Airbeds offer a unique experience for sleepers that sets them apart from other mattress types. Unlike innersprings that feature steel coils or memory foam or latex mattresses with polyfoam-based support cores, airbeds are constructed with internal air chambers that can be adjusted by adding or removing air with an electric pump, resulting in customized firmness and support. Older airbeds feature manual adjustment controls, but many newer models can be adjusted remotely using a portable controller or smart app technology.
The availability of airbeds is somewhat limited compared to innersprings, hybrids, memory foam, and latex mattresses. Additionally, the price-points of most airbeds are significantly above-average. However, airbeds tend to earn above-average customer satisfaction ratings, due in large part to their customizable controls and long lifespans, as well as pain- and pressure-relieving abilities. The adjustable controls also make them suitable for side-, back- and stomach-sleepers.
It’s important to note that the term ‘airbed’ refers to a mattress used as the primarily sleep surface in bedrooms and guest rooms. Airbeds are different from temporary air mattresses (also known as sleep pads) that are commonly used for camping or floor-sleeping. This review will only discuss airbeds designed for primary sleep, and not temporary air mattresses.
Types of Airbeds
In order to meet the definition of an airbed, the mattress must be designed as a primary sleep surface and feature at least two internal air chambers in the support core. Beyond this criteria, airbeds sold today may differ in several ways:
Comfort layer: The comfort layer of an airbed typically features polyfoam, memory foam, and/or latex layers. Most airbeds sold today have comfort systems consisting of one to two layers, and measuring between four and five inches thick.
Settings:Airbeds sold today generally have several different settings. A quick survey of airbed mattresses sold today finds that the number of unique settings ranges from 20 to 100, with 50 to 60 as the average number.
Number of chambers:Airbeds sold today have anywhere from two individual chambers to more than 40. Regardless of the total number, air chambers usually have a symmetrical arrangement related to each side of the mattress. An airbed with two air chambers will have one chamber supporting each side, an airbed with four air chambers will have two chambers supporting each side, and so on.
Next, let’s look at how airbeds feel to the average sleeper.
The Feel of an Airbed
The ‘feel’, or firmness, of a mattress is linked to its comfort system. For this reason, an airbed’s feel will often depend on the types of materials used in the top layers, rather than the air chambers themselves. However, airbeds with adjustable controls allow sleepers to control how firm the sleep surface feels.
In addition to adjustable firmness, many airbeds also offer adjustable support. Airbeds with six or more air chambers usually feature a zoned system designed to target different areas of the body. Generally speaking, the more chambers an airbed has, the more effectively it will target pain and pressure in specific regions of the body, such as the neck, shoulders, lumbar, and hips.
It’s important to note that many outside factors can affect airbed firmness and support settings, resulting in less than ideal sleep conditions, and the possibility of back pain and increased pressure. These factors include room temperature, barometric pressure, and changes in sleep position.
Other Important Considerations
In addition to chamber construction and firmness/support settings, here are a few other factors to consider when comparing airbed models.
Trench: Some airbeds are designed with chambers beneath each side of the bed and a small gap between them. In these cases, sleepers may notice sagging and less support in the center of the bed. This can lead to long-term pain and pressure issues; the gap may also affect the responsiveness of the sleep surface, which is tied to how good the mattress is for sex. Some manufacturers compensate for this trench effect by eliminating the gap between the chambers.
Air chamber construction: The materials used to make air mattress chambers will vary by manufacturer. Many are constructed from vulcanized rubber, but other materials — such as latex or cotton — may also be used. The construction of the air chambers does not affect the feel or supportive qualities of the mattress to a noticeable extent, according to owner feedback.
Thickness: Airbeds are somewhat thick compared to other mattress types; most models sold today range between 10 and 15 inches thick. However, the overall thickness of an airbed is usually associated with its comfort layer components. The air chamber support core, on the other hand, tends to remain constant; most airbed support cores measure between five and seven inches thick, regardless of the airbed’s overall thickness.
Noise: Above-average noise is one of the chief complaints associated with airbed mattresses. This is largely due to buzzing and whirring produced by electric air pumps. Many models also squeak when supporting weight.
Assembly:Some airbeds are shipped fully assembled. Additionally, select manufacturers offer in-home assembly services for a surcharge. Other mattress models are designed for owner assembly, and come with detailed instructions. Most of these models feature a modular design that does not require any mattress expertise, but putting them together correctly can be a time-consuming process.
Pros and Cons of an Airbed
Adjustable firmness and support
Mattress settings may change due to environmental factors
Usually provide an adequate amount of motion isolation
Much noisier than most other mattress types
Long lifespan when properly maintained
Malfunctions and breakdowns are common
Above-average customer satisfaction ratings
Significantly more expensive than other mattresses
Pros of an Airbed
Many airbeds offer adjustable firmness and support controls, allowing customized sleep settings and targeted pain and pressure relief. Additionally, airbeds are often constructed with comfort layer materials like memory foam and latex that conform to sleeper’s bodies and evenly distribute their weight for added comfort.
