I've love to get a nice big 6" jointer but I don't have the space for it so I've been looking at bench top models that I can store when not in use but man are the reviews horrible. On multiple sites I've seen reviews saying that it's actually worse to use a crappy jointer than no jointer at all so I don't want to spend the money and not use it because it doesn't work well. I have a planner and have tried sled method but it's too much work for the amount of lumber I want to mill so a dedicated jointer would be nice. So, is having a cheap bench top jointer better than not having one at all and using alternative methods? Any recommendations?
Every tool has it's abilities and limitations. The benchtop models do not have the table length and rigidity for jointing long and heavy boards. By using the machines within the range intended you can achieve acceptable results. Where the frustration will come is from trying to stretch the envelope of the machines capabilities and some of the capabilities are quite limited. Because the benchtop models are often designed to a low price point you may find that blade quality is lacking as are other components.
Yes you can do all of your work with a couple of hand planes and having developed the skill you will have a jointer suitable for infinite length and width boards. Not to mention your arms will have good muscle tone and it is quieter.
I think most of the alternative approaches are covered in my previous Answer, Methods of jointing without a jointer.
I would suggest the hand-tool route as there is so much going for it, but obviously planing is not practical for everyone. Assuming you wouldn't be doing it manually routing would top my list of how to do the job with a power tool other than a jointer.
There are numerous router jigs and setups out there so you can pick the one that appeals to you most and/or suits the materials you have at hand and the process is fast and as accurate as you could want it.
If you don't currently own a router this is as good a reason as any to acquire the most versatile power tool there is! Routers have come down a lot in price over the years so a decent enough one shouldn't break the bank. A minor additional point given most glue joints are stronger than we need but the routed surface can be superior (will be if you do it right and your bit is sharp) to that produced by a power jointer, so bond strength can be better.