Nov. 30, 2011 at 11:49 AM ET
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
It’s less than a month before Christmas, when the children will nestle all snug in their beds — provided there are enough beds, that is. If you have family and friends coming in for the holidays, an inflatable air mattress can make a cost-effective guest bed. While visions of sugarplums might be a stretch, loved ones can rest in relative comfort for less than $70.
Size dictates price to a certain extent, but you can find up to a queen-size air mattress on a budget. Heights range from between 5 and 8 inches for camping to about 25 inches, comparable to the height of a mattress and box spring. Higher air mattresses tend to be more expensive and feel more like beds. It’s also easier to lie down on and get up from a mattress that approximates the height of a bed. However, a shorter, narrower bed works fine for young children. Just be sure never to place an infant on an air mattress. The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that the soft surface of an air mattress poses a risk of suffocation.
Many budget air mattresses come with some type of pump included. A built-in electric pump is easiest to use: Just plug it in, turn it on, and watch the mattress inflate. (Pricier models sometimes come with a remote control.) A separate pump costs $10 to $50 more, so if you buy a mattress without a pump, be sure to factor that in.
Low-cost air mattresses tend to be made from easy-to-clean, puncture-resistant vinyl such as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Many feature a top surface with a soft texture to prevent sliding. Multiple air chambers translate to a firmer (and often more expensive) mattress. Some air mattresses also contain “coils” that connect the top and bottom to help prevent sagging.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable air mattresses.
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