Private Internet Access vs AirVPN: What’s the best option?

Liviu Trinc
by Liviu Trinc
VPN Expert & Privacy Advocate
Liviu is a people-oriented person who puts the reader satisfaction above all else. For him, there's no greater professional accomplishment than being of service to others and seeing big results at the same time.... Read more
Affiliate Disclosure
  • When it comes to the top VPNs on the market, you can be sure that Private Internet Access (PIA) is already a household name, and for good reason.
  • Boasting a user-friendly interface, a multitude of available servers and powerful encryption and security features, PIA is a top choice for many.
  • On the other hand, although AirVPN does not have the same popularity, it tries to catch up by also providing some nice features which should be definitely taken into account.
  • If you can't make up your mind about which VPN to choose from the two, we hope that you'll be more enlightened after reviewing our comparison.
Private Internet Access (PIA) vs AirVPN

Private Internet Access – aka PIA – is a VPN service based in Denver, Colorado, USA, which was founded in 2010 by American entrepreneur Andrew Lee as a part of the London Trust Media parent company.

PIA and its parent company were acquired in 2019 by Kape Technologies – a global privacy and security company based in London, UK – which also operates two other competing VPN services: CyberGhost VPN and Zenmate.

The VPN service already established itself as one of the most popular and highly reputed VPN brands on the market, and that is proven by currently boasting more than 100,000 users worldwide.

With more than 30,000 servers in 100+ locations across 78 countries, strict no-logs policy and high encryption features, Private Internet Access is unparalleled in terms of servers availability and also a top VPN when it comes to online anonymity and security.

AirVPN is an Italy-based VPN service which started in 2010 as a small group of activists, hacktivists and hackers who – as their motto suggests – are promoters of net neutrality and privacy and fight against Internet censorship.

At first, AirVPN started as a completely free service but then added a commercial side to the project in order to maintain it financially sustainable and ensure a full dedication of the team.

Currently, the service has more than 200 high-bandwidth servers in 35 locations across 19 countries in 3 continents and continues to be operated exclusively by activists, privacy, data protection and security issues aware people and also a team of lawyers.

Although Private Internet Access and AirVPN share some common features as many other VPN services do, there are differences between the two, so we came up with a comparison based on the most relevant factors, which we hope will help you decide which VPN you want to go with.

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How do Private Internet Access vs AirVPN compare?

Private Internet Access

Interface: minimalistic and user-friendly

As you will see, Private Internet Access has a minimalistic user interface (UI) which will provide a great user experience (UX) to the common user who is not required to be tech-savvy in order to use this VPN hassle-free.

The PIA VPN client has a main dashboard that allows you to quickly connect to a server and a settings section from where you can configure your VPN according to your preferred choices.

Dashboard

If you’re a Windows 10 user, you can easily launch your Private Internet Access VPN application by first clicking on its icon and then going to the system tray (systray) and clicking on the PIA padlock icon.

After you launched the client, you can see the status of your VPN connection (whether you are connected or not to a server) or you can go to the list of available servers to pick one to which you wish to connect.

Also, by going to the three dots menu icon/kebab menu, you can access the settings section, log out of your PIA account or quit the current running session.

After you go to the list of servers, you can just scroll between the many countries available, click on one of them and select your preferred server according to your needs.

With more than 30,000 servers in 100+ locations across 78 countries, you’ll surely have plenty to choose from – and this is one of the main awesome features that makes PIA so special.

Once you selected a server, you will be taken back to the main window from where you can quickly connect to the server by clicking on the power button.

After that – if the connection was successful – you will be shown a CONNECTED top bar with a green background, the name of the current server to which you’re connected as well as your ISP IP address and the new VPN-assigned IP.

Furthermore, by clicking on the arrow at the bottom of the above window, you can find additional information regarding your VPN server connection, account and can quickly configure some settings.

Firstly you are shown again your current VPN SERVER, IP and VPN IP and also some suggestions to which you can QUICK CONNECT based on your previous connections.

Then it comes a PERFORMANCE section where you can see your download and upload speed, your current connection time as well as your download and upload bandwidth USAGE.

The QUICK SETTINGS section lets you enable desktop notifications, MACE (we’ll discuss about it a bit later), port forwarding, allow LAN, enable debug logging and also switch your current theme; then, you can click on the three dots menu to view all settings.

As you scroll down, you can see your SUBSCRIPTION and the number of days left until you have to renew it.

