"Feels like another $35 for the chiropractor," said my husband Patrick, rubbing his back. He'd spent the weekend in L.A. on business, stayed at his sister's, and slept on an air mattress. "I'd have been better off on the couch. The damn thing deflated on me twice. I woke up at 3 a.m. with my tailbone butting up against the hardwood floor, reinflated it, and found myself back on the floor by morning. I wish she'd get a decent air mattress. Hang the expense -- that's no way to treat a guest, even if I was mean to her when we were kids." I snuck away to our guest room to conduct a little research. I inflated our three air mattresses and left them overnight. By morning, all three were squishy. I found a tiny hole in one of them, but the other two seemed to be leaking from the pump. And we have company coming for the holidays. How could I subject them to Patrick's fate?
My mattresses hadn't seemed crummy when I bought them. The problem was durability. A year of use seemed to be all they could take. Friend Bernice had long sung the praises of her Aerobed ( www.thinkaero.com ), but the things were so expensive. I swallowed hard and called Aerobed rep Nonna Kofman. "Our beds are designed to be super-dependable," she chirped. "They're probably the best quality out there. We test every single bed before it ships."
Kofman said that the durability justified the cost of the latest Aerobed, the Premiere Durasuede (twin, $139.99 ; full, $199.99 ; queen, $229.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Linens-N-Things. Also available: a child-size mattress, $59.99 ). "Fear of punctures is probably the number-one reason why people buy other air mattresses for $20 . They turn out to be pretty much a disposable product. The Premiere Durasuede is great for people who are afraid of an air mattress getting punctured. It's made of a durable PVC vinyl -- but it doesn't have a plastic feel. The material on top is microsuede, which is soft and cozy to the touch. But the material on the bottom -- which is where most punctures occur -- is covered with Duratech. That's our own proprietary fiber; we laminate the bed with it. The material is 93 percent stronger than anything else you'll find on the market; I'm specific about numbers because we actually had it tested by an independent lab.
"The bed won't be damaged by normal activity -- sleeping, or even kids jumping on it. When we introduced it at the Housewares Show in Chicago, we hired an entertainer to juggle and jump rope on the bed, and we got people to come up and join him. The bed lasted through the whole show. The Durasuede beds come with a three-year warranty. If anything goes wrong -- for instance, if the motor breaks -- just let us know, and we'll replace the product. You access us through the 800 number, which is all over the packaging and the user manual and on the website. Most people like to fill out the warranty card and send it in," but proof-of-purchase will do in a pinch. (Of course, anytime you have guests with kids, the definition of "normal activity" is liable to expand to include indoor swordfights with barbecue tools. Battle damage may not be covered by the Aerobed's three-year warranty, but ordinary breakdowns are. And in case someone does get carried away with the long-handled fork, the beds also come with two sets of patch kits.)
"What about comfort?" I asked, waiting for Kofman to pour it on. "The bed has Quadra-coil construction, which means it has air coils built right into the mattress. The coils give the mattress shape and structure, and they provide stability. They add to the comfort by conforming to the body, but you also need a bit of rigidity and support. That's what the coils provide."
Structure also comes from "a high level of air pressure. When you have that, your butt doesn't hit the floor. If you kneel on the mattress, your knees won't hit the ground. That higher pressure is the key to comfort and a great night's sleep. We've done some competitive benchmarking, and our beds definitely have a higher pressure inside. The bed inflates in about a minute. One button inflates, one button deflates, and one button allows you to adjust the firmness." The buttons are built into a handheld controller, which hooks to a flat-panel pump built into the mattress. "There's nothing sticking out of the bed; it's just like a regular mattress. Some air mattresses are inflated with a handheld motor, and when you take the motor away, you lose air right away."
Kofman granted that other air mattresses may feature powerful, pressure-building pumps. But, she noted, the real trick is keeping the pressure up all through the night. "Our beds hold the air inside; that's the benefit of our patented technology. There's a special seal in the motor; it's guaranteed not to leak. It's been imitated, but never quite duplicated."
Cleaning is just a matter of wiping the mattress down with a wet rag, "or if the bed gets really soiled, a damp rag and a little bit of dishwashing liquid." (Again, something you have to consider with kids: pancakes and syrup -- breakfast in bed!) Storage? "Deflate the bed, fold it in thirds, roll the motor up inside the bed, and put it in the carrying bag."
Aerobed also offers a variety of other beds, including a raised bed ( $199.99-$299.99 ), which inflates to the height of a standard bed. It comes with a skirt for the lower section, and like all other Aerobeds, it fits standard sheets. Said Kofman, "We've found that 15 percent of our customers actually use our mattresses every single day."