Why Are Airstreams So Expensive? (Must-Read!)

PublishedApril 25, 2020

There's no doubt about it, Airstream trailers are a classic American icon. But why are Airstreams so expensive?

Certainly, these travel trailers seem to ooze freedom and adventure in a way that 'the others' do not. So there's that.

At the same time the look of them is so... enticing.

Their design is a big part of their allure. There's just something about seeing one silver bullet'stream' (heh) down the road that seems to evoke so much wanderlust.

It's not just the outside that looks fancy, the interiors are also a huge plus. Their current interiors are giant leaps more appealing than most drab and lackluster travel trailer and motorhome interiors on the market.

Airstream trailer boondocking

Photo courtesy of This Airstream Life (IG)

Most traditional trailers have a neutral to dark monotone color theme at best. They often scream 'beige country grandma'. Yuck.

Airstream interiors offer an upscale, modern camping experience with a clean and shiny feel to the design.

This is one part of the reason why Airstreams are so expensive. And BOY are they!

But how does one know if the Airstream is worth the retail price? (And remember- NEVER pay retail price!)

So why are Airstreams so expensive? Is the build quality all that? Or is the price due to design and brand image? The good news if you buy new is that their resale value is high.

Let's look at all the factors that go into what makes the Airstream brand so expensive.

What Is An Airstream?

An Airstream trailer is a classic, unique shaped travel trailer used for camping. They also happen to be the oldest travel trailer RV manufacturer in the country. They were started by founder Wally Byam back in the 1930's.

The Airstream trailer is best known for its unmistakable shiny aluminum curved-bodied travel trailers. Additionally, the aluminum construction and curved shell are held together like an airplane- using rivets.

The Airstream trailer is best known for its unmistakable shiny aluminum curved-bodied travel trailers.

They also make Class B coaches on a Mercedes chassis, NOT made out of aluminum. Airstream has a reputation for being a very expensive brand. This is partially due to the shiny aluminum body.

The aluminum style of exterior requires less maintenance. A silver bullet does not require much sealing and is more water-resistant than the typical style of travel trailer.

The aluminum body is also more expensive than the materials typically used to build a travel trailer, hence part of the higher cost.

So, Why Are Airstream Trailers So Expensive?

They are so expensive because they look so cool, right?

Kerri Airstream hanging over edge

Airstreams even look cool at the edge of... wait WHY IS THERE AIR UNDER THE WHEELS? (Photo by Kerri Overacker McHale)

That may be a small factor, but there's much more to why are Airstreams so expensive.

They DO look amazing, but the manufacturer didn't just pull a number out of thin air because they thought people would pay as much as they do for them.

There are more factors in play. Three main reasons are:

  • Build materials
  • Longevity
  • The Airstream brand name

Let's expand on each to find out why they contribute to the high cost.

Airstream Build Materials

Airstreams cost more than a 'normal' trailer partly because of the materials they use during manufacturing. For most parts, they use higher-grade materials than most RV manufacturers do. Still, we can't say it's a super high-quality build. Not anymore.

Anyway, they even make their furniture, and they use some higher quality components throughout than other manufacturers typically do (Which isn't saying much).  Again, the interior is usually much more sleek, light, and modern than most 'regular' RVs.

Airstream Bambi interior

The build process is a lot more labor-intensive as it takes a lot of man-hours to install the aluminum sheets and the thousands of rivets that hold everything together. Whereas a fiberglass RV uses one-piece composite walls that are relatively quickly assembled and installed.

Airstream also has to bring all the interior furnishings and components inside via the door instead of installing it before the walls are put up (Airstream 'shells' are built first with nothing inside of them).

Construction is usually all about the bottom line for most manufacturers, so they use the cheapest construction they can get away with. "High quality" is not part of their lingo. Those RVs are not expected to have a very long life span because of this.

