For those interested in a hot tub but not a long-term commitment, an inflatable model is worth considering. Inflatable hot tubs can be installed virtually anywhere and, unlike other spas, are truly portable. However, don't expect an inflatable model to have the same durability or range of features as a molded above-ground tub. They're a cheap substitute, not a full-blown spa.
Least expensive type. Inflatable hot tubs are considerably more affordable than other types. Some go for as little as $600 online; the largest and most elaborate versions can cost as much as $1,700, which is still much cheaper than luxury spas. Installation is also inexpensive, since an inflatable spa can be set up on almost any level surface. Energy costs are harder to evaluate. Most professional sources don't cover this type of hot tub, and few user reviews mention electricity usage. Inflatable models tend to lose heat during use, which can limit their efficiency.
Flimsy construction. Sources agree that inflatable tubs aren't very durable. According to the editors of HotTubSpaRatings.com, "as a shell material vinyl is easy to damage, especially if the chemical balance of the water remains out of ideal range for very long." Poor durability is one of the most common complaints about inflatable hot tubs at Amazon.com, where many users say their spas stopped working within one to four months. These tubs usually come with a one-year warranty, but it may not cover shipping costs.
Easy to install, but a few quirks. An inflatable hot tub is the easiest kind to set up and install. When deflated, you can carry it anywhere, then simply inflate it, fill it up and plug it in. However, the water may take a while to come up to temperature and may lose heat rapidly during use. That's because inflatable tubs generally use air jets in place of hot-water jets, and the airflow cools the water. Some users also complain that the air blowers are noisy. Unlike other hot tubs, however, this type is truly portable. You can even take it with you on vacation.
Looks like a kiddie pool. Inflatable hot tubs don't have the range of features found on molded above-ground spas. Most don't even include seats, so users must sit directly on the floor with little room for their feet. Some models have rigid sides that snap into place to give the tub more structure, but others just look like a giant, tub-shaped balloon. Owners choose inflatable hot tubs for their low price and convenience, not their looks.
This site is run by What's the Best, a series of online guides for consumers contemplating major purchases. In this section, a buying guide compares different types of hot tubs, including "portable" above-ground, soft-sided inflatable and "permanent" in-ground models.
Review: Hot Tub Buying Guide: Types of Hot Tubs, As of August 2013
2. HotTub SpaRatings.com
This site is designed for consumers trying to choose a hot tub. In this section of an expansive buyer's guide, editors compare different types of shell materials, including wood, vinyl, acrylic, thermal plastic and stainless steel. The article also touches on the maintenance needs of each.
Review: Shell Materials, Editors of HotTubSpaRatings.com, Not dated
Several models of inflatable hot tubs are sold through Amazon.com, but only a few attract a significant number of reviews and those are mixed. While many owners love the inflatable tubs' low cost and easy setup, others say they aren't durable and don't hold their temperature well.
Review: Hot Tubs: Portable, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of August 2013