What’s Overrated/Underrated in Travel

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.


    The Pier

  • 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?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Wait until your been working for 24 hours straight zombie Uber driver falls asleep on you while driving on the freeway…

  2. I really appreciate this article and reading you defend your opinion. Totally agree with Uber as being underrated. Ride-sharing companies have become so integrated in society people really don’t even imagine a time that we didn’t have them.

    I would say low-level elite status is overrated. There has been a lot of promotions recently with U.S. airlines essentially giving away their lowest levels for a temporary amount of time, first class cabins are reducing seats making upgrades nearly impossible. TSA Pre has diminished the need for priority security and premium credit cards typically give the benefits of the status.

  3. Overrated – SPG – Most sheratons in the states are the same as then an aging crown plaza or raddison and the top rated hotels are too expensive in terms of redemptions and cost

    Underrated – low level hotel redemptions. U can make great road trips and nice weekend adventures out of tier 1/2 hotel redemptions

  4. Underrated: Hilton Honors. Free breakfast even at Gold (full breakfast at many brands). Diamond easily attainable with Amex Aspire. Diamond status is not diluted if you travel int’l, since the easy path is only available in the US. Redemption at top tier resorts like Conrad Ko Samui or Maldives at 95k points for $500-1000/night rooms, and 5th night free.

    Overrated: Airline status in general. If you’re like me then you are usually flying on award tickets in premium cabins, so status would get me very little incremental benefit. Upgrades are becoming rare, and you can get access to PP or Centurion lounges without status anyway.

  5. Overrated – Use of AA miles on Partner awards. If you want to go to Europe from the West Coast, it’s weak. If it wasn’t for Iberia, it would be a big zero for me.

    Sure I used to love Cathay Pacific F when they would release two. Etihad used to be easy. So now you have to play the one F, one J game and hope CX releases something, or figure out which pacific island to call to book EY (which I am not so keen on after my last trip in F to India – the connection in AUH was evocative of what Wembley stadium must have been like just before the crush, and this was as an F passenger). I’ll try JAL next time I go to Asia, but that’s about 5 trips to Europe from now.

    I use IB miles and snag the seats before AAdvantage can get them.

    Thanks for letting me rant!

  6. Overrated: Etihad, Hyatt playing games with room availability for award nights, and Avios and lack of availability on BA.

  7. Underrated- Direct messaging the Hyatt concierge on Twitter. They typically respond in minutes, as opposed to my assigned concierge who almost never replied or follows up.

  8. I’d rather be in BA F than AA F just about any day of the week…AA seat may technically be more “spacious”, but I think it’s way too open to the aisle, I don’t need to rotate my seat to create a working desk, and the BA catering is better IMO.

    BTW anyone who says SPG is “mostly crappy hotels” is divorced from reality.

  9. Overrated: JL F

    Underrated: 24 fitness centers. Its embarassing when hotel fitness centers only open at 5am or 6am.

  10. ” So now you have to play the one F, one J game” I would rather take the risk of getting another F T-14 on CXF than fly JL F.

  11. “Uber. Their reputation has gone through the ringer over the last couple of years.”

    That’s wringer, like the washing machine that squeezes the bejeebers out of laundry to get the water out.

    Thanks for the great post. I have to figure out how to file it as it’s helpful on numerous fronts.

  12. Nice post. Original and innovative.

    On the overrated side, I’d say any Hyatt status but Globalist. The tangible benefits are quite limited. Also, Singapore Airlines Private Room. It’s secluded, if that’s what you’re looking for, but service was surprisingly mediocre, the food selections are rather limited, and it’s a bit stuffy. Certainly not awful, but overrated.
    For underrated, SPG stands alone at the top. The super weirdly timed midyear merger isn’t even complete, and Marriott is already gutting the program. “We promised you breakfast at Courtyard hotels. Wait, you actually believed us? Just wait ’til you see what we do next.”

  13. Overrated — Any airline seat that doesn’t lie flat and any hotel room with less than two bathrooms.

    Underrated — Staying home.

  14. Spirits “Big Front Seat” is rather great for domestic flights. The only reason why I don’t fly them, is the excess checked and carry-on bag fee’s. I get those free with United and American. With Spirit it would cost a ton. However, judging SOLELY from the actual flight itself – I much preferred Spirit’s “Big Front Seat” from New Jersey to Florida, over United’s First Class. On a two and a half hour flight, I could care less about drinks and food, so just on comfort? Shockingly – Spirit wins.