Airstream is concerned about the bottom line, but they also can't ask as much as they do for their campers without providing a higher quality of everything expected in a product that, at its smallest, starts at almost $40K.

Keep in mind, too, that the aluminum construction will scratch and dent very easily. One must take great care to keep it looking flawless.

Airstream's Longevity

Because of the construction process and the structure of the brand, these last, on average, MUCH longer than their competition.

Owners can sell them for a decent return on their investment.

Vintage Airstream Trailer

Vintage- and still looking great!

The aluminum body they rivet is an aircraft-grade aluminum that can last a lifetime or longer and won't rust. They don't use plywood except for the subfloor. Double framed, the subfloor is fairly well protected from rot.

Airstream claims that in 2006, 65% of all Airstreams built were still on the roads. How's that for a test of longevity?

Many regular trailers are barely worth a dime or aren't still usable by their 15th year.

The Airstream Name/Style

Does this factor hold weight in causing people to pay more money for Airstreams than the 'normal' style travel trailer?

Yeah, maybe somewhat. And also not.

Back top of Airstream trailer

Photo courtesy of This Airstream Life (IG)

The above reasons are the biggest reason for the large purchase price, but there's also something fans simply LOVE about seeing these shiny bullets being towed down the highway.

Some people even romanticize the brand.

Still, pricing is reflected in the materials and that much of the trailer has to be hand-built.

Though these trailers do have their problems, in the long run, their durability and their appeal outmatches that of their competitors.

These trailers are also made in America and are made BY Americans. This is an important consideration for some. Though the vast majority of RV's sold in North America are also made in North America. Airstream is just seen more as an iconic American brand than say a typical RV manufacturer.

How Much Does An Airstream Cost?

It's going to take a big chunk out of your wallet to experience the lifestyle of Airstream living.

Stack of 100 dollar bills

Take a deep breath for the sticker shock... new Airstream trailer prices range from:

  • Low End Start Price:      $37,900 
  • High End Start price:    $156,400

 And for $37,900 (base cost) you're only getting a tiny 16' trailer that's not even of the classic styling.

Whew! As you can see, Airstreams aren't cheap.

There's a wide range of sizes and options to choose from when it comes to Airstream travel trailer models. Let's cover what you can choose from starting with their least expensive camper to their most expensive luxury model.

Airstream Basecamp Price

Airstream Basecamp Starting Price: $37,900

Cass Fab Habitat RV mat

The Airstream Basecamp is a 16' tiny trailer and is a fully-contained RV.

It's different from the traditional bullet-style trailer but it comes complete with the aluminum exterior made of aircraft-quality materials, a booth/table that converts to a bed, shower, sink, toilet, stove, and a refrigerator.

It has all the comforts needed to get out in nature and still provide the kind of comfort today's modern camper buyer wants. The lightest vehicle in the family, you'll get the best fuel economy and need less towing capacity with the Airstream Basecamp when towing to new adventures. Single axle only.

  • Length: 16'
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Floor Plan Options: 1

Airstream Nest price

Starting Price: $42,900 (As of mid-2020, Airstream no longer makes the Nest.)

Airstream Nest travel trailer

The Nest is the least recognizable towable Airstream because it's not made out of aluminum. It is a fairly new model, made of fiberglass, and is a very small self-contained camper.

Being small, it's meant to be able to go places the larger trailers cannot go while offering great views from inside with all the windows. Single axle only.

  • Length: 16'
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Floor Plan Options: 2

Airstream Bambi Price

Starting Price: $49,600

Airstream Bambi trailer

The Bambi utilizes the classic curved look. It's small, lightweight, and Airstream touts that you can pull it with an SUV.

It comes with 4 floor plans. It is very light and fits in pretty much any campground. The base weight is right at 3,000 pounds, and you can only add 500 lbs of cargo. This trailer also needs less towing capacity than many of the other Airstreams. Single axle only.

