Why Are Airstream Campers So Expensive? (Must-Read!)
By Kelly Beasley
Last Updated: September 23, 2022
There's no doubt about it. Airstream trailers are a classic American icon. But why are Airstreams so expensive?
Indeed, 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 modern and inviting and are giant leaps more appealing than most drab and lackluster travel trailer and motorhome interiors on the market.
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 reason why an Airstream camper costs so much. And BOY,, do they!
But how does one know if they are worth the cost? (Airstream pros and cons)
So why are Airstreams so expensive? Is it the high-quality materials? Or is the expense 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 make 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 of the camper trailer brands in the country. They were started by founder Wally Byam back in the 1930s.
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 of aluminum. Airstream has a reputation for being a costly 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 a 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?
How much are Airstreams? They are the most expensive mainstream camper on the market for what you get. One might say they are costly because they look so cool.
That may be a minor factor, but there's much more to why they have a high price tag.
They DO look amazing, but the manufacturer (Thor Industries) 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 the cost of a new Airstream trailer is so high are:
Let's expand on each to find out why they contribute to the high cost.
Airstream Build Materials
Airstream trailer costs are more than a 'normal' trailer partly because of the high-quality components used in 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.
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.
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 them 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 vocabulary. Because of this, those RVs are not expected to have a very long life span.
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 $46,000.
Even though the cost of Airstream trailers is high, the aluminum construction dents easily. One must take great care to keep it looking flawless.
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.
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. (As of 2020, Airstream started using a composite floor.)
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.
Because of their longevity, Airstreams are often a top choice when it comes to full time travel trailers.
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.
The above reasons are the biggest reason for the hefty purchase price, but there's also something fans LOVE about seeing these shiny bullets moving down the highway.
Some people even romanticize the brand.
Still, pricing is reflected in the materials used.
Though these trailers have their problems, in the long run, their durability and appeal outmatch that of their competitors.
These trailers are also made in America and are made BY Americans in Jackson Center, Ohio. Being made in America is an essential consideration for some, though the vast majority of RVs sold in North America are made in North America. Airstream is 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.
Take a deep breath for the sticker shock... new Airstream trailer prices range from:
- Cheapest Starting Price: $46,000
- Most Expensive Starting Price: $206,500
And for $46,000 (base cost for the Basecamp), you're only getting a tiny 16-foot 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 Cost
Basecamp Starting Price: $46,000
The Airstream Basecamp is a 16-foot small camper trailer and is a fully-contained RV.
It's different from the traditional bullet-style trailer. Still, it comes complete with an aluminum exterior made of aircraft-quality materials and a booth/table that converts to a bed, shower, sink, toilet, stove, and refrigerator.
It has all the comforts needed to get out in nature and still provides 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. It comes in a single axle only.
- Length: 16 feet
- Sleeps: 2
- Floor Plan Options: 1
Airstream Nest Cost
(As of mid-2020, Airstream no longer makes the Nest.)
The Nest is the least recognizable towable Airstream because it's not made of aluminum. It is a fairly new model, made of fiberglass, and is a tiny 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.
Airstream Bambi Cost
Bambi Starting Price: $59,300
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 four floor plans. It is very light and fits in pretty much any campground. The base weight is 3,000 pounds, and you can only add 500 lbs of cargo. This trailer also needs less towing capacity than many of the other models. Single axle only.
- Length: 16 to 22 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 4
- Floor Plan Options: 4
Airstream Caravel Cost
Caravel Starting Price: $74,000
One floorplan of the Caravel features wrap-around 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 $15,000 higher than the Bambi. Otherwise, these two models offer identical floorplans and lengths. Single axle only.
- Length: 16 to 22 feet
- Sleeps: Up to 4
- Floor Plan Options: 4
Airstream Flying Cloud Cost
Flying Cloud Starting Price: $94,400
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 feet and going up to 30 feet, 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 feet
- Sleeps: 4-8
- Floor Plan Options: 16
Airstream International Serenity Cost
International Serenity Starting Price: $109,100
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 feet
- Sleeps: 4-6
- Floor Plans: 12
Airstream Globetrotter Cost
Globetrotter Starting Price: $126,900
Featuring a very modern kitchen, this Airstream isn't messing around. Its starting cost tells you a lot, and 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 feet
- Sleeps: 4-6
- Floor Plans: 8
Airstream Classic Cost
Classic Starting Price: $188,100
The longest length offered of all their models, the Airstream Classic is also the most luxurious of the lot. The Airstream Classic makes it hardly feel like you're in an RV, and they offer 30 and 33-foot models.