Under CONNECTION, there is some info related to your connection, namely, protocol, connection type, remote port number, data encryption, data authentication and handshake which is a an encryption type that determines the protocol used for security confirmation upon establishing the connection.

The last one is the VPN SNOOZE option which disconnects the VPN temporarily and reconnects it automatically when the timer elapses.

Settings

The General tab takes you to the General Preferences where you can choose to launch the PIA client on system startup, connect on launch, select to show desktop notifications, choose a language, change theme, tray icon style and dashboard appearance.

In the Account tab you can find Account Information details such as your username and subscription info (type and expiration date) as well as options to purchase a subscription, manage your account, log out of or switch your account.

The Privacy tab shows you the Privacy Preferences where you can turn on/off the VPN Killswitch or PIA MACE.

The kill switch is a great preventive feature that automatically disconnects your device from the internet until the VPN connection is resumed; therefore, there is no risk of your IP address being exposed, which will ensure your online privacy, anonymity and security.

You have three options with the PIA kill switch:

  1. Off: no traffic will be blocked; this is not recommended, as it will expose your IP and traffic.
  2. Auto: this blocks outside traffic when the VPN is on.
  3. Always: also blocks all traffic when the VPN if off.

The MACE system helps protect your privacy and security by blocking domains used for ads, trackers and malware regardless of what browser you’re using.

To some extent it is similar to an adblocker software/extension, only it’s more effective; so, you can easily turn your PIA MACE on if you have concerns about your online activity being tracked.

The Network tab allows you to configure certain Network Preferences. For example, you can change your DNS (you can use PIA DNS, built-in resolver, existing DNS or set a custom DNS) by going to Name Servers and picking an option.

You can also Request Port Forwarding which will forward a port from the VPN IP to your device; the port will be selected for you and not all locations support port forwarding.

What a VPN port forwarding does is it actually reroutes your traffic so that it bypasses the NAT firewall and thus will keep unwanted traffic and access off your network. It can also help increase connection speed which is very useful.

Under port forwarding, you have the option Allow Lan Traffic which always allows traffic between devices on your local network, even when you’re using the kill switch.

Lastly, you can activate split tunneling by going to Split Tunnel and checking it off. With split tunneling you can route some of your traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel, while the rest is routed through a separate tunnel on the open network.

You can choose what application or IP address will use split tunneling by adding them from the corresponding fields.

Once you’ve chosen an application, you can either select Bypass VPN which will allow the app to always connect directly to the internet or Only VPN which will only allow the app to connect when PIA is open and the VPN is connected.

With the Connections tab you can change your Connection Preferences depending on your specific needs.

Firstly, you can choose what VPN Protocol to use. PIA currently offers two VPN protocols: OpenVPN which is reliable, stable and secure or WireGuard which is newer, more efficient and has the potential for increased performance.

Depending on what protocol you choose, you’ll have some settings that you can configure. For example, if you choose the OpenVPN protocol, you can select your Connection Type protocol: UDP (User Datagram Protocol) or TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).

Then, if you go to Remote Port, you can pick your port number – you have 4 options to choose from here. You shouldn’t be concerned about Local Port since the application will randomly select the local port used.

If you have connection problems, you can change your Configuration Method; here you can either select DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) or Static. In other words, you can have a dynamic or static IP address.

Under Data Encryption, you can select your encryption type: you can choose either AES-128 (GCM) or AES-256 (GCM). PIA also allows you to connect via a Proxy, so you have two options here, that is, Shadowsocks or SOCKS5 Proxy.

Furthermore, you can check off Use Small Packets which will modify the MTU (maximum transmission unit) – a measurement in bytes of the maximum data packets that a device connected to the internet can accept. This can cause lower transfer speeds, but can resolve packet loss issues.

Last but not least, if you check off Try Alternate Settings, the application will automatically change the connection type and remote port until a connection is established.

The Automation tab will introduce you to a new PIA feature – Connection Automation. What this actually does when you select it is that it allows you to create rules to automatically connect or disconnect the VPN when a particular network is detected.

After you select the option, you need to click on Add Automation Rule, select a network and an action (connect or disconnect). After that, anytime you join the network you set up the rule for, your VPN will connect or disconnect automatically.

Scrolling down to the Dedicated IP tab will take you to another Private Internet Access great feature – the option to get a dedicated IP. When you connect to a VPN server, you share the same IP address with other users.

However, when you request a dedicated IP, PIA will assign you a static IP address which only you can use and all the data traffic will be sent through it.