  • Length: 16' to 22'
  • Sleeps: Up to 4
  • Floor Plan Options: 4

Airstream Caravel Price

Starting Price: $61,900

Airstream Caravel trailer

One floorpan of the Caravel features wrap windows in the front and rear of the trailer. What is the difference between the Bambi and the Caravel? The Caravel offers upgrades and technology not available in the Bambi.

A comparison between the two Airstream models can be found HERE. These equipment upgrades are why the Caravel product starts around $11,000 higher than the Bambi. Otherwise, these two models offer the same floorplans and lengths. Single axle only.

  • Length: 16' to 22'
  • Sleeps: Up to 4
  • Floor Plan Options: 4

Airstream Flying Cloud Price

Starting Price: $77,900

Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer

The Flying Cloud features more floor plans than any other Airstream. With 16 floor plans, the Flying Cloud is one of the most popular and versatile styles for Airstreamers.

Starting at 23' and going all the way up to 30', there's a lot more storage and options than in the smaller trailers. This model offers the most sleeping options of any other in production, up to 8. Flying Cloud also comes with double axles.

  • Length: 23' to 30'
  • Sleeps: 4-8
  • Floor Plan Options: 16

Airstream International Serenity Price

Starting Price $89,900

Airstream International Serenity travel trailer

Airstream touts the International Serenity's interior to offer "balance and tranquility".

Options may include a rear hatch that opens which is VERY cool in functionality (easily load toys) and also for connecting more with nature. The Airstream International Serenity is similar in features to the Flying Cloud. Double axles only.

  • Length: 23' to 30'
  • Sleeps: 4-6
  • Floor Plans: 12

Airstream Globetrotter Price

Starting Price: $95,400

Airstream Globetrotter trailer

Featuring a very modern kitchen, this Airstream isn't messing around. Its starting price tells you a lot. It's the only Airstream to offer their award-winning HITCH fabric which is incredibly stain and rip-resistant.

The Globetrotter also features custom curved overhead cabinets and Corian countertops. Double axles only.

  • Length: 23' to 30'
  • Sleeps: 4-6
  • Floor Plans: 8

Airstream Classic Price

Starting Price: $156,400

Airstream Classic trailer

The longest offering of all Airstream trailers, the Airstream Classic is also the most luxurious of all models. The Airstream Classic makes it hardly feel like you're in an RV. They offer 30' and 33' models.

This model also sleeps less than most of the other comparable length Airstreams. They can only sleep up to 5. Still, they are considered to have "top of the line everything." So if you are the discerning shopper, this line may be right up your alley.

  • Length: 30' and 33'
  • Sleeps: 5
  • Floor Plans: 4

Where Are Airstream Trailers Made?

The factory that makes Airstream travel trailers is currently in Jackson Center, Ohio.

But history will tell you that Airstream started in Los Angeles in the backyard of founder Wally Byam.

He built his first trailer, and it caught the eye of so many others, Wally decided it might make a good business to get into.

So he opened a shop to build campers in Culver City, California. The Jackson Center plant wasn't born until 1952, but it remains there today.

After Wally Byam died in 1962, ownership changed hands several times before landing in the hands of Thor Industries in 1980. Thor is still the owner of the Airstream brand today.

In 2018, Airstream broke ground to expand its plant in Jackson Center and added 750,000 square feet of factory space to its operation. They moved into this new facility at the end of 2019.

Are Airstreams Worth The Money? Conclusion

So why are Airstreams so expensive? It boils down to many factors: the look, the name, the materials used, and durability.

Van Tramp Airstream RV outdoor rug

Photo By Kerri Overcracker McHale

The fact is that MOST trailer brands only care about their profit. They make their travel trailers as cheaply as possible to make the most bank and attract the most buyers.

The price tag of this type of trailer speaks for itself. With Airstream prices, you do get a lot more value due to its expected life. You get a much longer lifespan due to the aluminum exterior.

