Underrated doesn’t mean something is the best, just that it’s better than commonly appreciated. Overrated doesn’t mean it’s not good — or even great — just that it isn’t as good as people in general seem to think.
Overrated or underrated is about lowering or raising the status of things. It’s about whether you think people in general regard it too highly, or not highly enough, relative to its actual worth.
Here are some of the things I think are underrated.
- Etihad’s First Apartment. No matter how much buzz it received, it was still revolutionary in the amount of space dedicated to each passenger on the aircraft. That’s the most scarce resource on a plane. And it’s underrated because people love to complain about the bed, that it’s too hard. You have a bench, essentially, that folds out to become a bed and you have a separate seat. The seat doesn’t recline into a bed, so there’s no halfway or ‘lounge’ position. But I still find the seat very comfortable to sit in, and it’s so wide you can curl up into it.
- The Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat. Alongside the Southwest Airlines companion pass and Alaska Airlines $99 credit card companion ticket this is arguably one of the very best deals in travel. Now that Spirit Airlines has improved its reliability and joined up with PreCheck, and is even adding inflight internet, the airline just isn’t as bad as it used to be (indeed, they aren’t as bad as they used to want you to think they were).
They sell what you might think of as first class seats for a pittance above coach, often less than $40. And what you’re getting is exactly what they’re selling – a Big Front Seat – without extra benefits or services. It’s first class on an increasingly decent airline for less than you imagine.
Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo
- Uber. Their reputation has gone through the ringer over the last couple of years. They aren’t the underdog anymore fighting politicians in the pockets of taxi bosses for the right to operate. And their corporate culture has come under huge criticisms, their founding CEO is even gone.
But it’s hard to imagine I only started covering Uber six years ago. Getting around unfamiliar cities is so much easier summoning a ride on my phone with the touch of a button and knowing exactly where the car is on its way to pick me up. There’s not even a physical financial transaction at the end of the ride. When I do use a taxi I have to remind myself I need to pay before getting out and walking away.
Thanks in large measure to Uber and competitors my wife and I share a car, I simply don’t drive very much, and I don’t even rent cars on most of my trips either.
- World of Hyatt. There were no real changes to the points-earning and redemption program at all. Their top elite tier is still the most rewarding for anyone that can make the chain’s 725 or so hotel footprint work. No one else does confirmed suites at booking the same way. No one does full (not continental) breakfast.
The negatives of the program are a second elite tier that isn’t competitive with Marriott or Hilton, and telling folks who used to qualify on 25 stays they weren’t as important as they used to think. They got rid of check-in amenities too for short-expiring free nights. In exchange they added suite upgrades for top elites if available at check-in and a dedicated representative to work with all things Hyatt on.
Execution of the My Hyatt Concierge program should be better, they need to improve benefits for people below top tier and they need a bigger hotel footprint. But the top tier is still the best, overall they’ve been beaten up — some deserved — but ultimately far more than they deserve.
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
- American Airlines Business Class. It’s the best international business class product of any US airline. Lounges are better, food is probably better than you think, and the bedding is somewhat improved too. Cabin crew are a mixed bag, to be sure, but where they aren’t competing against the likes of Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and ANA how much better are their competitors really?
American B/E Aerospace Super Diamond Seat
- AAdvantage miles. Sure finding award space on American Airlines, especially premium cabin international, is often a fool’s errand. But you weren’t really looking to actually fly American using your miles, right? They’re great for partner redemptions, especially to the Mideast and Asia Pacific in business and first class. These are the miles I find I use most often for my own award trips.
Cathay Pacific First Class
- Air France business class Probably because the airline can’t stop striking, and because they still have angled seats in business on the Airbus A380, but Air France doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The airline’s Boeing 777s probably have the best business class across the Atlantic, all things considered.
