We get a lot of compliments on our Airstream as we travel around the country. They are striking trailers and they have a very good reputation. Yet, you don’t see nearly as many of them as you do other brands of trailers and motorhomes. One reason why is that they don’t come cheap. A brand new 2020 Airstream will cost you somewhere between $35K to $150K. It is no wonder we are often asked: “Why are Airstreams so expensive?”
The Body Beautiful
The principle reason Airstreams are expensive is the Aluminium body they are so famous for. The shell of an airstream is made from a high quality “aircraft grade” aluminum alloy riveted over a steel frame. This is insulated and then an inner shell of aluminum is riveted on from the inside. Not only is the material more expensive than what other brands use, but it also takes a lot more labor to assemble. Every rivet is put in by hand to ensure a perfect seal and to avoid damage to the frame. This build process also means they can’t drop appliances in from above but must carry them inside the trailer to install them by hand. Again, this means more labor and higher construction costs.
So much of what makes an Airstream a great trailer has to do with its body design. The all-metal construction means it is incredibly durable. It is a very similar design to WWII era aircraft which were near legendary for their toughness. Airstreams don’t rot like other trailers. The only plywood used in their body construction is the sub-floor which is needed to provide an anchor point for the appliances and flooring. It is completely contained within the double frame so it cannot easily rot like the plywood walls and floors of many other trailer brands.
You can watch the process of Airstream construction here: How it’s made – Airstream.
The aluminum also allows the streamlined shape of the trailer as well as making it lighter weight than it’s counterparts. That makes them easier to tow. Of course, the signature silver bullet finish of an airstream is also due to its construction materials. Because they are not painted, their good looks are easy to maintain and hold up well under all kinds of weather.
Most trailers have a limited expected lifespan. It is very rare to see 30 and 40-year-old trailers for any other brand, but you can find numerous Airstreams of that age on the road. If kept up, they look as pretty as the day they were made. It is one of the few trailers that become family heirlooms, outliving their original owners. As a result, Airstream trailers hold their value better and longer than any other brand.
Why don’t other brands use aluminum bodies? Primarily because it is very expensive and most brands compete on features and price rather than longevity.
A Legendary Brand
Airstream is something of a luxury brand. They are made to appeal to middle and upper-class customers and that is also how they are marketed these days. Like any luxury brand, they come with something of a luxury price. Airstream will probably not produce a stripped down bargain version of their trailers as it would hurt the image of the brand as the best you can buy.
Explore the history of the Airstream with this great book – Airstream: America’s World Traveler
There is also a lot of loyalty and love for Airstreams among its fans which keeps demand high, and that helps keep their resale value high. There is some real benefit as an owner from this fandom. Airstream is almost as much of a community as a brand and its roots go back to the companies founder, Wally Byam, who organized international caravans for its members. He had a vision; to allow people to travel the world and have grand adventures, not just to make money selling trailers. Airstream owners love their trailers and form tight-knit communities and clubs that still rally for adventure and help one another.
Airstream is also a distinctly American brand. They are not the only trailers made in the US but they are very proud of manufacturing their trailers in in America using American labor. They have been built in their Ohio factory since 1952.
Other Fine Qualities
Body and Brand are the two big drivers of the price, but Airstream quality is more than skin deep. Airstream does all its own cabinetry and furniture is made from high-quality materials made to fit the trailer’s unique shape. They also use quality third-party components like Moen faucets. These factors are not unique to Airstream trailers and other brands have luxury models with similar quality interior fittings. With Airstream, pretty much every model is a luxury model to some degree and you won’t find any with outright cheap components.
Airstreams also have great tempered glass windows and lots of them. Cheaper trailers often have little portholes or small square windows that only open a little way. Airstreams have lots of big windows that open to get you as close to nature as possible without stepping outside the trailer. The brakes, axles, and wheels are also of very high quality compared to cheaper brands.
