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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.)

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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.

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