the M1 and had to inform the customer that the delivery would be later than planned.

The customer was not happy and wouldn’t order from Jimmy’s company again as a consequence.

A table highlighting the key differences between route planning and route optimisation

And here’s a table summarising some of the key differences between route planning software and route optimisation software.

FeatureRoute PlanningRoute Optimisation
GoalCreate a plan for visiting a set of locationsFind the most efficient or cost-effective way to complete a journey to those locations
Factors consideredDistance, time windows, driver preferences
Distance, driver preferences, fuel consumption, vehicle capacity, vehicle speeds, time windows, etc.
ComplexityLess complexMore complex
BenefitsImproved efficiency, reduced costsImproved efficiency, reduced costs, reduced fuel consumption and emissions, increased customer satisfaction


While there are clear distinctions between route planning and route optimisation, route optimisation ultimately evolves planned routes to boost operational efficiency and cut cost.

There are software packages on the market that include both, and will evolve your logistics operation too. For a more in-depth look at route optimisation software packages, read our ‘What is Route Optimisation?’ guide.

Ready to plan and optimise your routes to boost efficiency and cut costs?

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