Although a dedicated IP can sometimes affect your data privacy, it also comes with great advantages – one of them being the fact that you’ll be less likely to be blacklisted.

The last settings tab is the Help tab where you can find info regarding your current PIA version, see the changelog, take a quick tour, receive beta updates and select to show service communication messages.

Also, you can select to include the geo-located regions, disable the accelerated graphics, enable debug logging. Then you may reinstall the OpenVPN and WireGuard network adapters, the split tunnel filter or uninstall the PIA client.

Features

When it comes to the features offered, Private Internet Access is certainly a great option for those who want to circumvent geoblocking while also maintaining their online privacy, anonymity and security.

As you’ve already seen above when we went through the PIA GUI (Graphical User Interface), there are plenty of great features provided that make the service deserve its spot as one of the best VPNs on the market.

With PIA, you can enjoy the following features:

  • Instant setup and easy to use client interface.
  • 32,000+ servers in 101 locations across 78 countries.
  • Up to 10 simultaneous connections.
  • No traffic or request logs.
  • Kill switch and PIA MACE anti-tracker.
  • Port forwarding and split tunneling.
  • OpenVPN and WireGuard VPN protocols.
  • Shadowsocks and SOCKS5 proxy included.
  • Connection automation and dedicated IPs.
  • P2P support and multiple VPN gateways.
  • Super-fast connection speeds.
  • Email breach monitoring.
  • Secure VPN account and encrypted WiFi.
  • Premium VPN bandwidth and unmetered VPN transfer.
  • Risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • 24/7 live chat customer support.

Speed

When testing and comparing VPN products, speed is definitely a very important factor that should be taken into consideration, as the quality of your entire online activity from simple surfing, streaming, gaming to torrenting depends on it.

Before PIA

Before running the Speed Test by Ookla, we’ve already been connected to a server location in Oradea, Romania, which was provided by the ISP.

With PIA

Here – as you can see – we connected to a PIA server from New York City, NY, USA.

AirVPN

Interface: not as user-friendly as PIA’s but decent

AirVPN uses the Eddie GUI (Graphical User Interface) client. Eddie was developed by AirVPN and is its official VPN client. It has an easy-to-use interface and can be used with any VPN service that supports the OpenVPN protocol.

Main menu

After you launch Eddie, you will be shown the Overview tab where you can see the status of your connection (connected or not connected), log in or log out, connect to a recommended server or activate network lock (we’ll explain what that is later).

If you want to connect to an AirVPN server, just go to the Servers tab, scroll through the list of many available servers, select one and click on Connect to the selected server now.

In case your connection was successful, you can go back to the Overview tab see the connection status as well as other related info.

You will see the country flag and the name of the server to which you’re connected, your download and upload speed, the VPN IP, connection time and the option to disconnect.

The Countries tab shows you the current list of available countries offered by AirVPN, the number of servers for each country, the percentage of the server load as well as the number of users connected at the moment.

As you may have expected, the Speed tab will show you the download and upload speed values as well as a graph showing the variations.

The Stats tab – as its name suggests – will provide you statistics regarding your current VPN connection (e.g. server name, latency, location, load, users, speeds, protocol, port, IP, DNS, etc.).

The Logs tab contains debug logs information organized by date and time. These logs can be used for troubleshooting purposes in case your VPN has issues or crashes. Developers can use the logs to determine what went wrong and when.

Below the tabs describe above, you have the About icon which will open a window showing you general info regarding Eddie OpenVPN UI, such as version number, the AirVPN website, the links to the Eddie website, manual, sources as well as details about the license and libraries and tools.

By clicking on System Report, you will see additional information related to the Eddie system/environment (e.g. version, operating system info, application paths, etc.).

Settings

In order to go to the settings section, you need to click on the Preferences icon first from the Eddie main window.

In the General tab you may check off some options such as connecting at startup, starting the client with the system, activate the network lock at startup, creating a password for data protection or resetting the settings to default values.

The Protocols tab shows you information regarding multiple IP protocols (UDB, TCP, SSH, SSL). You can see the protocol name, port number, number of IPs and a short description.

In the UI (User Interface) tab you can enable certain features as system notifications, exit confirmation prompt, UI main prompt, show tray icon and minimize in tray; you can also select the data units, skip promotional messages, etc.

If the Automatic option is checked, you won’t be able to change protocols; however, if you uncheck it, you can click on a certain protocol, then on Save and your protocol will switch to the chosen one.