The styling of Airstreams is also a factor. They tend to a modern aesthetic rather than the common country-home style a lot of trailer companies go for. While this doesn’t always translate to a higher price, the clean lines and curved surfaces do tend to be more expensive to manufacture. Airstream spends a little extra time and money in making sure Airstreams are as pretty as they are functional to maintain their famous brand image and satisfy their demanding customers.
Sweet Silver Dreams Are Made of These
Those are your three core reasons why Airstreams are so expensive: Aluminium Body, Legendary Brand, and Quality Components. They are built to last a lifetime and hold up to grand adventure on the open road. All while remaining one of the most stylish and elegant RVs ever made. In a world with so many throwaway products and designed obsolescence, Airstreams are a call back to an earlier era of enduring quality and long-term thinking.
Ready to live riveted – Airstream style? This great book: How to Buy an Airstream can get you started.
OK, that sounds a lot like a sales pitch, but it’s indicative of how Airstream owners, like myself, feel about their trailers. They are very nice and their price really is a reflection of the materials and labor that go into making them with a bit of cache from the history of the brand thrown in. I’ve known many who decide not to go with Airstream, but I’ve never met anyone who owns one and regrets the purchase.
Thanks for this article. Well researched & reassuring. Shopping for ours this coming weekend .
Airstream quality is indeed great. Their presence for more than 10 decades really makes a big difference.
We have rented Airstream twice, it is indeed different than other trailers.
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[…] than other options on the market is their material. Airstream RVs are built with a beautiful aluminum body. This aluminum body is so iconic that when anyone thinks of an RV, they picture an Airstream RV. […]
We have a 2020 Airstream Bambi 19cb. It is a great piece of workmanship and craftsmanship. It is beautiful and came without any flaws, well, save for a 3″ section that was absent caulking, which was an easy fix.
They do cost more, for the reasons you mentioned, and they sometimes have flaws, but there are very few 10, 20, or 30 year-old RV’s on the road that, except for Airstreams.
Absolutely. I think there is room to improve their QC, but the overall quality is hard to beat.
We are a family of 4 and plan to buy your type. I’m glad you love it :).
No e article but, our 2004 28 safari was horrible. Remember its a plywood floor. Get moisture trapped or a leak, bam, soft floor. The clear coat peeled off in huge sections. Upholstery was not durable and The thing leaked often. Still, a beautiful unit but we moved on to ATC 28 front bedroom. Not as pretty but no surprises.
Can’t edit so first. NICE ARTICLE.. For clarity clear coat is what they coat the aluminum. It peeled off. Huge sections. Don’t get me wrong, they are a source of pride. But, add on the miles like we do, and I decided no wood anywhere. Top to bottom including cabinets. IMHO.
Thanks! Sorry to hear you got a bum clear coat, that’s pretty awful. When we visited the Airstream factory, it wasn’t hard to see how some trailers could come out with real problems. They clearly cared about quality, and the place seemed well run, but it wasn’t a state of the art manufacturing plant like the Chevrolet factory we visited shortly before. It was a little more a matter of “handcrafted” style manufacturing and as great as people are, they make mistakes sometimes or have a bad day. The one part of Quality Control that did seem especially rigorous was checking for leaks.
Unfortunately, the RV business seems to be one where the average quality is pretty bad, so being pretty good is a high mark. Ultimately for me, it’s the aluminum body that really puts them a big step over most of their competition on the quality front.
As a fellow blogger, I have to say, I love this article. Outstanding research that is well thought out. I was cursing your name (in praise) for the awesome Eurythmics referenced subheading. I’m a full-timer myself in a Class A Fleetwood but have a real passion for the vintage and vintage styling. When I’m not writing paid work, working on articles for my own blog page. One of the blog pages I plan to do is a series on how people are breathing new life into their Airstreams. Have you seen what some of those Airbnb places are doing with Airstream Classics?
Brakes.. Not breaks..
Thanks Jesse. That’s one of my favorite spelling mistakes and one the spell checker is not so good at helping me with.