This model also sleeps fewer 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." It's the most expensive Airstream line they make. So if you are a discerning shopper, this line may be right up your alley, and the Airstream RV cost is something at which you might not bat an eye.
- Length: 30 and 33 feet
- Sleeps: 5
- Floor Plans: 4
Why Are Used Airstreams So Expensive?
A used airstream is still a legendary brand. The components are made to last, and they do last longer than a typically made camper. The aluminum exterior will outlast a human if taken care of properly. Therefore, these campers last a very long time and maintain their value, even when used.
Why Are Vintage Airstreams So Expensive?
A vintage Airstream also holds value well. Partly because there are designs people wish were still made but aren't, so the demand is high for existing ones, which keeps the price high.
Why Do Airstreams Cost So Much? Conclusion
So why are Airstreams so expensive? It boils down to many factors: the look, the name, the materials used, and durability.
The fact is that MOST trailer brands only care about their profit, and they make their travel trailers as cheaply as possible to make the most bank and attract the most buyers.
The expense of this type of trailer speaks for itself. With Airstream prices, you get a lot more value due to its expected life, and 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 premium price.
The standard travel trailer may not be worth but a fraction of its original cost by the time it's ten 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 the cost of an Airstream travel trailer is too expensive for you comes down to personal choice. Of course, you can save by buying used.
Ask yourself things like:
These are the things you need to ask yourself before you make a decision. Just know that things can and will go wrong even with the Airstream models.
No travel trailer is perfect, and EVERY brand has some poor reviews, angry customers, and failed components.
It's always a risk to purchase a trailer, whether you buy new or used, on sale or for market value, or from dealers or an owner. Repairs are going to be inevitable as reliability cannot be guaranteed.
Airstream tries to have higher standards, but with Thor at the helm, we know that it's still mainly about the bottom line. Even so, Airstream still makes the list of the top-rated RV manufacturers, according to the RV Consumer Group.
The Airstream quality of long ago no longer exists, and quality control seems to be lacking. These travel trailers are man-made, as are all RVs, so there will always be issues. That said, problems with leaks are less common with Airstreams.
Taken care of, the aluminum lasts more than a lifetime. The upholstery is of higher quality than most RVs, and they have no slide-outs to contend with.
There's very little wood to rot. The inside 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 cost of Airstream campers a good deal? That's a very personal opinion, and it's up to you to decide if the price of a new Airstream (or a used one) is a good buy for you.
Author: Kelly Beasley
As a seasoned and passionate RVing expert, I have dedicated myself to living the full-time RV life for over 5.5 years, immersing myself in the unique quirks and joys of the boondocking lifestyle and gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience along the way. In December 2020, my business partner and I made the transition to part-time RVing, but in January 2023, we hit the road once again, this time in our trusty vans. My mission is to help others embrace the RVing lifestyle with confidence and excitement, armed with the knowledge and resources needed to make the most of their adventures. I believe that the more you know, the more you can truly appreciate and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the open road. Join me on this journey and let's make some unforgettable memories.
Airstream gives tours at their Jackson Center, OH plant and has a Heritage Center (including Wally and Stella’s RV). It might give you a chance to ask about perceived quality issues instead of complaining about them. Not sure if they are doing tours right now as covid remains a concern. I know folks who work there and quality and design are top considerations.
I have personally heard Bob Wheeler (Airstream’s CEO) discuss the importance of quality and being customer responsive any number of times.
Airstream has a number of customer feedback groups and base new design features on what folks what. A good example is the recent e-stream concept travel trailer, unveiled at the recent RV show in Tampa. No one is even close to the technology, nor able to support electric vehicles with axles that generate electricity and help recharge the tow vehicle. The best any other travel trailer can do is 150 miles on a single charge. The e-Stream can do 300 miles.
The biggest complaint in the industry is having to use the tow vehicle to back the travel trailer; the e-Stream concept allows for remote control so you can use your ipad and tell the trailer where to go.