  15. Street food in Singapore, as excellent as it is, is overrated as compared to Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Malacca, Medan, Jakarta, etc. As Singapore has become one of the richest cities in the world, fewer are interested in being hawkers, and fewer still are interested in putting in the massive effort to prepare food in the traditional manner. Singapore has fully industrialized food service businesses, and it is easy and cost effective for hawkers to purchase things like noodles, condiments, sauces, etc. from an food service commissary than to make these things oneself. If you order say, fried carrot cake or noodles from a hawker in Singapore, it is highly unlikely that hawker made those things himself, but rather that they were made in an industrial kitchen. In these other cities, you can be much more assured that most every part of the dish is made traditionally in the artisanal manner every day. The hawker food in Singapore therefore has a uniformity and sameness while a hawker in Penang or Medan will almost surely have his or her own unique recipes. Also, as Singapore has become a first world economy, the kampongs and farms have been basically eliminated from the city, and ingredients like vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, etc., is likely to have been caught, raised, or grown in Malaysia or Indonesia, and of course those ingredients will be fresher and easier to source in those places.

    Also, while Singaporeans have become richer and more worldly, they tend to value hygiene, comfort, ambiance, and (worst of all) trendiness, over the quality of the food. Relatedly, health, environmental and hygiene regulations can make it impossible to cook food traditionally. It is now vanishingly rare in Singapore to find hawkers cooking over charcoal, and almost all hawkers use gas, and dishes cooked in this manner can never taste the same. Char kway teow or almost anything cooked over charcoal will always taste better than the same dish cooked over gas.

    And lastly, food in Singapore no longer has the importance in the culture as it once did. Singaporeans are wealthy and can afford a wide range of diversions, and food is just one of them. In Malaysian cities and villages, food remains a much more central and common obsession.

    Again, this is not to say that the food in Singapore is anything but magnificent, and worth a trip for the food alone from anyplace in North America or Europe. I’m only suggesting that it is overrated with reference to the street food in these other cities, and that the street food in Singapore can no longer be considered of the same level as that of Penang, KL, Medan, etc. I don’t think that most Singaporeans serious about food would challenge that assessment.

  16. I agree about Delta’s on-time performance being over-rated. Everyone has a gut-clutcher about some airline. But the reality is that on-time performance and cancellations are a percent or two different amongst airlines, and while that percent-or-two often tips Delta’s way, it doesn’t always. But perhaps Delta is under-rated in that they seem not to be trying to make coach miserable with packed seating – e.g. they are staying with 9-abreast on the 777 it seems.

  17. @ Gary — Spirit’s planes are nasty filfthy. I would, however, use them again in a pinch.

  18. @Gary, thanks for the sad confirmation of the CX lounge current catering. I loved the new F pier when it opened!

  19. Underrated: Hilton Honors. As mentioned above, the breakfast benefit is pretty good compared to other hotel chains. And Conrads and Waldorfs are usually pretty great, particularly outside the U.S. Having Diamond status from the Hilton credit card and getting treated like royalty at the Conrad Tokyo or Waldorf Shanghai is nice.

    Overrated: JAL F — it’s hardly better than J if you get an aircraft with the Apex suite. And I think the JAL lounges at both NRT and HND are pretty weak, especially the food.

    Underrated: BA Club World if you can get a window seat on the upper deck of a 747. Private and actually pretty spacious, especially if you can get an exit row and not have to step over anyone else to get to the aisle. With a sale fare and 10% off from the Chase Visa and $200 off from AARP, it can be a stellar value.

  20. Overrated:
    -avios. I have yet to find any use for the 110,000 I’ve had for over 4 years.
    -AA miles. How can I use these again? : )
    -giant suites. The first few times you stay in a suite with a living room that seats 20, a full sized dining room, a kitchen, etc., it’s very exciting and you take pictures of everything (even if you aren’t a blogger). After a while, you just feel lost in all that space. I love a separate, modest living room, but I’ll take the nice”Jr. suite” over the Presidential Suite any time. (Though everyone should do it at least once!)

    Underrated:
    -hotel club access. In most good hotels, it’s so nice to have breakfast, happy hour, and daytime snacks and drinks available that I will pay more than it’s technically worth just for the convenience.
    -lyft. They’ve really stepped up their game and I’m starting to use them more than Uber.
    -good travel bloggers. People love to rag on you guys, but you are invaluable to many of us. I put in searches for questions every day that always end with “boarding area”– it keeps out the ads and assures I get superior info.
    Thank, Gary!

  21. Overrated: International F. I just don’t find it to be worth the price premium. Get me a flat bed and I’m good.

    Also, hotel club lounge access during leisure trips to the city. I’m a bit of a foodie, and travel to foodie places, so the hotel club lounge competes for my attention (and calorie limit) for the precise reason I traveled.

    Underrated: European LCC’s. Ryanair gets a bad rap, but they fly non-stop to *lots* of place that the European legacies don’t. They also have an upfront “plus” package of sorts, where for a single price, you get all of the “extras” without having to worry about hunting down every last extra fee. When I travel for leisure, that’s the way to go.

  22. Agree that Eithad apartments are underrated, though let’s bear in mind that Eithad is facing some big financial challenges, that it has already had some cutbacks (from three to one JFK-AUH per day) and that there may yet be more cutbacks in store, including for the apartments and the service that goes with them.

