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We love our camper, but there was a time when we seriously considered switching to an Airstream. There are very few travel trailers that are as sleek and striking as an airstream, coupled with an excellent reputation, making them very desirable. However, despite their good looks and strong brand presence, they are not an especially common site on the roads. This can be largely put down to price, they are not a budget option. A fresh of the production line Airstream will cost you anywhere from $50k all the way up to $150k.
Why are Airstreams so expensive?
Airstreams cost more than many other brands for a number of reasons. All models are made to a very high standard and feature an aircraft grade aluminum construction. Additionally, they are marketed as a luxury brand, so are kitted out with luxury interiors and accessories. Producing a camper to such a high standard is an expensive process, and therefor Airstreams cost a lot.
One of the defining features of an Airstream is its Aluminium construction, which is also a reason for the price tag. All Airstreams feature a shell made from high-quality Aluminium which is wrapped around a solid steel frame. A layer of insulation is then applied to the inside of the shell, and then another layer of aluminum is sandwiched over the top of the insulation. Every rivet, screw or fitting is done by hand in order to ensure a perfect seal.
Aluminum is not a cheap product to buy and it certainly costs more than most of the other common materials used in the construction of a camper. In addition to the cost of the materials used in the construction, the construction process is labor intensive. With most other campers, the roof is applied during the final phase, which allows for the innards to be effectively dropped into space by use of a crane. With an Airstream everything has to be carried in by hand and put into its place. This manual process increases the manual labor costs and therefore the price.
The upside of the labor-intensive build process and the unique design is that Airstreams are incredibly durable. Construction and design seem to be heavily influenced by the aircraft industry, in particular, heavy-duty robust planes produced during the second world war.
As Airstreams are primarily constructed from Aluminium, there is very little that can corrode or rot away. Plywood is used to create the subfloor, which provides a solid foundation to mount appliances, furniture, and flooring. As the plywood is contained within the double-walled shell, it’s removed from the elements and therefore presents very little chance of rotting. If you’ve every viewed used travel trailers, you’ll have probably come across models with signs of rotting walls and floors. This is simply a non-issue with an Airstream.
The unique design, materials used and shape help to make the trailer aerodynamic and significantly lighter than many smaller competitors. In a practical sense, this means that towing is easier and will produce less drag, which translates directly into better gas mileage.
If you already own a travel trailer, you’ll know that roofs and walls need to be periodically replaced, repaired or touched up with a spot of paint. Airstreams are by their design not painted, so maintenance is straightforward. Just keep them clean and they’ll give you a lifetime of use with little upkeep required, even in extreme weather conditions.
Just like any produced good, there is an expected lifespan of a travel trailer. We can expect most brands of travel trailers to realistically last between 10 and 20 years, with some exceptions. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to find Airstreams that are approaching 40 years of use. This is not just by luck or chance.
A well-maintained Airstream can last indefinitely and can easily outlast the original owner, perhaps to be used by other generations for another lifetime. Due to this robustness, Airstream trailers hold onto their value better and for longer than any other brand. While it’s unlikely that a trailer can be seen as an investment, you can be somewhat assured to get a decent resale value if you ever decided to sell your trailer on.
If an aluminum body is so effective, then why don’t other brands use the same materials? This is largely due to the cost, other trailer materials are much cheaper. Most trailer brands will compete over price rather than the ability to last.
A Well Respected Brand
Airstream has positioned itself in the market as a reliable luxury brand. They’ve been made to appeal to customers with disposable income who are looking for a product that provides a luxury experience. With the luxury appeal comes the luxury price sticker.
It’s difficult to say what the margins are on any travel trailer, most brands won’t publish these figures publicly. I would estimate that Airstreams profit margins are in line with most other brands, given the build quality and components used. It’s very unlikely that Airstream will ever offer a stripped down budget model as this would likely tarnish the brand image they’ve been cultivating for many years.
There is something of a cult following and love of Airstreams. Fans of the brand keep the demand for the trailers high, which in return serves to keep the used market very healthy. Airstreams will depreciate very slow compared to most other brands.
The company was started by a visionary called Wally Byam. Wally wanted to create a way for people to travel the world and to take advantage of everything that this amazing planet has to offer. This resulted in the creation of the Airstream brand.
In addition to selling trailers, Wally created a way for likeminded people to meet each other by organizing meetups and communities for owners to belong to. These clubs and communities are still very much present today and will still rally around each other to help out.
Airstream is also a very American company, having built their trailers in their Ohio factory since the early 1950s. Other brands also produce their travel trailer in America, but Airstream is proud of the fact that they’ve been producing trailers in America using American employees for so long.
The Airstream brand and construction help to drive the price tag of their trailers, but that’s not the only reason that they demand a premium price tag. Everything about the Airstream is made from high-quality materials, from the custom made furniture and storage, through to the designer Moen faucets.
Airstream is of course not the only brand that offers these luxury components, many trailer brands include luxury models. What makes Airstream unique is the fact that nearly every model is luxury, you’ll struggle to find any component that is thoughtlessly put together or that utilizes cheap parts.
One of the things we love most about Airstreams are the impressively large windows which allow you to get that bit closer to nature without the need to step outside. Most trailers tend to have small square windows which only open a little bit, but an Airstream has massive windows that fully open and lets in a ton of light. It might not be something that you immediately consider, but it’s something you’ll appreciate when you have it, and miss when you don’t.
If you’re worried about safety, then you’ll be glad to know that know that Airstreams boast some of the best wheels, axles, and breaks that are available to buy, so you can be assured that you’ll stop safely when you need to.
Lastly, we love the styling of an Airstream. The styling is instantly recognizable and feels retro while at the same time coming across as futuristic, it’s certainly an improvement over the homely styling of most other brands.
The downside of this styling is that curved surfaces and design tend to cost more to produce, which increases the cost to the customer. In our opinion the care and attention to detail outweigh the increased cost, it’s reassuring to know your investment has been produced to such a high standard.
So there we have it, the three main reasons as to why Airstreams are so expensive. Quality components and craftsmanship, a luxury brand, and finally an aluminum body.
There is no doubt about it, these travel trailers are made to last a lifetime and will see you through countless trips and adventures. In addition, they are elegantly stylised and feature luxury interiors that even the fussiest consumer would be delighted with.
In today’s world where it’s not uncommon to replace gadgets every other year and with so much throwaway consumerism, the Airstream arcs back to a time where craftsmanship and quality engineering where used to create a product that would see you through decades of use.
Apologies if all of this comes across as a bit preachy, we just think that Airstream is deserving of its expensive price tag. They are fantastic travel trailers and in our opinion, the price is a reflection of the skill and engineering prowess that’s gone into the production of the trailers.
We’ve met plenty of RV owners from all over the US, but we’ve never met an Airstream owner that thinks they should have bought another brand instead.