It’s understandable that you balk at the price but that’s a personal issue you probably aren’t qualified to make for every person reading your article. SInce an RV is considered a second home by the IRS, there are income tax ramifications you didn’t mention.
Finally, THOR (the initials of the original investors of the holding company who bought Airstream), was created to buy Airstream in 1980. Airstream remains their top brand, although they have acquired many other brands since then, including Dutchman, Jayco, and my personal nostalgic favorite, Starcraft.
Each person contemplating getting an Airstream, or any other travel trailer, must make the decision of whether it’s affordable for them on their own. Nowhere in the article do we try to sway anyone from buying, nor do we promote buying. As stated in the article, it’s a personal choice.
And Airstreams are great, but they are also just RVs. All RVs come with issues and problems. It’s the nature of the beast. The more one uses it, the more issues they’re likely to have. But the better quality RV you buy, the fewer chances of having relentless problems.
We have many, MANY friends that own Airstreams. And quite naturally, they all have had issues. Some big, others small annoying stuff.
The worst one was very recently- friends of ours found quite a bit of mold under their water heater due to a leak, which is a dangerous and expensive problem to have.
As with any RV, things break. But with an Airstream, it’s a lot of money to put into a depreciating travel trailer (sure, they hold value better than most other RVs, but they still depreciate and are NOT an investment) than one would put into most other trailers.
Therefore, they need to know the pros and the cons of it. That’s what this article does for prospective buyers.
We considered an Airstream but thankfully we talked to a handful of RV repair people and someone who has owned multiple Airstreams… they all said the same thing — they look super cool but are built like crap. Glad we didn’t do it… but they do look awesome!
Yup, Airstream has LONG been a Thor product… and Thor is really a THOR-N in Marshall’s side. He always gives Airstream owners crap about the fact that the quality, though it looks good, often is troublesome.
I still think one day I wouldn’t mind having one. Especially one that someone has already gutted and remodeled! That way the quality is likely better, and if something breaks, it’s much easier to self-fix. You can replace a plywood wall with lumber from Home Depot. You can’t replace an Airstream wall from anything from any hardware store. So, it’s cheaper and probably faster to do it yourself. I like the idea of self-built rigs for this reason.
The outside look of an Airstream is FANTASTIC. Did you end up getting another brand of RV?
We live full-time in a 19 ft. corner bed unit Airstream.
There’s a brand of clothing my wife and I have worn for about 40 years. I have one of their coats that’s at least 30 years old and still wear it. The clothing is expensive. My wife manages to find their clothing on sale, she never pays full-price. Then again, given the quality of the clothing, one doesn’t need to purchase many new items.
It’s expensive clothing, but it is less expensive than most other clothing. Buy a pair of jeans at Walmart, yes they’re less expensive, but you’ll keep on buying jeans for years. Buy one pair of the quality jeans and it will be years before you need to buy another pair. The fact is, poor people can’t afford to shop at Walmart, but to not have to shop there they have to be able to pay up front for the quality jeans. It works for the stockholders.
Airstreams are expensive, but they are less so in the long run. If one is a buy and hold sort of person, Airstreams are a bargain. Keep it for ten years and you’ll be able to sell it for the same price you paid for it.
Oh, and Airstream floors are now a synthetic never rot composite.
Yep, we totally agree that the longevity of an Airstream is excellent long as it’s taken care of properly!
As far as clothing goes, yeah, I still have some Lulu Lemmon (sp?) pants that a client gave me over a decade ago. They are still in great shape! But I rarely stay interested in clothes to keep them for that long. Lately, I’ve become a Walmart clothing buyer.
I have definitely noticed a couple of shirts ‘pilling’ pretty quickly though. Not happy about that. Might stick with Old Navy and Gap because of it!
Thanks for the input! Glad you’ve been enjoying your long-lasting clothes!!
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.
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.
Check out Airskirts.
I answered you yesterday accidentally by email! First time I have ever done that. Anyway, also replying here… Yes, Airskirts are a pretty awesome-looking product! Sure would help an Airstream since it’s poorly insulated all the way around.
Sure takes away the ‘trailer trash’ look that using straw bales or even the panels provide, lol! They are very expensive, but we imagine that if they work well and are a quality product, it would be great for anyone living full-time in an RV who needs help with insulation in an RV that is not known for being well insulated.
Thanks for the tip!
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.
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.
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!