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Cheap Air Beds Buying Guide

While air beds used to be simple and usually saggy affairs that were blown up with a hair dryer or hand pump, today's selection includes an array of choices at various price points with features designed for comfort and convenience. You can spend $300 dollars or more on a deluxe, queen-sized air mattress with a headboard and electric pump or as little as $25 on a camping-style air bed.

Expensive air mattresses tend to be higher and plusher, constructed with more air chambers, and outfitted with built-in electric pumps that can be operated by remote control; some are marketed as full-time beds. But the features and performance of air beds has improved to such an extent that a low-cost air mattress is a perfectly suitable choice for overnight visitors.

Only a few manufacturers of cheap air mattresses are recognizable brand names. Coleman, known for its outdoor gear, is a major player. Others with presence in the market include Wenzel, AeroBed, and Intex; an online search is bound to turn up a dozen more. Cheap air beds are available at major big-box retailers, outdoor stores, and on ecommerce sites.

There's an element of risk involved when shopping for an air mattress. Unlike regular mattresses, air mattresses are difficult to test out yourself because they are rarely inflated in a showroom. That said, there are features to look for that can help you decide which cheap air bed will most likely suit your needs. It's worth noting that many negative reviews of inexpensive air mattresses complain about air leaks, but some loss of air -- i.e., changes in firmness -- is to be expected with cheap air mattresses, especially over the course of a few days and in colder conditions when the air is compressed. (Users also report that the air inside the mattress can get uncomfortably cold when the ambient temperature drops, so consider placing an insulating layer under the sheet.)

The height of an air bed is one factor to consider. The more deluxe the mattress, the higher from the floor you'll be. We found some as high as 25 inches, which isn't any lower than a mattress and box spring, while camping air mattresses are about 5 to 8 inches thick. The length and width of the air mattress is also important. Although price is often associated with size, it's possible to find a good budget queen-size air mattress. An air pump is often included with good cheap air mattresses; if there is no pump, figure on spending $10 to $50 more to buy one. Finally, the way the air is distributed affects the surface feel of the mattress. Multiple air chambers provide firmer support than one chamber, and some cheap air mattresses feature a type of inner coil construction that also reduces sagging.

After reading scores of reviews, we came up with a list of the best cheap air mattresses out there. At the top of the list is the Intex Raised Downy Queen Airbed (starting at $50), which comes with a built-in electric pump, inflates to 22 inches, and earns praise for comfort and convenience. The Coleman SUV Quickbed (starting at $25) is our top choice for a cheap camping air mattress; it fits in an SUV or tent and users say it's sufficiently comfortable for short-term sleeping needs. Our picks for runner-up are the Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbed (starting at $40), whose multi-functionality as two separate twin beds, double-stacked in twin mode, or zipped together as a king-size mattress wins legions of fans; the AeroBed Guest Choice (twin starting at $58; queen starting at $65), is a relatively comfortable model that inflates and deflates with ease but doesn't always stay firm through the night. One cheap air mattress that gives users fits is the AeroBed EcoLite (twin starting at $80; queen starting at $100), which is dinged for its battery-powered air pump that doesn't suit today's want-it-instantly zeitgeist.

Comparing Air Mattress Comfort

Air mattress reviews say our top picks provide the comfort and convenience users expect, and their value pricing enhances the appeal. Although cheap air mattresses are designed for occasional use, we read many reviews indicating consumers use them as short-term (sometimes even long-term) substitutes for a regular mattress; a few reviewers say the best cheap air mattresses surpass in comfort the regular mattress they'd been using. Air leakage is the bane of every air mattress we researched, and while some users may have wound up with defective units, most don't sweat over the need to top off with air after a few nights of sleep time.

Air Mattress Comfort.

A good night's sleep is the number one thing air mattress reviews focus on. Comfort is often directly associated with how well the air is distributed, how firm the mattress feels, and whether it remains fully inflated through the night. Literally hundreds of air mattress reviews say our top picks, the Intex Raised Downy Queen Airbed (starting at $50) and the Coleman SUV Quickbed (starting at $25), easily satisfy these performance criteria. We found less consensus in reviews about the comfort afforded by the two other contenders on our list, the Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbed (starting at $40) and the AeroBed Guest Choice Air Bed (twin starting at $58; queen starting at $65), which take some hits for what users consider design flaws in the former and excessive air loss with the latter.

Air mattress reviews on Amazon give the Intex Raised Downy Queen Airbed top marks for affordable comfort. This product features two air chambers, one atop the other, with the bottom chamber serving as a sort of box spring substitute. Users' air mattress reviews say the Intex Raised Downy Queen is sufficiently firm and provides adequate support, enough to prevent aches and pains upon awakening, even for a 6-foot-plus reviewer who weighs nearly 300 pounds. For the most part, reviewers say this air mattress holds its height through the night, and some assert it's more comfortable than a regular bed. We did read a few reports of "walking" when sleepers toss and turn, and one consumer compares the surface feel from the air-filled tube-like ridges to pool noodles. (Comfort tip: use an extra-thick mattress cover.) Our other top pick, the Coleman SUV Quickbed, is designed to fit in -- you guessed it -- a sport utility vehicle and is lauded by folks who use it for car and tent camping and others who keep it as an indoor spare. Air mattress reviews on sites such as Amazon are larded with praise for its comfort, with one reviewer using it as a full-time mattress in a recreational vehicle. (Comfort tip: add an egg-crate foam topper under a sheet or sleeping bag.)

The Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbed scores somewhat lower on the comfort meter, according to air mattress reviews. This Coleman model, as its 4-in-1 name implies, can be used four ways: as two separate twin beds, zipped together as a king, and stacked as a double-high twin. Users commenting on Walmart say the mattress stays fully inflated during the night and provides a good rest to young and old sleepers, alike -- when used as twin beds, that is. Air mattress reviews on a variety of sites assert the king-mattress arrangement just doesn't work. There's a gap where the two twin mattresses zip together that some users try to close with anything soft (like a towel) and others say filling both sides of the "king" with exactly the same air pressure is harder than it seems - two factors that can interfere with sleeping comfort. Another runner-up pick, the AeroBed Guest Choice, is a welcome convenience when overnight visitors arrive, according to reviews at Target. Many users say it's comfortable enough until it starts losing air midway through the night, a problem noted in a number of air mattress reviews. Some users report waking up with backaches on a near-deflated mattress, although others assert the AeroBed Guest Choice is an acceptable short-term option.

We also researched the AeroBed EcoLite (twin starting at $80; queen starting at $100), which gets a passing grade for comfort in air mattress reviews on Amazon. The weight of negative comments about the battery-powered air pump, however, overwhelmed the positive reports about comfort. The Wenzel Insta-Bed Queen Raised Sure Grip Bottom (starting at $94) is another inexpensive air mattress that users praise for its comfort, albeit on a temporary basis. Still more reviews on Amazon say this model holds air well and keeps guests happy, but is no replacement for a regular bed.

Comparing Air Matress Pumps and Sizes

Air Bed Pumps.

Many air mattresses regardless of price or size, come with some type of air pump. The easiest to use is an electric pumps that run on AC current; plug it in, turn it on, and the air bed quickly inflates (specs for the Wenzel Insta-Bed say the process takes just 90 seconds). The Intex Raised Downy Queen features a built-in electric pump, and the AeroBed Guest Choice Air Bed (twin starting at $58; queen starting at $65) is packaged with a stand-alone electric pump. Users commenting on Amazon say the Intex pump fills the bed with air in a matter of minutes and deflating the bed merely involves reversing the valve. The pump sits in a box at the foot (or head) of the mattress and is large enough to store the electric cord when not in use. The AeroBed Guest Choice pump is hands-free and also makes quick work of inflating the mattress, according to users, although some gripe on the AeroBed site that there's no substituting any other pump for the one supplied with the unit.

Rechargeable battery-powered pumps are well suited for overnight camping or if you won't be near an outlet. The AeroBed EcoLite comes with a NiCD battery pump, but it proves to be a big-time disappointment to users. Several reviews on Amazon grouse that it's bulky and heavy, has a limited lifespan, and lacks sufficient oomph. The bulk of complaints about this air pump, however, concern the older battery technology, which users say requires a fair amount of coddling. Reviewers note that it takes a full 24 hours to charge the battery before its first use and 12 hours for subsequent recharging, but only after the battery has been totally discharged. As with the AeroBed Guest Choice, you have no choice but to use this pump.

Some good air mattresses, including the Coleman SUV and Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbeds, don't include an air pump. Prices for pump-free air beds tend to be a little lower as a result, but you will need a pump; manual air pumps cost as little as $8 and electric pumps are priced as high as $50. Coleman makes a variety of pumps designed to fit Coleman air beds; the company does not guarantee that non-Coleman pumps will fit the valve properly. Assuming you've hooked up the right pump, reviews say both Coleman models inflate and deflate very quickly; a review of the 4-in-1 Quickbed at Campmor says rapid hand pumping for 15 minutes results in a full-blown air bed.

Air Mattress Sizes.

The size of an air mattress is measured by height, length, and width. The first measurement gets lots of attention in reviews (and in ads) because many buyers assume thicker is better. While this may be true for regular mattresses, it isn't necessarily so with air mattresses. A taller mattress that sits on the floor is certainly easier to get on and off of than a shorter mattress, and in theory, the lower you are to the ground, the colder you'll be. Reviews indicates that consumers select air mattresses based on their needs -- thinner and narrower twin air mattresses for camping or young guests, thicker and wider queen air mattresses for two-by-two sleeping and older visitors -- so there are few size-related surprises that become cause for complaint.

