The 8 Most Overrated/Underrated Things 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 five things I think are the most underrated.

  1. 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

  2. Uber. Their reputation went through the ringer, then they spent a lot of time trying to be seen as nice. They aren’t the underdog anymore fighting politicians in the pockets of taxi bosses for the right to operate.

    But it’s hard to imagine I only started covering Uber seven 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.

  3. World of Hyatt. There were no real changes to the points-earning and redemption program at all when they changed the Gold Passport name to World of Hyatt. 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 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 caused a backlash. 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 though execution of the My Hyatt Concierge program should be better.

    Hyatt still needs a bigger hotel footprint but they’ve added quickly in percentage terms and through partnerships, and they’ve added the ability to redeem for and upgrade into premium suites, not just standard suites. They also allow points transfers at no cost between members, and redemptions out of a top tier elite account gift that status to the recipient for their stay. It’s a real shame they haven’t aggressively courted dissatisfied Marriott members through status challenges.


    Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

  4. American Airlines Business Class. It’s the best international business class product of any US airline. Lounges are better than Delta, and the bedding is somewhat improved too. They don’t offer doors like Delta, but the seat is spacious and they fly fewer inferior 767s than Delta does. 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

  5. Awards for British Airways business and first class with fuel surcharges. The product is generations behind their competitors, 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.

    They’re going to have new direct aisle access business class seats with doors but it’s the same seat American Airlines has and the seat Qatar Airways dropped to go to the QSuite, and they’re slow walking retrofit of their existing fleet.


    British Airways 777 Business Class Center Seats

    And award redemption on BA can mean a cash co-pay of $1000 or more in addition to the miles you’re redeeming for a subpar product.

    However they’re so beat up over quality and price that it’s easy to forget there’s still good award availability and redeeming miles you’re still getting value still, especially in my view first class using American Airlines or Alaska miles when nothing else in a premium cabin is available. Think of surcharges on a first class award as buying a coach ticket and spending miles for a confirmed triple upgrade.


    British Airways First Class

Here are the 3 things I think are the most are overrated:

  1. 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 Alaska’s 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).

    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

  2. United Polaris. It’s taking years to actually have new seats on planes, United announced the product three years ago but marketed it heavily confusing customers. For months passengers 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.

    United has 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 even without all the cuts to the soft product it isn’t one of the better business classes in the world, and isn’t even one of the better business seats offered by a U.S. airline.


    United Polaris Business Seat

  3. 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, Philadelphia

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, Penang 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. Underrated – buying a seat for a child under 2. Sure, this is a narrow niche, though for all the stressing about flying with babies, this seems to be the difference between intolerable (for both those with the baby and those NEAR the baby) and manageable. Just because something can be free doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  2. Def agree on the Big Front Seat. As for AA’s business class, I suppose it’s true on tatl. I’m usually flying to Asia, though, where I cannot imagine any sane human being actually choosing them over their jv partner jal — or cx, ana, ke, oz, sg…

  3. You will never give Delta the credit they deserve and cut them up for anything they do wrong. SkyMiles is far from the being the best, but the rest of Delta easily beats AA and UA. It is pretty remarkable that Delta does as well as they do. With older planes and and very poorly located hubs (with exception of ATL), Delta does well at things that UA and AA routinely screw up. Meanwhile AA does so much wrong and somehow you still think it is ok. Will I ever experience AA Business? Probably not, because the couple 100k AA miles that I have are going to be used on a partner. It also doesn’t impress me that my in-laws with millions of AA miles are having difficulty redeeming them for flights 10 months from now. You criticize SkyMiles, AA wants 360K, in J, roundtrip to PHL to DUB in March.

    Your other 7 points, I can agree with you.

  4. Overrated: Emirates. They get lots of media love because of their first class suites (and onboard showers) which a very small percentage of their passengers actually experience. But their business class is a mixed bag: seat type (angled vs lie flat) and configuration (2-3-2, 2-2-2, or 1-2-1) vary depending on aircraft. And Emirates was one of the early adopters of 10 across in economy on 777s.

    Underrated: herringbone business seats, like on Air New Zealand. People focus on the seat’s drawbacks (awkward to look out the window) but overlook the seat’s benefits. No enclosed footwell means no restricted space for your feet. Plus, the footrest can be used as a companion seat.

  5. Fairly rated: Singapore Airport. Butterfly garden. Swimming pool. Lots of other ways to pass the time or relax between flights. Security machines at gates is a better system. Very well run. Deserves its reputation as the best airport in the world.

  6. @andy11235- you are mad. AA TranPac Biz class is miles ahead of The overrated CX product. Let’s begin by just last week, FINALLy, CX announced bedding and slippers! Aa had extremely comfortable Casper Bedding ,and full Pajamas… IFE goes to AA, Dining goes to AA, this use to be a win for CX but their catering in biz has been shit the last two years…

    AA also leaves out snacks and drinks In the galley. I like this, it’s a nice touch.. AA has air Nozles ..

    Only mixed bag is the cabin crew. Cx wins, but hard product. AA by far. Need to revisit that old narrative

  7. Agree with most of your thoughts! I’m a big fan of American. Some good sweet spots. Nice lounges. Good seats. Decent service in the front and guaranteed economy plus for free for whole fam if platinum.

    Underrated – lifemiles. Everyone complains about websites, changing flights etc. but I find the call center to be perfectly usable. New website is a downgrade but otherwise almost miraculous value when you buy points at 1.3c! Have had multiple “cheap” biz flights on Swiss Lufthansa and united domestic biz.