    Thanks for the reminder re the Spirit Big Front Seat. I’d forgotten about that. All I really care about is the room in the domestic front cabins of UA, AA, etc. – I’ll bring my own meals if necessary and supply my own laptop entertainment (and AA is eliminating lots of in-seat screens anyway). Spirit could well fill the bill for some future trips.

    As for overrated: The whole mileage game. I say that as someone who plays it avidly and who uses it to score nice premium (usually first class) international vacation flights for my wife and myself. But I say it’s overrated in that a lot of time and effort goes into getting, tracking and especially using the miles and points for this hobby. One big fault of most blogs (including this one, though I still value it) is that they don’t come anywhere near accurately portraying the work involved.

  23. I totally agree with you on Air France biz much better than BA or the others to Europe. EK of course the other way around.

    WOH is a disaster unless of course your a Globalist. I was a 10 year top tier until the change over while I do miss it I found going back to my Marriott LFT PLT coupled with the meager offers some great properties such as Meridian St Regis etc with a larger foot print

  24. Underrated:
    American Flagship First. $ for $, often ignored in comparisons, it’s better than OK.
    American’s Flagship First dining rooms. The food is on par with the Pier and the Concorde room.
    Shangri-La hotels. Setting a World standard IMO.

    Overrated:
    Delta. ‘Nuff said.
    British Airways, including First. I would rather poke myself in the eye with a six-inch nail than fly BA, and they have the only nonstop from LHR to my home city. And BTW, I was born in England so national bias doesn’t apply. They are appallingly arrogant but don’t deliver.
    IHG points: You can only ever book a base room. Points can’t be used for upgrades. Effectively worthless.
    CX Pier First Class lounge. Yes it’s nice. But it ain’t *that* nice.

    Fairly rated: CX First. Just very, very good.

  25. Underrated:
    — I’ll agree with others who have said Hilton Honors is underrated; I’ve received very good redemption rates, and status is easy to obtain.
    — Pre-merger SPG: *Great* redemptions, great cash+points redemptions; great availability. Post-merger/post 8/1/18…not so much — this indeed may now become “overrated.” Certainly their cc is no longer a great option for unbonused spend.
    — Alaska Airlines: Sure they’re having “growing pains” with fully integrating VX into their system, and there are certainly some downsides (e.g.: adding seats in First on VX metal, thereby ruining what was one of the top F experiences for a US airline¹, award chart devaluations, etc.). That said, a) there are *still* great redemption awards available domestically, and for an independent carrier, they have a great array of “partner” airlines with much of the award chart still providing great value; b) the quality of food is getting better; and c) I’ve found their Customer Service to be one of the best out there.
    — Southwest: Everyone knows how good their Companion Pass, but their “Two Bags for the Price of None” (i.e.: two free checked bags) has been around for so long it’s often overlooked, and as long as you have 0-1 stops, it’s still a great deal. (2+ stops is simply a PITA.)

    Overrated:
    –The US L3. OK, I’ll accept Gary’s assessment that AA’s J internationally is the best of the the L3, but I’d still rather fly a foreign carrier (and with AS’s award chart and/or the transferable miles/points from Chase, Citi, Amex, and SPG , I find that’s very doable). But I’ve yet to find. real reason to fly one of the L3 on a regular basis².
    — Hyatt: WOH. ‘nuf said.
    — Kimpton: while they can be “hip” and/or “cool,” most Kimpton’s I’ve stayed in have rooms that feel the size of a walk-in closet.
    — Business Class on intra-European flights: why bother?

    Just my 2¢, and worth far less I’m sure…keep the change.

    __________
    ¹ Granted lie-flat seats in transcon First are available on jetBlue, and on several planes operated by the L3. In a time when AS should be installing lie-flats, losing legroom by adding an extra row is a problem.
    ² Granted (again) most of my flights over the past few years have been domestic (but with 2-4 international flight segments per year), but I haven’t flown AA since 9/2017 — and only then, because my AS flight was cancelled and AS rebooked me on AA; UA since 4/2016, though I am taking an award flight on UA next month (transferred Chase UR points); and I last flew on DL in March of 2014.

  26. If you are going to praise uber, you have to mention public transportation. Most of what you said about the rideshare company can also apply to riding bus, subway, or light rail, and is usually much cheaper to boot. Throw in triple points with premium travel cards and a better view of new cities than uber, public transportation is superior in many ways.

  27. From my own experience, Uber is rather overrated than underrated. Cosmic fares, cancellation fees, unprofessional drivers, every other ride is a mess. Well, maybe that’s only my super-power to attract all kinds of miseries.

  28. Get this Cascade Wallet from Mani Wonders to make your travel easier. It is a minimalistic Wallet made to make checkouts easier than ever. A great travel essential.

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