The Airstream dream, construction costs, quality control, the aluminum exterior, sleek cabinetry and styling plus so much more are all factors that cause these travel trailers to sell at a higher price point.

The common travel trailer may not be worth but a fraction of its original cost by the time it's 10 years old due to poor construction, budget materials, broken slide-outs, and most often, water damage to walls, wood, flooring, or insulation.

Whether or not a new Airstream is too expensive for you comes down to personal choice. Of course you can save by buying used.

Ask yourself things like:

  • How long do you intend to keep it?
  • What is an Airstream worth to you?
  • How much will you be using a travel trailer?
  • Can you afford one?
  • Do you want the resale value to be high?

These are the things you need to ask yourself before you make a decision. Just know that even with the Airstream models, things can and will go wrong.

No travel trailer is perfect. EVERY brand has some poor reviews, angry customers, and failed components.

It's always a risk to purchase an RV, whether you buy new or used, on sale or for market price, or from dealers or an owner. Repairs are going to be inevitable as reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Greg walking out of Airstream at Tetons

Photo courtesy of This Airstream Life (IG)

Airstream tries to have higher standards, but with Thor at the helm, we know that it's still mostly about the bottom line. Even so, Airstream still makes the list of the best quality travel trailers, according to the RV Consumer Group.

The Airstream quality of long ago no longer exists. Quality control seems to be lacking. These travel trailers are man-made, as are all RVs, so there will always be issues. That said, issues with leaks are much less common with Airstreams.

Taken care of, the aluminium can last a lifetime. The upholstery is of higher quality than most RVs. They have no slide outs to contend with.

There's very little wood to rot. The interior design is WAY better than most of the competition. There's some definite value with an Airstream that you don't get out of a 'standard' RV.

So, is the high expense of this RV life worth it? That's a very personal opinion. It's up to you to decide. (Or your wife to decide? LOL!)

Kelly Headshot

He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona. 

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  • Would you recommend the Airstream for colder climates? I need to travel in winter to Illinois and I don’t want to wake up to frost on the walls.

    • Hi Tracie,

      What do you consider colder climates? I’m not familiar with what the winters are like in Illinois, so I don’t have a point of reference (my house has wheels so I tend to head to warmer climates when the weather turns towards winter).

      There are plenty of people who live full-time in their RV, and I’m sure some of them do it in colder climates.

      Airstreams aren’t known for their insulation properties. They have single pane windows, and the interior aluminum walls get cold when it’s cold outside.

      I’ve sat in friend’s Airstreams before when it’s cold outside. I’ve had my arm close to the wall and can very much feel the cold radiating from the aluminum.

      The aluminum makes for pretty interiors, but also makes for great heat (or cold, in this case) conducting.

      But I’ve never heard of frost on the walls inside. I imagine that’s because the interior is heated, thus keeping any frost at bay.

      If I were to be spending a lot of time in cold climates (living in an RV) I’d opt for a brand that tends to do better in harsher climates.

  • If I may.. 1) THOR became a company, just to buy Airstream. AS is in fact their “oldest product”. 2) Airstream has, and still does occasionally, build campers with slides.

    • Hey Mark,

      Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, Airstream was Thor’s first brand. Thor acquired Airstream in 1980, as we mention in the above article.

      The only Airstream that I am aware of in current production with a slide is one of their Class B motorhome floor plans. To my knowledge there isn’t an Airstream trailer in production with a slide right now. This article is focused on their travel trailers. But, yes, in the past they have made trailers with slides.

  • We live in the hail belt of front range Colorado. Cars here are either hail damaged or will be. Airstreams in CO look like golf balls after a hail storm, even with fairly small hail. Not a pretty picture.

    • Hi Catherine,

      This is absolutely true. I wouldn’t want to have ANY kind of nice car if I lived in that area of Colorado. It’s so prone to bad/frequent hail. But hey, that’s my favorite part of the country at this point. So I would sacrifice having nicer vehicles to be there if/when I ever stop traveling!

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