By going to he Proxy/Tor tab, you can choose to set up a proxy. You have three options to pick from: http, socks or Tor and can also select when to use them: always, only for web requests, only for OpenVPN or never.

When you use the Tor connection mode with AirVPN, the VPN server will see the Tor IP address instead of yours. This connection mode only works with the AirVPN client. Also, if you use Tor as a proxy, you have to set up your real proxy inside the Tor configuration.

Have you asked yourself whether AirVPN provides split tunneling? Well, the Routes tab does just that, that is, it allows you to set an individual IP, a hostname or a range of IP addresses that can be routed inside or outside the VPN tunnel.

The DNS tab allows you to change your DNS settings although it’s not recommended. Each VPN server runs its own DNS server – the same is true for AirVPN.

As such, it’s recommended that you use its DNS servers to avoid censorship through the VPN’s anti geo-location features. However, you can change the DNS address if you want by clicking the + icon and adding it there.

In the Networking tab you can modify the settings for the following protocols: IPv4, IPv6 and TCP/UDP. Leave them to automatic values unless you know very well what you’re doing.

What about the kill switch, though? It doesn’t appear anywhere. Don’t worry, it’s here. The Network lock tab is all about the AirVPN kill switch feature. The only difference – unlike other VPNs – is that AirVPN calls it network lock.

When the network lock feature is enabled, your real IP or DNS won’t be revealed if your VPN connection drops unexpectedly since the network lock will immediately disable all traffic that is not routed via the VPN tunnel.

Therefore, you can select to block or allow all incoming or outgoing traffic while your VPN is off or you can also add only certain IPs exceptions for which you will allow it.

Features

AirVPN is definitely a VPN service worth looking into as well, as it provides a great host of useful features while also maintaining a privacy, security and anti-censorship focus.

The service runs exclusively on OpenVPN, uses strong encryption and provides good speed which can be of great help if you’re into streaming and torrenting.

Try AirVPN if you like the following:

  • 240+ servers in 22 countries.
  • Up to 5 simultaneous connections.
  • No monitoring or logging.
  • Network lock (kill switch).
  • Routes (split tunneling).
  • Port forwarding and DDNS (Dynamic DNS).
  • OpenVPN is the only available VPN protocol.
  • P2P support and Tor integration.
  • No traffic and time limit.
  • No maximum speed limit.
  • Unlimited and free server switches.
  • No personal information required.
  • 3-day free trial by opening a ticket via your account.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • 24/7 live chat support.

Speed

When it comes to running a speed test, all three factors (ping, download speed, upload speed) are important since they influence your online experience to a great extent.

Before AirVPN

As with PIA, the connection before the speed test was made from the same location in Romania.

With AirVPN

Although the server appears to be in Secaucus, NJ, USA, we actually connected to an AirVPN server from New York City – as we also did when we tested PIA’s speed – so as to provide a comparison as close to reality as possible.

PIA vs AirVPN: Conclusion

As you’ve already noticed, both VPN services are very good at doing the job they’re supposed to do, namely, circumvent geo-restrictions, protect your online privacy and ensure a secure surfing experience regardless of your online activities.

Now that you absorbed a lot of information about the two, we want to come more to your help if you’re still undecided as to which VPN to choose; therefore, we provided the table below where you can make a feature-to-feature comparison.

We hope that this will allow you to take a wise decision depending on your specific needs and taking into account what features are a priority for you.

Feature PIA AirVPN
Countries 78 22
Servers 32,000+ 240+
Maximum connections 5 10
Download speed 28.95 Mbps 23.11 Mbps
Upload speed 71.60 Mbps 64.06 Mbps
Ping 119 117
Protocols OpenVPN & WireGuard OpenVPN
Logs
Kill switch ✔️ ✔️
Port forwarding ✔️ ✔️
Split tunneling ✔️ ✔️
P2P & torrenting ✔️ ✔️
Free trial ✔️
30-day money-back guarantee ✔️ ✔️
24/7 live chat support ✔️ ✔️

As you can see, based on the specific feature comparison from above, which is also the result of testing, we do have a winner, and that is Private Internet Access (PIA).

At the same time, you may take into account other factors based on your specific needs/options before deciding what VPN you want to go with.

Nonetheless, although AirVPN is a good VPN service which can indeed do its job well, it is clear and also based on objectivity – since we tested both products – that PIA outdoes it in a few very important aspects (e.g. servers, speed).

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