Air France A380 Business Class Remains Substandard
Here are some things that are overrated:
- Delta’s reliability Delta is known for not cancelling flights, and for operating a more on time airline than all except Hawaiian (not much bad weather in Hawaii) and Alaska (though overall their performance has slipped while integrating Virgin America). Delta’s comparative advantage is their TechOps, which manages to get planes ready to fly despite working with an older fleet than competitors.
And their reliability has created a halo over the product, customers want to fly them. People are willing to give up value in a frequent flyer program. And they’re willing to gloss over deficiencies in the product (they went to 36 inch pitch in first class long before American did).
But at the end of the day they’re more reliable but the gap in on-time performance is a few percentage points. And they shouldn’t get as much of a pass on the rest of their product as they do because of it.
Delta check-in, Austin
- Cathay Pacific’s Wing and Pier First Class lounges they’re nice, and they’re accessible to top tier elites regardless of class of service, but catering has gone downhill a lot.
- United Polaris. Not only are there only a couple dozen planes with new seats two years after the product was announced, they oversold it from the get go — customers for months would email me insisting they were going to have the new seats because United’s website listed their reservation as ‘Polaris’ when that was really just United’s new brand name for long haul business.
They have the best business class bedding in the sky, but even if the new seats were rolled out across the fleet, it’s “keeping up with the Joneses” in the words of their President at best. It’s a lie flat direct aisle access seat that gives each passenger less space than competitors. It’s a way of getting away from the current six and eight across seats on Boeing 777s without taking up more space in the aircraft.
It’s an improvement, to be sure, it’s a reason not to avoid flying United. But it isn’t one of the better business class products in the world, and isn’t even one of the better business seats offered by a U.S. airline.
United Polaris Business Seat
- Pre-merger American Airlines they had just introduced extra legroom coach seats and made a commitment to lie flat seats in business class, very late to the party, and they adopted 10-abreast coach seating for Boeing 777s before US Airways management took over.
Some of the changes customers dislike about the new American, like changes to the frequent flyer program, would have happened with or without the merger (although the specific changes would have been different, not merely aping Delta and United for revenue-based changes, that came down from Scott Kirby/Andrew Nocella).
Oddly I think it’s possible for some things to be both underrated and overrated at the same time.
American Airlines Boeing 767 Business Class in 2015
- British Airways business and first class. They’re generations behind their competitors in terms of product, they’re only just now introducing inflight internet and the business class seats are packed in like sardines. First class is dense, less spacious than American’s first class. And spending miles for this subpar product you get charged a big cash premium — surcharges — to boot.
UK folks overrate British Airways even when they’re aware of its flaws. And there’s still a segment of the population that anchors to the premium airline BA used to be, a pioneer in lie flat beds, and who overrate anything British or even European.
British Airways 777 Business Class Center Seats
But they’re so beat up over quality and price that it’s easy to forget there’s still good award availability, and that they sell paid tickets regularly at a discount. Redeeming miles or during a sale it’s often the case that you’re getting value still, especially in my view first class using American Airlines or Alaska miles when nothing else in a premium cabin is available.
British Airways First Class
- American Express Centurion lounges I’ve called these lounges so crowded nobody goes there anymore. They were lauded when they first opened because they were genuinely better than airline lounges in the U.S. — more stylish, better drinks, and good hot food offerings. Some have showers and spas. But good lounges attract passengers, who spend more time more frequently in the lounge than you ever expect and now they’re crowded. The food investment also seems scaled back to me compared with four years ago as they try to handle the cost that comes with the volume. Still, they are nice which is why so many people go and they get crowded. And they aren’t all, always crowded.
Centurion Lounge Dallas
What about the Goldilocks approach, what’s rated just right? I had a harder time coming up with things that are fairly rated:
- Street food in Southeast Asia. Street food in Bangkok, in Kuala Lumpur, and food stalls in Singapore are widely regarded the world over. I’m tempted to say that even so they’re still underrated because they’re so darned good. But I think it’s fairer to say that they simply live up to the hype.
Singapore Hawker Stalls
What do you think is overrated, underrated, or fairly rated?