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.
- The Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat. Alongside the Southwest Airlines companion pass, the Alaska Airlines $99 credit card companion ticket, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club redemptions on ANA, this is arguably one of the very best deals in travel. Pre-pandemic Spirit Airlines had improved its reliability and joined up with PreCheck, and then finally layered on inflight internet. Their recent operational problems aside, 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 although often for more than they used to. And what you’re getting is exactly what they’re selling – a Big Front Seat – without extra benefits besides earlier boarding. It’s first class on an increasingly decent airline for less than you imagine. I actually wish JetBlue was not in the process of trying to close a deal to acquire Spirit.
Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo
- 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. Now they’re the ones blocking competitors. And they seem to have scaled back their entrepreneurial ambitions.
But it’s hard to imagine I only started covering Uber nine 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 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 1000 or so hotel footprint work. No one else does confirmed suites at booking the same way, let alone opportunities for premium suite redemptions. No one else 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 in exchange for expiring free nights. 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, though they’ve added brands and alliance partner hotels. 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, preferring to recruit American Airlines flyers instead.
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
- American Airlines Business Class. It’s the best international business class product of any US airline. Lounges are better than Delta at least until Delta rolls out their new premium lounge product, and the bedding is somewhat improved too. They don’t offer doors like Delta, but the seat is spacious and they don’t fly inferior 767s like 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
And that’s all before introducing a new business class suite with doors that is supposed to be accompanied by a new business class soft product and in the process substantially increasing the number of business class seats offered.
Credit: American Airlines
- Awards for British Airways business and first class with fuel surcharges. The old product is generations behind their competitors, but catching up with their new seats and they’ve finally made progress on inflight internet. 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.
The new direct aisle access business class seats with doors are a vast improvement. But 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.
British Airways A350 Business Class Suite
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, 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 5 things I think are the most 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. Delta’s comparative advantage has been in part their TechOps, which manages to get planes ready to fly despite working with an older fleet than competitors.
And their reliability created a halo over the product, customers wanted to fly them. People have been willing to give up value in a frequent flyer program. And they’ve willing to gloss over deficiencies in the product (they went to 36 inch pitch in first class long before American did).
But that vaunted reliability has taken a huge hit with numerous meltdowns and far more cancellations – the operation has come closer to that of its competitors, and the halo is wearing off. They shouldn’t get as much of a pass on the rest of their product any longer.
Delta check-in, Austin
- United Polaris. It’s taken years to actually have new seats on planes, United announced the product six 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 the new seats are just “keeping up with the Joneses” in the words of their CEO 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 old 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. And don’t even get me started on those soft product cutbacks, the reduction of a flight attendant serving the cabin, and what’s happened to the food on board.
United Polaris Business Seat
- 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 they’re crowded. The food investment also seems scaled back compared with earlier years 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
- Hilton Diamond It’s a top tier status but doesn’t offer the same benefits as competitors. Even IHG has confirmed suite upgrades now! If a hotel has standard suites available, and they do not give it to a Diamond member, they haven’t violated any rule of the program. Hotels do not even have to honor late check-out! Even breakfast is no longer promised in the U.S., with a food and beverage credit that often doesn’t come close to the cost of breakfast taking its place.
At the same time, for those who get the status just by acquiring a credit card the program is of course fairly rated.
- Emirates business class. People generally think that Emirates offers a quality product, but their Boeing 777 business class (the aircraft which remains the backbone of their fleet) is subpar in the extreme. Seven-abreast seating at this point is absurd, and even its replacement is six-across. Even their Airbus A380, which has a bar at the back of business class and lie flat seats, doesn’t offer as much space per passenger and many competitors.
Emirates gets away with this because of the flourishes of their service and because of a first class that’s so over the top. Their new first, on a limited number of 777s, is probably best in the world. And their Airbus A380 first class is known for the showers. Plus their first class food and beverage program is amazing and deep, even down to Château d’Yquem as a dessert wine.
- Airbnb It makes sense to rent a house or multi-bedroom condo when traveling with the whole family, or large groups. And it makes sense to rent private residences in places where there just aren’t hotel options.
However Airbnb is a lot more expensive than you expect when searching, and much more expensive than it used to be. The fees are out of control – to the company itself, from both the traveler and host – along with those imposed at the property level. Cleaning fees are ridiculous not just because the lists of chores have gotten out of control yet you’re still asked to pay, but because they aren’t included in the cost of the listing when you’re searching and comparing. And there are too many scams on Airbnb, properties that aren’t anything like the ad or that do not even exist. When you get stuck by a property like this, or a last minute cancellation, you’re mostly out in the cold.
Hotels, of course, are doing their darndest to erode their competitive edge against Airbnb by cutting back on the services they offer like housekeeping and food and beverage options on property.
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?