The Best Airports for Layovers: Upgraded Points vs. MarketWatch

by SharonKurheg

When it comes to determining “the best” (or even ‘the worst”) of anything, you’re kind of at the mercy of whichever entity is doing the decision-making.

I mean, you can go from the likes of Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure, to USA Today and TripAdvisor, and each will have its own idea of what the “top hotel in the world” is. Each ranking will most likely be based on some things that are roughly the same, such as certain amenities, or some that are fairly different, such as the biases of so-called “global editors ” vs. “readers’ choice.”

As it turned out, two lists of “the best airports for layovers,” both from well-trusted sources, were released within days of each other. Upgraded Points, a well-respected travel blog, released “The Best U.S. Airports for Layovers [Data Study]” on December 5, 2023, while MarketWatch Guides, a subsidiary of Dow Jones, released “The Best and Worst U.S. Airports for Layovers (2023 Data)” on December 13th.

Let’s see how the two compared.

What they looked for

Upgraded Points looked at several aspects of airports and layovers:

  • The 15 best U.S. airports for a layover
  • The best airports for short vs. long layovers
  • Airports with the longest and shortest average delays
  • What makes an airport great for layovers

MarketWatch’s approach also looked at various aspects of layovers, but they were mostly different from Upgraded Points’ research:

  • Best airports for layovers
  • Best airports for layovers for frequent flyers
  • Best airports for layovers for families
  • Worst airports for layovers

Their respective methodologies

You may remember from your Statistics 101 class that methodology “…describes the techniques and procedures used to identify and analyze information regarding a specific research topic.”

Here’s what each entity said their respective methodology was:

Upgraded Points:

a screenshot of a credit cardTo determine the airports that are the best and worst for a layover, we analyzed 50 of the busiest U.S. airports and ranked them from 1 to 50 based on factors crucial to travelers facing layovers during their journeys.

We gathered data on each airport, considering factors such as shopping options, on-time flight percentages, average delay durations, and off-airport amenities like nearby hotels and restaurants. Each factor received a score based on its performance relative to other airports in the study. These scores were weighted based on significance and then aggregated to form a final total score metric.

The score for short layovers encompassed aspects like average delays and the availability of restaurants within the airport. In contrast, the score for long layovers factored in considerations such as off-airport dining and hospitality options and metrics related to charging and connectivity, which become vital during extended stays at the airport.

MarketWatch Guides:a screenshot of a computer

To determine which airports are best for layovers, we analyzed data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the New York & New Jersey Port Authority, individual airport websites, and SkyTrax across 29 airports considered “major” by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

MarketWatch also said they ranked airports across 20 metrics, with corresponding weights for each category. Also, We excluded Harry Reid International, outside Las Vegas, Nevada, from our ranking based on a lack of comprehensive data across all categories. ​​Additionally, where SkyTrax had ratings across multiple terminals for a single airport, we averaged the ratings for each terminal.

How they compared

It wouldn’t be fair to compare different categories. However, both Upgraded Points and MarketWatch had a category for “Best Airports for Layovers.” Granted, Upgraded Points limited their list to 15 airports and Market Watch limited theirs to 10. But both were looking for “The Best Airports for Layovers.”

There were the “best airports for layovers” for each:

Upgraded Points MarketWatch
1 San Diego Int’l Airport George Bush Intercontinental Airport
2 Norman Y. Mineta San Jose Int’l Washington Dulles Int’l Airport
3 Ronald Reagan Int’l Logan Int’l
4 Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Detroit Metropolitan Airport
5 John Wayne Int’l Seattle-Tacoma Int’l
6 Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Ronald Reagan Washington National
7 Louis Armstrong New Orleans Int’l Tampa Int’l
8 Nashville Int’l Denver Int’l
9 Pittsburgh Int’l John F. Kennedy Int’l
10 Chicago Midway Int’l Salt Lake City Int’l
11 Logan Int’l N/A
12 San Francisco Int’l N/A
13 Dallas Love Field N/A
14 Baltimore/Washington Int’l N/A
15 Minneapolis-Saint Paul Int’l N/A

You’d think that 2 entities that were looking at “the best airport for layovers” would have lots of names in common. The funny thing is that there were so few overlaps; only 3:

  • Logan (#11 for Upgraded Points, #3 for MarketWatch
  • Ronald Reagan (#3 for Upgraded Points, #6 for MarketWatch)
  • Seattle-Tacoma (#6 for Upgraded Points, #5 for MarketWatch

Why so few similarities?

That all has to do with the criteria each entity used to make their lists.

  • Upgraded Points analyzed 50 of the largest airports, while MarketWatch looked at 29 of them (I guess it would have been 30 if they had included Harry Reid?)
  • How they ranked each airport differed. Upgraded Points used data from individual airport websites, Ookla Speed Test Intelligence (for Wi-Fi speed), Bureau of Transportation Statistics, nearby hotels (based on, nearby restaurants (via Open Table) and TSA wait times provided by TSA.  MarketWatch utilized the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the New York & New Jersey Port Authority, individual airport websites, and SkyTrax for their data.

In other words, they looked at different things and gave them different levels of importance.

Which survey is better?

Neither is better or worse; they’re just different. Which is the same for every survey out there…it all depends on what they’re looking at and how they determined their answers.

Surveys and the data from them, of course, are all subject to the biases of those reading them. Just as Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure will most likely have different readers from USA Today and TripAdvisor, or even websites that focus on the interests of, say, travel agents, airport employees, people of niche demographics, etc.

Here are the pages for the surveys/data for Upgraded Points and MarketWatch, if you’d like to do your own comparisons.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

Christian January 30, 2024 - 9:04 pm

I think Upgraded Points tries really hard but if you step back a bit I think you’ll see that MarketWatch has a more realistic set of airports. Looking at the top 10 for each, I’ve only been to two airports on the UpgradedPoints list versus five on the MarketWatch list. While that’s hardly scientific I’d think that an awful lot more people would spend a layover in Houston or Washington than San Diego or San Jose. The facilities may indeed be better in and around San Jose but why would you be connecting there in the first place?


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