Good reasons to set the MSRP high. However, it’s the dealer cost that matters What discount can be negotiated based on actual dealer cost?
Thanks for the good suggestion!
Well, if you know the dealer’s cost (which you can research to some degree) then you have a better idea where the floor is in their negotiations. It should be north of that value, but you don’t know exactly what the dealer is thinking or hoping to get.
I think this is something that can help with buying a used Airstream from a dealership. I know there is at least one Facebook group where the host sells his report on estimated dealer costs based on auction research and the like. Generally, it’s not something you can ask the dealer for or find out with certainty unless you know the person who sold it to them.
All that said, it will still come down to negotiations. They won’t sell lower than they want to, you just need to find out what their low number is. They could well buy cheap but want to hold out for a good market price if they are confident it can sell at that price. Of course, if you are pushing for something below their buy price, it’s not too likely they will sell unless they are desperate to clear the books and space on their lot.
Two questions. 1. I.ve been looking at an Airstream, but inside seems to cramped for a few people. Do airstream offer slideouts. Would like one in living room, and one in bedrm. Can one get slideouts?. 2. Does Airstream offer a motor home version coach?
Yes on both
There were a few models that had slide outs but they are very rare vintage airstreams. The body type doesn’t work so well for a slide-out due to the shape and materials. Personally, having a big living space isn’t a priority for a lot of Airstream owners. Other brands do big a lot better.
Airstream had motorhomes in the past but not currently. They do have some class b camper vans built on Mercedes chassis. I’m not much of an expert on those. They seem nice but they are super small so I’m thinking it’s not what you are after.
One warning on slides. They are one of the most common things to break on RVs and can be a real hassle when they do. Not that I’m warning against them, just be sure that if you go with slides, make sure you get a reputable brand of RV.
I lied that you said that one thing to consider when looking to buy and renovate an airstream is that you are paying for a legendary brand that was intended to appeal to the middle and upper-class customers. I have been thinking about buying an airstream but have been worried about abut the cost. I will be sure to set a budget and do research to find one that fits in my budget so that I can afford and enjoy this luxury item.
I read your article on why Airstream s are so high priced and it’s somewhat legit. But I still don’t get why so expensive even though American made labor, Mohen faucets, aluminum etc. etc. They are still so ridiculously high priced and I’ll never buy one especially a new one.
It’s a decision everyone makes for themselves. If it’s too expensive and not good enough for you, then it makes sense not to get one.
I loved mine and would happily buy another one someday.
Hi. We Bought a Sport just under a year ago. My Lincoln MKX with a tow package towed it easily. we decided after a couple of trips we needed bit moreu room so we traded up to a 19 footer and bought a pick up to pull it. Our AS lives in our driveway as so we must stay small. Airstreams are pricey because it’s a good name and also will outlast a bigger RV made from wood and fiber glass. We polish ours once or twice a year. We’d never owned a camper or trailer before but without a mortgage we had the required resources. It really depends on ones budget when considering any type of RV. A TENT can be pricey if resources are limited. We love ours!
Thanks for sharing your experiences with everyone.
If you read up you’ll find the cost is and includes its built
Like a airplane. It takes over300 hours to make one trailer by hand. 6-7 hours to throw togeather a wood frame. The hand put in everything in a airstream the others drop the things that go in a trailer. Dropping from above with crane. I went through the factory. Another 100%made in America, employs Americans
To be so expensive why do they not offer a longer warranty?
That I don’t know. When we bought ours we paid extra for an extended warranty for two years. That worked out pretty well for us. I think two years would be a good standard for Airstreams.
I would like to get a 16′ RB Sport Airstream. Would I be able to pull it with a ’19 Ford Edge or do I need to go to an Explorer? Thank you for your advise.
The 19 sport has a max weight of 5,000lb and the edge can only handle about 3,500lb. The Explorer can be configured up to 5,000lb but you need all the towing extras to get it there. I hope that helps.