  8. Overrated:. Airline status. Just use points for F/J, so status does very little.

    Underrated: Hilton Aspire. Get off the hotel status chasing carousel, and get paid for it too.

  9. Two great points. American gets a bad rap because of its domestic operations with a plane flying 4 different routes a day of course a union heavy airline like American is going to have problems. But international 777 and 787 business class is right up there with Cathay for the hard product. I actually like the color scheme and paneling better on AA than Cathay.

    Delta has the worst frequent flyer program. Out of NYC the only routinely avaliable business class saver space is to London on Virgin Atlantic and very occasionally to Korea on KAL. Everything else is terrible and anytime awards are astronomical like 350k for something that would be 150k anytime on American or united. The upholstery on Delta’s Delta One is awful. I’d take American’s 767s any day.

  10. Overrated – This blog every time it re-uses the Puddle of Mud singer video whenever a baggage claim story is the subject.

  11. Overrated: domestic first class

    Maybe not by readers of this blog but oh jeeze when I tell a non-frequent-flyer friend I got an upgrade from like LAX to DEN they ask me how many celebrities I saw and how much Dom Perignon did I drink lol

  12. BA business class is perfect unlike the first class which is also perfect but a bit underrated in my opinion. One should try it at least once.

    Anybody wanna explore the Himalayas?

  13. I’ll agree here with AA business class, it’s much much better than Cathay business class. I was very disappointed flying in Cathay J earlier this year.

  14. It’s odd that in your positive evaluation of AA business class, you acknowledge the hit or miss quality of AA staff, when for me, the consistency of how I am treated by staff is the most important factor (behind safety) when choosing an airline. Because of the consistency I receive from Delta, there is no competition between the two. In truth, the last time I flew AA was almost 2 years ago, so maybe things are better. On a side note, unless you are specifically making a comparison to the 787 or A350, I do not find the 767 to offer an inferior premium class product.

  15. Agree on BA. Though the surcharges are high, award availability as well as availability to upgrade to CW with miles from a PE ticket at booking are very good (probably for that reason). On top of that, they took the reverse course from UA and vastly improved their food in the air, and their lounges are not the worn out, standing room only, cheese, cracker and bud places that most of UA’s are, other than the Polaris lounges, which are slow being rolled out (IAD still doesn’t have one).

    Also agree on UA Polaris. The new seats are starting to pop up on my TATL routes this year, and they are nice, but UA’s food and service has noticeably deteriorated since Polaris was rolled out.

    I purchased a very long haul couple of flights in business a few days ago (a 7 hour followed by a 12 hour, and then a return) and am actually looking forward to flying it on BA and using BA (and Cathay and Qantas) lounges rather than on UA. Not only that, I was unable to use any of my GPUs (as a 1K) on any UA routing, and BA was slightly cheaper. (Maybe I will purchase an upgrade to First on a leg or two.) I don’t like that you have to pay for the better seats, but as an AA Plat for now, I get that waived.

  16. You complain about AA’s loss of seat back screens, then claim Delta’s halo comes from on time performance. No, Delta’s halo comes from its in flight experience, which is light years ahead of where Delta was a decade ago, even 5 years ago.

    For most overrated, I’ll say every domestic frequent flyer program, save Alaska and (maybe) WN. Award availability is absolute junk. Upgrades are just as bad. Our CO and USA Mastercards (and the accumulated miles) turned to garbage after the Ua and AA mergers. I even cancelled my WN Visa. Why bother with the headache? If you want to sit in the front of the plane, just pay to sit in the front of the plane.

    Most underrated: MCO. People whine about this airport just because of all the families with little kids. OTOH, Orlando is pretty easy to get around and big enough for its pax. It’s better able to handle its large crowds than any other US airport.

    Most underrated: vacationing off season. For those of us who are crowd averse, or cheap, off season destinations are the best, whether it’s Madrid in January or Miami in August.

    BTW, if I ever walked into a Centurion lounge and saw it as crowded as that photo, I’d cancel my card.

  17. Underrated – Southwest. I change & cancel my reservations all the time with no penalty – at worst I have to take a credit to use on another flight. Easy to get an aisle seat. Sometimes more convenient airports (OAK).

    Overrated – Airbnb. When you buy a chain hotel room you almost always know what you will receive. Airbnb properties are never as nice as the photos, and the bathrooms are almost always the weakest link. Daily maid service is definitely underrated.

  18. I completely disagree about Hyatt being underrated. There were MANY negative changes when they went from GP to WoH (need I remind you of the truly awful Reddit AMA Hyatt held). From the moment of that announcement, I’d argue that most top-tier travelers moved to SPG. While I know that SPG is now gone and Hyatt is the best program for top-tier elites, it’s certainly not as good as it was pre-WoH and is much harder to attain top-tier (previously 25 stays, in 2020 it’s 60+ nights) with a very limited footprint. Also, in their effort to expand, they’re doing it by adding alliances with groups like SLH and others that don’t offer elite benefits.

    While Hyatt is the best that’s out there, let’s not reward them from being best in a significantly-weakened field, since their program is worse than it was only a few years ago.

  19. Underrated: Timeshare Travel. Now that the big brands allow hotel points folks are finally seeing what all the fuss with extra space/washer dryers in unit/kitchens is all about! Too expensive? So is 60,000 Bonvoy Points or $600/night if you don’t own!

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