The average air mattress is 8.5 inches high, while those considered "raised" stand at least 18.5 inches tall. Deluxe air mattresses, such as the Air Cloud High Rise (starting at $150 for this queen air mattress) are as much as 25 inches thick. Four of the cheap air mattresses we researched blow up to below-average height: 5 inches for the Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbed, 6 inches for the Coleman SUV Quickbed, 7 inches for the AeroBed EcoLite, and 8 inches for the AeroBed Guest Choice; the Intex Raised Downy, a queen air mattress, stands a full 22 inches high, as does the Wenzel Insta-Bed (starting at $94). Reviews of the Intex Raised Downy on the Target site give a thumbs-up to the height, which is close to the combined height of a standard mattress and box spring. The Coleman 4-in-1 is praised for its versatility in reviews at Walmart, where one user notes that being near the ground works well for young children and being high up (when the mattresses are doubled over) works well for adults.

The length and width of air mattresses varies by model. The Intex Raised Downy is a queen air mattress and measures 80x60 inches; dimensions for the Wenzel Insta-Bed are the same. The AeroBed Guest Choice is available as a queen air mattress (78x60 inches) and as a twin air mattress (74x39 inches); ditto for the AeroBed EcoLite. Each of the Coleman 4-in-1 components is a twin air mattress whose dimensions are 74x39 inches; a few users grouse on the Coleman site that 74 inches is too short for comfort, an assessment that caught the attention of a customer service representative who expressed an intent to forward the comment up the management chain. Short is also the word for the Coleman SUV Quickbed, whose 70-inch length is the shortest of the air mattresses we researched but not unusual for a model meant for outdoor use. It measures 41 inches across, which makes it a tad wider than a twin air mattress. An air mattress review on Walmart says this model feels a bit thin (comfort tip: try placing a blanket underneath) and some say this slightly-larger-than-twin air mattress is a really tight fit for two people (snug is another way to look at it).

Air Mattress Construction and Durability

Most of the lower-priced air mattresses in our air bed comparison are made with some form of puncture-resistant vinyl, usually PVC (polyvinyl chloride). These shells are easy to clean -- one consumer writes on Amazon of using the underside of the Coleman SUV Quickbed as a pad for changing a child's diapers -- but users caution that severe cold can cause cracking. The AeroBed EcoLite, on the other hand, is made with TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), which is lighter than PVC and contains no phthalates, chemical compounds that help keep plastic soft and can give off an unpleasant odor. Indeed, we read several reviews of the Intex Raised Downy and of the AeroBed Guest Choice about the off-putting smell; consumers recommend letting the mattress air out for several days before using.

Because the sturdy vinyl used in air mattresses can be quite slippery, air beds typically feature some kind of soft topping that provides a bit of grip and enhances comfort. All the best air mattresses we researched meet this standard. The Intex Raised Downy Queen, for example, is topped with a waterproof flocking that consumers say mostly holds sheets in place (helped by side indentations for fitted sheets). Both Coleman models in our air bed comparison, the 4-in-1 and SUV Quickbeds, come with a suede-like plush topping that an air mattress review of the latter says keeps a nylon sleeping bag from slipping. Some users of air mattresses nonetheless suggest adding a mattress cover for still more grip and as an extra layer of comfort. The Wenzel Insta-Bed also features a flocked top as well as a bottom surface designed to grip the floor.

Generally speaking, the more air chambers a mattress has, the firmer and more supportive it will be. Some higher-end air mattresses feature an air-filled "pillow-top" and the Intex Raised Downy Queen gets its extra height from a bottom air chamber. Borrowing both terminology and concept from regular mattresses, some air mattresses contain "coils" that are supposed to keep the sleeping surface from sagging. These coils connect the top of the air mattress to the bottom and help distribute the air. The Coleman SUV and 4-in-1 Quickbeds and the AeroBed Guest Choice feature coil construction. Whether the coils actually make a difference is open to question. In a review on Amazon of the AeroBed, one user blames the coils for the popping noises he hears whenever he turns over.

Air Mattress Durability.

Cheap air mattresses are intended for temporary and occasional use, so don't expect them to last very long if used as a full-time bed. Even so, we came across an occasional air mattress review attesting to the continuous, multi-year use of the Intex Raised Downy Queen; for shorter periods, the Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbed also claims some fans.

Not surprisingly, the biggest grievance lodged against the mattresses in our air bed comparison concerns leaks. Every air mattress we researched was the target of complaints about leaks, some of which proved to be minor but others couldn't be isolated or repaired and were serious enough to prevent full inflation or to cause unintended deflation. Sometimes the leaks appeared right out of the box, sometimes after a few uses, and sometimes after months of service. But note: After several days on the floor and nights with a sleeper on board, even the best air mattress must be topped off with some air -- a few seconds with an electric pump usually suffices. Users don't seem to find this chore particularly onerous.

Low-cost air mattresses often come with limited warranties. The two Coleman mattresses on our list provide limited one-year warranties that cover product defects; ditto for the AeroBed Guest Choice. The Wenzel Insta-Bed is backed by a one-year warranty and the AeroBed EcoLite provides a two-year limited warranty on the pump and valve. There's no warranty for the Intex Raised Downy Queen; problems must be handled through the retailer where the mattress was purchased.

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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Air Mattresses
  2. Discount Air Mattresses Features Comparison Table
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