I own a 1971 Ford F 100 XLT. It tows my 25 ft. 1993 Airstream Excella perfectly.
I just bought a f150xlt and would like to know which airstreams would be better for us.
It depends a bit on the package you got with the xlt. Trucks have lots of options that can change the towing capacity. If you bought it from a dealer there should be a towing capacity in the paperwork. Your truck could be between 7K and 11K towing capacity.
Generally, you are in good shape. It’s a safe bet up to a 25′ Airstream with a 150/1500 truck. After that, you need to have some of the options to increase towing capacity. We towed our 30′ with a Ram 1500 but it had all the extras to maximize towing capacity.
I hope that is helpful,
I have never owned an RV of ANY kind and my first was the Bambi Sport. I had the Class II tow gear put on my crossover when i bought the car.. One year later we bought the trailer. I can’t wait to get it out as I have grown weary of airport activity and the endless searches thru your bags!! I never dreamed I would be able to afford this little bubble but it is doable for sure. I love the interior, the black out curtains and overall coziness of it. We bought a canopy to keep it dry. One day I may get a 19 footer but that’s the max I would get as its just me, the husband, a buddy and maybe a kitty or two.
Sounds awesome, thanks for sharing! I think the Sport is a great little trailer, perfect for camping and adventure.
Hi! We just bought an 2018 Bambi sport. I have a Lincoln crossover that states it can tow max 2000 lbs. So, whats the weight of the trailer before I load it up? I see the label stating that it cannot exceed 500 lbs additionally so I am concerned how much weight total I can tow with the trailer and my particular car. It doesn’t seem like much. I had the factory put the towing package on at the factory when I bought the car last year. Please advise!
Congratulations on the sport! Frankly, I like the sport much better than the new Nest or Basecamp.
The Sport 16 is listed at a base weight of 2,860lb and a maximum capacity of 3,500lb. That leaves 640lb left over, but your water tanks will take up some of that, so 500lb of gear sounds about right.
Unfortunately, it sounds like your Lincoln Crossover is not up to the challenge here. Even the dry weight is over the listed capacity of 2,000lb. I would not say that this is not a safe combination to tow with. The car will be over-weight and that can lead to instability and trailer sway problems. It can also damage your car’s engine, breaks, and suspension over time. The website claims that the Crossover can tow 3,000lb with the proper equipment, but that would still be short of what I would recommend.
Sorry, I can’t give better news. I think you will need to upgrade to a vehicle with a towing capacity of at least 3,500lb to ensure safe towing.
You need a vehicle with a frame. Never tow more than 80 percent of rated. Max tow is for flat level roads and no wind. 60 percent is very comfortable to tow up or down hlls and in cross winds
Yes! I had a TOW package put on the vehicle when I bought it new. I have learned to distribute the weight in the trailer for a smooth ride. It works GREAT! Love the Sport!
Sounds like a Lincoln Town Car / Crown VIC would work very well for smaller trailers. It is very heavy for a car, that is low slung for aerodynamics, it has a frame, has a and it has a 4.6L V8. and they can still be going strong at 400,000+. . Better yet, if you get a retired Crown Vic Police interceptor it has an oil cooler, stronger transmission, and beefier suspension. As a bonus, people will get out of your way.
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[…] they have some rather loyal employees. Many of them have been with the company for more than 30 years. A lot of their customers end up as raving fans. Honestly, I’m one of them. It’s difficult not […]
Hello, my husband and I have aways wanted an airstream and are in the process of searching for one. We are in Canada and it gets cold here. How well are the airstreams insulated?
Airstreams have an inner and outer aluminum hull, and between that, the manufacturer puts a layer of pink fill insulation. The windows that can open are not double paned so they are the weakest area of the trailer in terms of insulation. Trail made unslated window inserts for us that go into the window openings to compensate for this. With those in place, we find it is very well insulated.
