The votes are in — readers pick the best airports for the 2021 TPG Awards

Nov 1, 2021

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Airlines Week banner for the 2021 TPG Awards

A short while ago, we announced the airline winners of the 2021 TPG Awards, as voted on by TPG readers. And now, we’re excited to announce the five honorees in the airport categories for this year — all of which are brand-new awards for 2021.

Traveling this year has seen its share of ups and downs, and the airport experience has been no exception. However, TPG readers had some clear preferences when it came to the best spots to catch flights — both in the U.S. and internationally.

Related: Airports are coming back: Here’s what’s happening now

Read on to see which airports (and which lounge network) took home hardware this year.

In This Post

Best Large US Airport

Our first category considered airports that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) classified as “Large Hubs” based on total passenger enplanements in the 2019 calendar year (we didn’t consider 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic). This resulted in a list of 30 candidates, ranging from Atlanta (ATL), the largest of the bunch, to Portland, Oregon (PDX), the smallest.

But only one gateway would be voted as the best.

Winner: Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport (DFW)

TPG readers voted Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) as the best large airport in the U.S. As one of American Airlines’ largest hubs, passengers can access an array of destinations across the country and around the world — including flights from international carriers like Emirates, Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways. You can easily get around the airport via the 24-hour Skylink light rail, and it also features an array of lounge options for departing (and connecting) passengers, including:

The airport is situated roughly halfway between its two namesake cities, with rail links directly to their respective downtown areas.

All of this pushed the airport to the top.

Related: North America’s best airports are Miami and New Orleans, says J.D. Power

Best Mid-Sized US Airport

For the mid-sized category of U.S. airports, we again followed the DOT and the 32 airports classified as “Medium Hubs” based on 2019 enplanements. This list ran the gamut from Nashville (BNA) down to Charleston, South Carolina (CHS) — yet TPG readers kept their votes in the Lone Star State.

Winner: Dallas-Love Field Airport (DAL)

The airport’s proximity to Dallas likely played a role in Love Field’s award. (Photo by Silvana Baumann/EyeEm/Getty Images)

You don’t have to go far from the best large airport to find the best mid-sized one, as Dallas-Love Field (DAL) was voted as the winner by TPG readers. The timing of this honor is quite appropriate, given that Southwest Airlines — the long-standing king of Love Field — just celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year. The carrier’s first-ever flight, from DAL to Houston (IAH) took off on June 18, 1971, though the airport has seen massive changes in the five decades since.

Despite hosting just three airlines and zero lounges, the conveniently-located airport (it’s less than 10 miles from downtown) nevertheless offers nonstop service to nearly 70 destinations across the U.S. — with almost all of them on Southwest. There are no international departures as of now, but in a year that saw a massive rebound in domestic travel, it’s not surprising that this had little impact on the voting.

Best Small US Airport

The final U.S. airport category included the first 34 listed as “Small Hubs” by DOT data — with the cutoff being those that saw over 1 million passenger enplanements in 2019. The largest of these was Memphis (MEM), and the smallest was Greensboro, North Carolina (GSO) — and the winner was a clear reflection of 2021 travel trends.

Winner: Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

This desert airport in Southern California was voted as the best small airport in the U.S. by TPG readers. With 11 airlines and more than 30 destinations, there are a variety of ways to reach PSP — and airlines added numerous flights to the airport during the pandemic. It’s situated just a few miles from downtown Palm Springs, serving as the gateway to the renowned Coachella music festival (which returns in April 2022 after a two-year hiatus) and the variety of points hotels in the area.

And in a year that saw renewed interest in outdoor activities, it serves as a perfect jumping-off point for Joshua Tree National Park.

Read more: TPG’s ultimate guide to Palm Springs, California

Best International Airport

Many borders started to reopen in 2021 — especially in Europe — so we wanted to bring these international gateways into the TPG Awards. Our list of candidates came out of 2019 traveler data from Airports Council International (ACI), as each appeared in the top 15 of either international passenger traffic or total passenger traffic. And one rose to the top.

Winner: London-Heathrow International Airport (LHR)

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) (Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy)

As one of the busiest international airports in the world, London-Heathrow (LHR) offers service around the globe, and it’s seen increasing traffic as the world continues to relax travel restrictions. Despite lengthy immigration lines — likely to grow even more as the U.S. reopens to fully-vaccinated international visitors on Nov. 8 — the gateway has a lot going for it.

Heathrow features a plethora of lounges, including Virgin Atlantic’s well regarded Clubhouse and a brand-new Amex Centurion lounge, and it’s a relatively easy journey to London via the Tube or the Heathrow Express to Paddington. It also served as the first destination for JetBlue’s new transatlantic service from New York-JFK, furthering the debate on the best business-class seats between the U.S. and U.K.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding the airport’s long-awaited third runway, but for now, it reigns supreme in the eyes of TPG readers.

Best Domestic Lounge Network

The final airport-related award voted on by TPG readers was for the best domestic lounge network. The candidates here were a mix of airline clubs as well as those offered by credit card companies or third-party lounge networks. And if you were surprised by who took home the airline loyalty and elite status awards, you’ll probably feel similar about this one.

Winner: American Admirals Club

American’s lounge network slowly reopened over the course of 2021, and all domestic Admirals Clubs (and select international ones) are now back at somewhat normal operations. Guests can expect slight modifications to the amenities — along with enhanced cleanliness measures — but each location includes complimentary food and beverages along with premium items for purchase.

One key factor in pushing American to the top here was likely the ease of access. In additional to paying members, travelers with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® are able to enter Admirals Clubs when flying American, including two guests or your immediate family. And cardholders can also add up to 10 authorized users at no charge, each of whom can enjoy the same access privileges.

Read more: Savvy Saturday: Easiest way to get American Airlines Admirals Club airport lounge access (and share it, too)

Bottom line

The airport experience may be different than it was just a couple of years ago, but as we come to the end of 2021 and look forward to a continued rebound of the travel industry, these gateways will play a key role in the return to normalcy for the overall travel experience. And TPG readers felt that the above airports and lounges were worthy of honors in 2021.


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