Most airbeds isolate motion to some extent, resulting in fewer nighttime disturbances for couples when someone gets up or shifts positions. However, our customer feedback indicates that foam and latex beds isolate motion more effectively.
According to our customer feedback, airbeds have earned a customer satisfaction rating of 79.2%. This is the highest rating among all mattress types.
Cons of an Airbed
Although the customizable controls are a unique benefit for airbed owners, certain factors — such as temperature, barometric pressure, and sleeper activity — can alter firmness and support settings and negatively affect one’s sleep.
Airbeds have above-average lifespans, but equipment breakdowns are a common complaint among owners. This can lead to additional expenses, especially if the product warranty has entered its prorated coverage phase (see below). Airbeds are also relatively noisy due to the electrical components, such as the pump, as well as a squeaky sleep surface.
Airbeds are among the most expensive mattresses sold today, with an average price-point of more than $2,000. Scroll down to read our complete cost analysis. Additionally, airbed availability is significantly more limited than that of innersprings, foam mattresses, latex mattresses, or hybrids.
Airbed Lifespan and Warranty Considerations
Durability and lifespan with airbeds can be tricky. When properly maintained, leading airbed models can perform for eight years or longer, which places them well ahead of the industry average of seven years. However, equipment breakdowns and malfunctioning components are a common within the first few years of ownership. Replacing parts is usually covered under the product warranty and airbed manufacturers anticipate these requests, but filing warranty claims can lead to additional owner expenses.
Here’s why: most airbed warranties span at least 20 years. However, in most cases, the nonprorated coverage period only extends two to three years in length. During this time, owners will not have to pay to repair or replace defective components of their mattress, including adjustable controls or air chambers. The only expenses associated with nonprorated coverage are mattress shipping and handling costs, and some manufacturers will cover these as well.
Once nonprorated coverage ends, the remainder of the warranty will be prorated. This is when things tend to get expensive. During prorated coverage, owners must pay certain costs to replace their airbed or specific components (such as air chambers). These costs are usually calculated by multiplying a percentage of the product or part by the number of years that have passed since the warranty began. The longer the owner sleeps on the mattress, the higher the prorated costs will be.
For example, let’s say that an air chamber in an airbed is defective and costs $300 to replace. Under the terms of the airbed warranty, owners must pay 20% of the air chamber cost (or $60), plus an additional 4% of the original cost for each year they have owned the mattress. If the chamber becomes defective after 10 years, the owner must pay 60% of the original price, or $180, to replace the air chamber. Typically, prorated charges will cap around 90% to 96% during the final few years of the warranty. So while owners will never pay full price to replace their airbed or an individual component, they will come close during the latter stages of their warranty.
Customers should take note that most airbed manufacturers offer sleep trials for their mattresses. Sleep trials allow customers to test out their mattress for a set number of nights and — if they choose — return the airbed for a partial or full refund. Airbeds with a sleep trial of at least 60 nights might be a good option for customers who are unsure whether they want to commit to owning an airbed. Most sleep trials carry a mandatory break-in period of at least 20 to 30 nights; customers cannot return their mattress during this period for a refund. Manufacturers may also require customers to cover shipping and handling fees associated with returning their mattress during the sleep trial.
Average Lifespan of an Airbed
Cost of an Airbed
The average price of an airbed sold today is $2,232. The cheapest models are priced between $500 and $1,000, while the most expensive options are priced at $3,000 to $4,000 — and higher, in rare cases. Factors that drive the price of an airbed include the comfort layer components, the total number of air chambers, the number of unique firmness and support settings, and the type of manual or remote adjustment controls. Customers should also consider that airbed replacement parts are a likely expense down the road.
According to our findings, you should expect to pay between$1,500 and $2,000 for a high-quality airbed with a reasonable warranty.
How Much Should You Pay for a High-Quality Airbed?
According to our data, airbed mattresses carry a customer satisfaction rating of 79.2%. This is the highest satisfaction rating among all mattress types. By comparison: latex mattresses have earned a rating of 76.4%; memory foam models have earned a rating of 72.5%; hybrids have earned a rating of 71.0%; and innersprings have earned a rating of 65.0%.
Important Questions for Consumers
When purchasing an airbed online or in a brick-and-mortar store, here are a few key questions to ask:
How many individual air chambers does the airbed have?
Does the mattress have manual or remote adjustment controls?
How many unique firmness and support settings does the mattress offer?
What is the composition of the comfort layer?
How much noise does the airbed produce, particularly with regard to the air pump and/or sleep surface?
Is there a gap between the air chambers that could cause a trench that runs down the middle of the bed?
Is there a sleep trial for the mattress, and if so, what is the length and is there a mandatory break-in period?
What is the warranty length, and how much of the warranty coverage is prorated?