Certainly, in the winter you will need to run a heater, either the built-in one or a space heater to keep the trailer at a livable temperature. But you can spend half the day out of the trailer with the heat off and it will still be considerably warmer than outside. We use a space heater most of the time just to save on energy costs, but when it’s especially cold the main furnace heats up the trailer very quickly and effectively.
All in all, I’d say the airstreams are a bit better on insulation than most but I do recommend the reflective window baffles to maximize insulation.
Hi, I am preparing to be full time, and planning until i can absolutely not live alone or am physically unable, will be traveling up north for ministry commitments, i am planning to purchase a used classic and i am interested in what you said you had Trail make for your windows. Can you elaborate any further on that so that i can contact them to do the same in the year to come?
Here is what she made…
She bought 2″ dense foam, artificial fleece fabric, and reflective bubble wrap insulation (https://amzn.to/2LuIuBr ), and some zippers.
She cut the foam to the shape of each window.
Then she used a sewing machine to make covers for the foam from the fabric, including a zipper on one seem.
On the side that would face the window, she cut the bubble wrap insulation to size and sewed it to the fabric.
Then the cover goes over the foam and you have a high insulation window baffle.
In the shorter term, you can just cut the insulated bubble wrap to fit the window shape and place it in the window. It isn’t quite as effective but it does help more than you might imagine. For this method, you want the stiffer sort of insulated bubble wrap.
Is there a better time of the year to buy a new airstream?
And what’s the best place to find a used one for sale?
Hi Kathy, thanks for the question. The demand for airstreams tends to be strongest in the spring and summer so that’s when you will have the most competition as a buyer. Winter tends to be when folks make the decision to sell and it’s when the dealers try to shore up their income a bit by discounting products. So winter is probably the best time to find a good deal.
That said, my advice would be not to worry too much about the time to buy. I’d just start early, have an idea what you want and what price you want to pay, and look early and often for what you have in mind. If you find an Airstream you like at a price you like, then that’s the best time to buy.
As for where to look, I’d start with Airstream Classifieds. It’s simply the biggest marketplace for Airstreams so that’s where most of the sellers are going to put themselves. It has lots of buyers and sellers so prices are going to be competitive. That tends to mean you won’t get the deal of the century, but you will find some decent values. Craigslist is probably the second most popular. Personally, I find is also the favorite of scammers of various sorts.
I recommend when buying used that you read up on some of the common classifieds scams that are out there. Most postings and buyers are not scammers, but the scammers are busy folks so they are often encountered by folks looking to buy or sell. Basically, don’t trust anyone who wants your money or financial info before you are standing there looking at the trailer in real life.
Of course, I’d also google the make and model you are looking for (and possibly an area you want to buy from). This will clue you into possible wildcard sites or dealers in that area. It’s always good to cast a wide net to see what you can find.
I hope that helps,
My airstream was hit by the hurricane Irma. I am repairing it now. The windows survived, but because it stays in Florida, I am interested in changing out the windows to ones that can stand up to the wind and water. I had significant leakage. FEMA suggested a hurricane proof window. Does Airstream make one?
Thanks for the question Sharon.
I did some research. Airstream doesn’t sell any individual windows themselves (except by way of repairs) and they only offer the ones that come on the Airstreams by default.
I looked for third-party reinforced windows and didn’t find anything there either, though there are a few supply sites that sell replacement windows.
All said, its very hard to weatherproof any RV, even an airstream against a severe storm short of storing it in another building that is hardened against the weather.
My 90-year old grandma had her fair share of campers and RVs. Her advice: buy an airstream.
She said the RV was inconvenient cause the engine wore out and they always towed a car.
She added, trailers were better, but sometimes leaked. She said if she could do over again she would have spent the extra money for an Airstream up front and saved money in the long run! She also joked they never go out of style!
My wife and I are saving up for one!
A wise woman I’d say. After two years on the road, ours still feels like a new trailer. We’ve been giving it some TLC this holiday while camped for winter and she’s looking fantastic.
Thanks for sharing the story Keith!